Pi­o­neer­ing pro­to­type goes into re­tire­ment

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Mattha Busby

A pro­to­type of the world’s long­est air­craft, the Air­lan­der 10, has been re­tired from ser­vice as en­gi­neers turn to plan­ning a pro­duc­tion-ready model of the pi­o­neer­ing air­ship that will “re­think the skies”.

Hy­brid Air Ve­hi­cles (HAV), the Bed­ford-based firm that built Air­lan­der 10, has al­ready re­ceived Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity(CAA) back­ing for the de­vel­op­ment, and it is hoped the air­ship will take to the skies by the early 2020s.

“Our fo­cus is now en­tirely on bring­ing the first batch of pro­duc­tion-stan­dard, type-cer­ti­fied Air­lan­der 10 air­craft into ser­vice with cus­tomers,” said Stephen McGlen­nan, the firm’s chief ex­ec­u­tive.

“The pro­to­type served its pur­pose as the world’s first full-sized hy­brid air­craft, pro­vid­ing us with the data we needed to move for­ward from pro­to­type to pro­duc­tion-stan­dard. As a re­sult, we do not plan to fly the pro­to­type air­craft again.”

The Air­lan­der 10 made six test flights. Some in­volved mishaps, but the com­pany said the pro­to­type had done its job, suc­cess­fully com­pleted fi­nal test­ing and gath­ered an im­mense amount of data.

The pro­to­type crashed in 2016 on its sec­ond test flight after a suc­cess­ful 30-minute maiden voy­age. The com­pany tweeted at the time: “Air­lan­der sus­tained dam­age on land­ing dur­ing to­day’s flight. No dam­age was sus­tained mid-air or as a re­sult of a tele­graph pole as re­ported. We’re de­brief­ing fol­low­ing the sec­ond test flight this morn­ing. All crew are safe and well and there are no in­juries”.

An­other mishap be­fell the 92-me­tre­long, 44-me­tre-wide air­craft in 2017 when a woman was taken to hos­pi­tal after its hull au­to­mat­i­cally de­flated when the ves­sel came loose from its moor­ings.

HAV sub­se­quently made a £32m in­sur­ance claim, which it told share­hold­ers was the “max­i­mum in­sured value”. How­ever, it said its fo­cus now was on pro­duc­ing Air­lan­der 10s for cus­tomers around the world, rather than con­tin­u­ing to de­velop pro­to­types.

McGlen­nan said: “In­stead we move ahead with a big job – eight years after the ini­tial build of the pro­to­type, we are now iden­ti­fy­ing our crit­i­cal sup­plier part­ners, get­ting ready to de­sign all the de­tails that make the dif­fer­ence be­tween a pro­to­type and a prod­uct, and fi­nal­is­ing the prod­uct cer­ti­fi­ca­tion plans.

“Many peo­ple ask me this ques­tion – when will Air­lan­der be fly­ing again? My an­swer is this – look for many, many Air­lan­ders fly­ing again, ready to be de­liv­ered to cus­tomers and used around the world.”

The orig­i­nal £25m model was de­vel­oped as a sur­veil­lance air­craft for the US army, and its first flight took place in 2012 be­fore the pro­gramme was can­celled in 2013. HAV then reac­quired it, re­assem­bling the part-plane, part-air­ship and its four diesel en­gine-driven pro­pel­lers at RAF Card­ing­ton in Bed­ford­shire.

The com­pany said it was in a “strong po­si­tion to launch pro­duc­tion” of the new air­craft, with the de­sign al­ready ap­proved by the Euro­pean Avi­a­tion Safety Agency.

Its uses could in­clude sur­veil­lance, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, trans­port­ing freight, de­liv­er­ing aid and pas­sen­ger travel, HAV said.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JUSTIN TAL­LIS/AFP/GETTY

◀ The Air­lan­der 10, the world’s long­est air­craft. Its maker hopes the new ver­sion will be in ser­vice by the 2020s

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