World’s largest aircraft: Is it a plane, a balloon or a hovercraft?

Actually it’s a hybrid of all three. The Airlander 10 claims to be the next-generation of lighter-than-air flying machine.

The Guardian reports on its potential.

The Airlander 10 can fly for weeks, land virtually anywhere that’s flat, and burns just a fifth of the fuel of a conventional aircraft. With speeds reaching 100mph, it’s slower than a plane but greener, quieter, and potentially far more direct. Its unusual shape emulates a wing, giving it lift as it is propelled forward by its four engines, as well as from the 38,000 square metres of helium that fills its hull.

Hybrid Air Vehicles, the manufacturer, is launching a crowdfunding exercise to match a £3.4 million ($5 million) UK government grant to get the craft off the ground – with plans to eventually build hundreds of the aircraft.

The Airlander was patented in 2001 and developed with US backing as a potential long-range spy aircraft, but the program was scrapped due to defence cuts. Hybrid Air Vehicles bought back the aircraft and the patents.

The UK’s ministry of defence is retaining an interest in the airship’s surveillance capability, but HAV says the civilian potential is enormous. Sweden will trial the airlifting of wind turbines to remote parts of the country. Mining corporations, search operations, disaster relief or high-end tourism could all use its technology to fly long-haul to places where infrastructure doesn’t exist or has been wiped out. HAV believes data gathering and communications from airship levels rather than satellite is a further enormous growth market.

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