According to HAV, the founders of Airship Industries met with English scientist, engineer, inventor and airship specialist, Barnes Wallis, in 1971 to identify limitations of the traditional airship design.
On a beer mat, Wallis jotted down some notes: lifting gas should not be hydrogen, but helium; fabric should be improved to avoid non-rigid shells; weight saving plastics and composites should be used where possible; four-vectored propulsors should be incorporated to improve the maneuverability of the craft; the flight control system should provide the pilot more command over the craft. These hallmark features were later adapted for Airlander.
Up to 60% of the vehicle’s lift is provided by helium and the remainder by the forward momentum provided by an aerodynamic “wing” powered by four independently configured and vectored engines, isolated in respect of lightning strikes.
Its multi-mission capability allows Airlander to carry passengers, payloads or stores for up to five days without landing or to operate within an unmanned environment for as many as 15 to 20 days. It can land on ice, sea, sand, anywhere. In 35 knot crosswinds, it would take off vertically like a helicopter. All it requires to operate is a 100m rectangle of clear space beyond its actual “footprint”.
In designing the vehicle, HAV re-examined basic aerodynamic principles and applied modern technology and materials to create new capabilities and efficiencies. The result is a new, improved mode of air transport offering major improvements in safety, operating cost and flexibility, and environmental impact, with a significantly lower carbon footprint than any other form of air transport.
In fact, it has won awards for its revolutionary, green design: a $4.75m (£3.4m) UK Regional Growth Fund award for innovative technology and a $2.7m (€2.5m) EU Horizon 2020 Grant award for being a viable, green transportation solution.
The vehicle cost about $100m (£60m) to design and build, according to Chris Daniels, Communications Director, HAV. “We believe it will be the first aircraft of its size to achieve commercially viable zero carbon flight, once the technology is well established in the coming years to allow for that.”
Currently Airlander is at the beginning of a rigorous testing phase, having only left the hangar for its initial flight this spring.
An earlier version had one successful US Department of Defense (DoD) test flight in 2012 but it was a successful flight. Military cuts subsequently cancelled the program. HAV was granted an export licence afterwards which permitted repatriation to the UK.
HAV sees a host of potential applications for the Airlander series, including communications, heavy lift, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) deployments.
Potential uses of the Airlander for communication purposes might be as a communications relay station enhancing or improving existing communication infrastructures or even providing infrastructure to extremely remote areas with no pre-existing services.
Prospective heavy lift uses could include remote access to or from inaccessible locations, to transport specialist, time critical or bulky freight over long distances, to furnish logistical support to military ground operations or to move transoceanic freight requiring quicker delivery than sea-freight at a much lower cost than airfreight.
Potential ISR scenarios might be to offer commercial sensing/surveying to unmanned military reconnaissance and sensing missions, to patrol the seas or national borders, to run search and rescue missions or even to provide non-military surveillance activities for commercial or community security.
“This technology is almost endless in its applicability while also being beneficial to the surrounding area and the environment at large," says Daniels.
"Besides its myriad uses, we believe that it will deliver 1,800 jobs and significant export revenues to the UK. We have already expanded our workforce from 20 to 115 in under a year.”
As lead insurer on the Airlander 10, AGCS has a stake in the quality of the vehicle’s innovation, design and craftsmanship.
AGCS Underwriting Manager Products/Airports Regional Unit London, Craig Armitage, says: “Allianz’s interest in covering HAV is because we recognize this technology is game changing. It combines the best of rotor wing/fixed wing and lighter-than-air vehicles. It is a remarkable machine and independent aviation experts expect the hybrid market to be worth up to $50bn (£36bn) in the next 20 years with over 600 vehicles deployed.”
“From an underwriting perspective this was an exciting, unusual and challenging project from the start which brought out the best qualities of all the Allianz teams involved,” says Paul Wrenn, AGCS Underwriter Products/Airports Regional Unit London.
Some of the more out-of-the-ordinary risks AGCS has covered include: