World's largest aircraft greets the public ahead of first flight tests

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Airlander 10 making its first public appearance(Credit: Hybrid Air Vehicles)

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The world's largest aircraft made its first public outing this week. On August 6 at 4:00 am BST, Hybrid Air Vehicles' helium-buoyant Airlander 10 airship, which was originally developed for the US Army as the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV), was guided out of its hangar, Airship Shed 1, at RAF Cardington, Bedfordshire, UK, ahead of a short series of ground tests in anticipation of its first flight in Britain.

According to Hybrid Air Vehicles, Airlander 10 recently completed a suite of in-hanger tests and has been approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to conduct its first test flights. Saturday's predawn rollout was watched by a crowd of 50 employees as the 92-m (302-ft) long, 43.5-m (143-ft) wide aircraft was moved out of the century-old airship hangar with only six m (20 ft) of clearance at the fin tips.

In all, a ground crew of 10 took five minutes to move the aircraft clear of Shed 1 and another 30 minutes to reach one of two specially-built mooring masts. It is now swinging free to "weathervane" with its nose to the wind to minimize stress. In addition, the company says that the airship is resting on a wheeled Castering Ground Cradle (CGC) to support the fuel tanks and the craft's skids have been fitted with special shoes to reduce wear while it is on the ground. Airlander 10 is designed to withstand winds of up to 85 knots (98 mph, 157 km/h) while moored.

Hybrid Air Vehicles plans to conduct full power engine runs, electromagnetic interference checks, and a final overall vehicle systems checkout while Airlander 10 is moored, ahead of a final pre-flight inspection at the mast or in the hangar, depending on the weather. On a yet to be announced date, test pilots David Burns and Simon Davies will take command of the airship, christened the Martha Gwyn, on its first flight in British airspace.

The Airlander 10 was conceived as part of the US Army's LEMV project to produce a low-cost aircraft that would have the vertical takeoff and hovering capabilities of a helicopter, combined with the endurance and payload capacity of a conventional aircraft.

It first flew in the United States in 2012, and despite having a manned flight endurance of five days and the ability to lift a payload of 10,000 kg (22,050 lbs) to an altitude of 20,000 ft (6,100 m) at speeds ranging from 20 to 80 knots (23 to 92 mph, 37 to 148 km/h), the project was canceled in 2013 due to technical and performance challenges. The aircraft was then disassembled and shipped to England, where it was reassembled and the design adapted for civilian use, such as communications, surveying, cargo carrying, and tourist flights.

Though visible to the public from a distance, Hybrid Air Vehicles reminds visitors that the airfield is closed and that the Airlander 10 is under 24-hour guard. Those keen to get a look at the aircraft are requested to remain outside the airfield boundary and not to park on the nearby A600 roadway.

The video below shows the rollout of Airlander 10.

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