Hybrid airship developer seeks partners

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Cargo airship manufacturer Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) is seeking partners for freight services for transporting mining equipment and high value mineral ore in austere environments from 2019.

In five years time, the Cardington (UK)-based firm HAV expects its Airlander 50 to have gained civil certification as a cargo airship. It has already agreed the regulatory framework with the European Aviation Safety Agency. For test flights, which start next year with the smaller Airlander 10 type, experimental approval will be given by the UK government’s Civil Aviation Authority.

The Airlander 10 can carry light cargo, but it is the 50 model that will be designed to carry two rows of three standard 20 foot-equivalent units (TEU). “We are working on MOUs [memorandum of understanding] with more concrete elements,” says HAV’s technical manager, Andy Barton, explaining how it is approaching freight companies and charter service firms.

Barton claims that for ice roads used in remote regions, Airlander will be more cost effective per kilometre. The Airlander 10, which is 92 metres long, is under construction. Starting next year it will undertake a 200 hour test flight programme. It has already flown because it was built for the US Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) programme. Barton says its Airlander 10 had to pass US government Federal Aviation Administration approval for that programme’s flights.

The LEMV contract was awarded in 2010, the HAV prototype first flew on 7 August to 4,000 feet and 40 knots. However, US government budget problems saw the programme cancelled in February 2013 and in September of last year HAV regained ownership of its prototype, now called Airlander 10. In May of this year the US government’s Department of State agreed the Airlander was not affected by US technology export rules.

The Airlander is a non-rigid multi-hull design. Its structure and aerofoil shape are the result of the materials and gases used. All but one of the multi-hulls contains helium. One hull has air and this is pumped in and out of the hull. Pumping air in makes the Airlander heavier. Removing air makes the airship rise.

The TEUs are loaded one side at a time. Airlander 10 uses skids, while the 50 model has a hovercraft air cushion, but both have ducted fans. The 10 uses the fans to help land it, while the 50 uses both fans and air cushion. The lift is 40 per cent from the wingshape, 25 per cent vectoring the fan propulsors and 35 per cent helium. The Airlander can take off and land vertically, but that requires more power from the fans.

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