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Airlander 10: World's longest aircraft gets full-production go-ahead (bbc.com)
129 points by colinprince 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 117 comments

I find the article a bit "light" (pun totally intended!) on information. As usual, wikipedia saves the day:


Specifically, what I expected from the article:

The original purpose was military:

" programme was intended to demonstrate a medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle capable of providing Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) support for ground troops."

Length (to answer clickbatey title): 92 m

Payload: 10 tons (10,000 Kg)

The thing has a cargo capacity of 20,000lbs who is this for? Military? This thing can only carry 4 humvees at most and about 1/6th of a a main battle tank by weight.

Civilian transport? 20,000 lbs is a lot if you need to resupply an Arctic research station manned by 3 people but not for anything at scale.

Tourists? Maybe a novelty but you wouldn’t really need more than 1 or 2 of those.

Edit: 1/6th instead of 1/3rd forgot that MBTs are 60,000kg not lbs.

For the military, intel collection seems to be one obvious use case:

1. 5 days airtime manned.

2. 92 mph cruise speed.

3. 20,000 ft service ceiling.

4. 23 mph loiter speed.

I would want to know how loud it is and how resistant it is to (limited?) ground fire.

Regardless, I can see it having potential uses.

It'd never be close enough to ground fire to matter. You're using altitude for general line of sight and then some very quality antennas to pick up anything in a very significant radius.

FL 20 ceiling is not high at all. That's the lowest Class A airspace goes, which is where you'll find most commercial flights.

MH17 was shot down from the ground while flying at 33,000 feet, so 20k is definitely not out of reach.

But not by small arms fire, or a shoulder-mounted device — it was essentially shot down by an anti-aircraft installation (wheeled though it is)

But within the ceiling of 37mm or 40mm flak, which are towable behind a pick-up.

These things aren't going to go anywhere near a SA-17 site.

They're for taking on ISIS-style insurgencies, not nation-state actors.

>It'd never be close enough to ground fire to matter.

Famous last words. MANPADS are getting better all the time.

Getting to 20k probably not any time soon

SA-25 tops-out at about 4.5km, 14,800ft, against a manoeuvering target. Each successive generation of Russian MANPADS seems to push another 500m higher.

Bear in mind that the Airlander's ceiling was previously stated at 16,000ft so there's not a lot of margin.

Their Airlander 50 (in development) claims it will hold a 60,000kg payload (https://www.hybridairvehicles.com/downloads/Airlander-77.pdf).

IIRC, it was originally developed as a prototype for the US Department of Defence, but when they weren't interested, the intellectual property was sold back to the company that made it and they decided to try and take it to market for faster-than-sea-but-cheaper-than-airplane transoceanic cargo shipments.

But now it sounds like they've pivoted to trying to make a flying cruise ship, which admittedly does sound awesome.

In that case they should name the first 2 Sterling and Babou.

Same thought here. An Mi-26 can easily do 50% more [1]. I thought the whole point of renewed interest in airships was their cargo carrying capacity.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mil_Mi-26

> Same thought here. An Mi-26 can easily do 50% more [1].

But probably not at the same price per pound, or so would the expectation be.

> I thought the whole point of renewed interest in airships was their cargo carrying capacity.

A mix of cargo capacity and cost. And this model (or others being developed right now) are probably not the high-end of what they could theoretically do, they're around where they expect financial sense is for an unproven system, they need to get buy-in and sales.

> not at the same price per pound, or so would the expectation be


> between 20% and 40% of the fuel consumption and operating costs of equivalent traditional aircraft

> Minimal ground crew are required: two for an Airlander 10 and none for an Airlander 50.


Operating costs are tricky, a helicopter with cargo lift capabilities can serve many more roles and is much more flexible which means that the total operating costs are spread across a multitude of mission profiles.

Having a dedicated vessel that has rather limited use might have a much higher TCO since it will not replace traditional aircraft but rather supplement them.

> Operating costs are tricky, a helicopter with cargo lift capabilities can serve many more roles and is much more flexible which means that the total operating costs are spread across a multitude of mission profiles.

The vast majority of operation costs for an aircraft are maintenance and fuel, both of which are pretty direct functions of operation time. So being more flexible does not actually spread these, each role incurs its own operation costs which would not be incurred in a more limiting device.

And helicopters have high operation costs.

>a helicopter with cargo lift capabilities can serve many more roles

Which helicopter do you know that can loiter for 5 days without refueling while carrying a 10t payload?

It was designed for the US Army LEMV program as a high-endurance ISR platform. The cargo capacity is/was intended for minimal cargo and mission kit (radios, defensive EW systems, etc.)

Mind unpacking all those military abbreviations?

LEMV = Long Endurance Multi Intelligence, in this case a specific programme [0]

ISR - Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance - a generic term

EW = Electronic Warfare - a generic term

There is recent operational history of using blimps in the ISR role [1]. Things don't always go according to plan, though [2]

[0] https://www.army-technology.com/projects/long-endurance-mult...

[1] https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=blimp+iraq&tbm=isch&tbo=u&...

[2] https://frieze.com/article/eye-sky-what-surveillance-blimp-a...

I won’t attempt the unpack all of the ancronyns but in layman’s terms the military application of the aircraft is to have an automated eye in the sky with a suite of sensors that capture as much as possible. When you’re combatting guerilla warfare it’s difficult to identify the operations of your enemy as they blend in with civilians. With a 24/7 recording of everything happening you can rewind the data feed from a point in time of attack and find the who, what, and where.

To add on to the other reply, a big problem in mountainous operation theaters is that soldiers can't talk to other squadrons or base, because of the mountains. Reception is shit. This big ol blimp thing could float around at 20,000 feet and act as a communication hub so soldiers can talk to each other, while also having cameras on board to be an eye in the sky for said soldiers, or painting targets for the soldiers or other aircraft's targetable weaponry.

Sorry. Someone already beat me to the punch. My whole day is speaking in TLAs (Three-Letter Abbreviations).

In Canada there are a lot fly in only or winter road(and the period of time with these roads is reducing due to climate change) communities. A large capacity would allow bringing in machinery and supplies. Airships have been looking like a strong solution

I think (medium confidence) the sales pitch is that it can hover. So it can deliver that cargo to wherever you ask. As opposed to the nearest big runway, or the nearest bit of paved road.

They should rebrand it as a Flying Wall and sell lots of them to ICE for extraordinary amounts of money.

Are there any hybrid hot airships? That is hot air dirigible hybrids? That’d really tickle my diesel- & steam- punk interests.

Edit: they’re called “thermal airships”; Cameron Balloons sells them. Less lift than a helium balloon of the same size (by ~30%), but about 20x cheaper to fly. I really want one, now.

Not hybrids. You may be familiar with Cloud Nines, the observation that if you make it but enough a very small temperature difference will be enough to achieve lift for a very large vessel (i.e. more like kilometers). Very difficult to figure out the construction though.

Hit air is much less bouyant any than helium. So no.

So how long is the world's longest aircraft?

They really should have included it in TFA but I found this:

> Another mishap befell the 92-metre-long (302ft)...


The BBC article isn't great and leaves you wondering why it was approved at all. The Guardian article is better but still isn't great imo. It's as if they're intentionally sowing seeds of unease about these types of ships even though this was just a test aircraft.

> An eyewitness said the aircraft appeared to "break in two" after breaking its moorings and deflating...

Why would they approve it after such a mishap one might wonder? Well the deflation was intentional and triggered by an automatic safety system as The Guardian article explains.

> Another mishap befell the 92-metre-long (302ft), 44-metre-wide craft in 2017 when a woman was taken to hospital after its hull automatically deflated when the vessel came loose from its moorings.

But it still frames it as a series of mishaps and injuries. Which I guess is great for page views but damages the reputation.

For comparison: the longest curently operating airplane is the Antonov An-225 Mriya with 84 m (275 ft) length [1]. The longest passenger airplane is the Airbus 380-800 at 72,30 m (237 ft).

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonov_An-225_Mriya

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A380

Longest passenger aircraft is 747-8 at 76.3m, as per its Wikipedia article.

The longest ever flown were the Hindenburg and Zeppelin II at 245 metres / 804 ft.

"Cruise speed: 148 km/h (92 mph; 80 kn)"

What's the market for this thing? Maybe short, over water trips?

It would seem hard to compete with cars or trains once you factor in security screening time, etc.

Looks like it's not focused on traditional passenger routes. Their Q&A (linked elsewhere in this thread) talks a lot about bringing cargo directly to where it's needed, with little/no infrastructure. So if you want to unload 10 tonnes in the middle of a primitive area, they can do that. Also 20-40% of airplane fuel consumption.

Seems fairly niche, but potentially very useful when you need it.

> Seems fairly niche

It's basically a container ship for land that doesn't need any crew

If they bring it to market, it's not going to stay niche

Edit: the smallest 10ft containers hold ~10 tons, so each ship is basically a flying small container. Still though. Also reasonable to assume bigger ships would come next

20-40% of the fuel consumption of a similar cargo plane.... what does that work out to in comparison to, say, a container hauling truck? Are we likely to see vehicles like this (or larger) taking trucks off the road? If it's entirely autonomous, and thus able to operate 24x7 there's some strong advantages there, but fuel efficiency could seriously ding in to that.

> what does that work out to in comparison to, say, a container hauling truck?

A truck doesn't have a cruise speed of 160km/h, doesn't provide point-to-point delivery services (i.e., is bound to the available roads) and doesn't provide lifting services.

I do believe that these airships won't replace standard trucking services but they are indeed capable of providing specialized high-value services in time-critical scenarios.

They did mention a planned model with a 50 ton capacity.

It's a flying truck for places without roads, large airports or ports. It's hoped that it will be cheaper per km-tonne than planes for these use-cases.

Basically cargo hauling into destroyed warzones and the arctic.

> Basically cargo hauling into destroyed warzones and the arctic.

There are quite a few civil engineering projects, bot mid- and large-scale, which require specialized transport to locations that are hard to reach. Do note that in practice this airship also provides lifting services, so it gets the cargo where it is needed and also drops it off where it is supposed to be.

It could be a water bomber for forest fires with its load capacity but slow moving balloons and external flames are not a good combo.

I read that these were going to be used for cargo in hard to reach places. However, if there is a need for alot of cargo then an airport usually already exists, and drones would probabally be more economical for smaller packages. Other than that? I think niche cruises like in that one episode of Archer.

> However, if there is a need for alot of cargo then an airport usually already exists, and drones would probabally be more economical for smaller packages.

Airship plans are for heavy hauling, not delivering amazon packages. TFA's airship lifts 10 tonnes. Lockheed Martin's LMH1 is planned for 20. The goal is large / bulk cargo in low-infrastructure or hard-to-access locations.

Traditionally, airships have required large ground crews to managing mooring/unmooring operations. Have they solved that problem? Delivery to low infrastructure areas by definition means it would be hard to assemble a trained ground crew. I suppose you could drop cargo without mooring and go home again.

That'd be why the new generations of airships are not lighter than air but mix buoyancy with a lifting body: hybrid airships retain some of the low operating costs and long range of an LTA airship, but because they're not actually lighter than air they can be landed on the actual ground and secured more conventionally.

I'd want to turn it into a drone swarm staging ship and see if it could do last mile delivery.

Didn't Amazon recently patent something of the sort?

Trains (etc) require a lot of infrastructure, especially if you've forgotten to plan for them for a century or so.

In Australia, the Sydney - Canberra - Melbourne route would be a potentially interesting one for this, as road travel averages 100km/hr, but has obvious downsides. These are short leg trips, though I don't expect this tech would alleviate most of the land-based delays, and (traditional) incumbents would not be happy if they did.

Either way, a less painful than jet, cheaper than jet, (slightly) faster than car, less attention demanding than car, travel option would certainly be relevant to quite a few people's interests around the world.

I'd assume everywhere in Oz is serviced by roads that normal trucking could handle.

That kinda only makes sense if you define "everywhere" as "everywhere people currently want to go".

There are _huge_ swathes of Australia that probably don't have a single passable road within 100km. Once you get much more that a couple of hundred km from the coast, Australia is effectively empty. Any population is way down in measurement noise.

Not to mention safer than a car or jet. Airships are quite safe, contrary to what people think after what happened to the Hindenburg. I wonder how this hibrid airship behaves in high winds.

I'm not sure I'd classify modern passenger jets as "unsafe".

They aren't unsafe but hybrid airships with the current air passenger transport procedures in place could be even safer. If a HAV goes down with 150 kmh speed and 60% buoyancy there's a better chance the passengers would survive provided there is no pressure loss.

Here's a video of the Airlander 10 prototype crashing:


>I wonder how this hibrid airship behaves in high winds.

Worse than an aircraft of similiar capability and better than an airship of similar capability. So somewhere between "tolerable" and "don't even try"

'In July, it revealed it planned to offer "luxury expeditions" once all tests were successfully completed.'

Perhaps transporting specialty equipment/parts into remote oil and gas exploration sites.

Cargo exports from landlocked places with poor rail links, such as sub Saharan Africa. I don’t imagine you’d ship grain or oil this way from Africa all the way to Europe but you might ship it to a port.

Perhaps the huge surface area could be turned to its advantage? If microwave rectennas could be incorporated into its upper surface, perhaps such a craft could be powered by beamed power from satellites? In the right climate, what about solar power? These would only be viable for operating in extremely remote areas where the logistics cost of moving fuel in becomes prohibitive. It's niche, but there is a market there.

Regarding solar power it's currently hard to fulfill all of the requirements:

- Monocrystalline solar panels would provide as much power as those engines when covering the craft's surface but they're too heavy to be put there.

- Modern thin-film solar cells could be light enough, but would probably provide only enough power for cruising at low speed.

I guess you could replace one of those engines with an electric motor, throw away 1/4 of the fuel tank and this way more or less break-even on weight saving a lot on fuel during the day.

The extremely thin GaAs cells from Alta Devices are flexible and even higher efficiency than monocrystalline silicon cells, with excellent power to mass ratio.

Multijunction inverted metamorphic cells are even higher efficiency and also offer excellent power-to-mass, over 1000 W/kg.

They're probably still too expensive for a huge airship though. Even if it's a military airship.

Regarding solar power it's currently hard to fulfill all of the requirements

Which is why I mentioned beamed power. Perhaps thin-film solar panels could be used for range/endurance extension. Since these craft are more weight challenged than space challenged, perhaps hydrogen fuel cells could be used instead of batteries?

It can stay in the air for five days already.

Instead of beaming power a fast aircraft could overfly it and drop fuel onto it via a steerable parachute based drone.

My idea is to eliminate the physical logistics, not require fast aircraft logistics.

That it deflated, broke and crashed just a bit over a year during a test flight doesn't give me the confidence that I'd wanna fly in this thing. Conceptually this seems a lot easier and safer to build and operate compared to a let's say a Boeing, so crashes make me wonder about their quality assurance.

Are you referring to this event? I'd hardly call that a "broke and crash during test flight".

"HAV suffered a setback last November, when the parked airship broke free of its mooring mast. An onboard safety system automatically ripped open the hull in order to deflate the aircraft, thus keeping it from drifting. It has since been determined that the mishap occurred due to an incorrectly-secured locking mechanism between the airship and the mast." [1][2]

[1] https://newatlas.com/airlander-10-passenger-cabin/55515/

[2] https://newatlas.com/airlander-10-incident/52254/

Hopefully they’ve learnt from what went wrong and made improvements for the production model.

A lot of Boeings crashed in the early days of jet aviation, too, but now they’re considered very safe.

As the Lion Air crash showed too much safety can kill you.

Strange interpretation, I think most saw it as inadequate training.

Boeing didn't tell the airline or crew that they had added the new safety system and didn't provide training materials for it.

The "most" you're referring to are people that didn't read any of the preliminary findings and jumped to conclusions the second they read Lion Air.

Here's an article from mid-2018 showing (mock?) images of the company's planned use of this as a "luxury airship"


Can we still call them Zeppelin's tho? This is literally a childhood dream of mine coming true. Amazing.

It's different from a zeppelin in a couple ways. First, its not totally rigid (it relies on pressure to keep it's shape), and it is negatively buoyant in the atmosphere (it relies partially on lift generated by the shape of the aircraft to stay up).

Re: negatively buoyant, that might not be true. Their FAQ states:

> Being Lighter-Than-Air, the characteristics of the Airlander bring many safety benefits. It has four engines and can fly on just one. Even if all engines fail, which is extremely unlikely, it can still float or glide under pilot control.

Little more detail:

> As a unique part of the design, 60% of the lift is produced aerostatically by being Lighter-Than-Air and a further 40% lift is generated aerodynamically by having a wing-shaped hull. The engines can be rotated to provide an additional 25% of thrust up or down, to help landing, take-off and hover.

It may technically be "lighter than air" when only considering the dry mass (I'm not sure about that), but they're definitely relying on aerodynamic lift in normal usage (so, it will glide in the same way a heavier than air plane can glide)

And I believe zeppelin is still trademarked and still exists as a company in germany.

A heavier-than-air dirigible? As Keith Moon once said about the New Yardbirds, that'll probably go over like a lead zeppelin.

I've always been partial to "dirigible".

I have very little difficulty with English, but this word is hard to pronounce in English for me. The funny thing is that it's very easy for me to pronounce in other languages, including my native language.

Apparently "not a true zeppelin because it lacks a completely rigid frame." A prior cnet article has better photos https://www.cnet.com/news/airlander-10-airship-interiors-inf...

Why is this an important distinction though? Zeppelins still need to be full anyway in order to float, so why does it matter that they keep their shape when not full?

All Zeppelins are airships but not all airships are zeppelins. Iirc the term ”Zeppelin” is used for rigid-frame airships only. The term usually used for non-rigid ships is ”blimp”.

So aside from the fact that this is a hybrid that needs power to lift, it’s also a Blimp rather than a Zeppelin.

Is your dream flying In a Zeppelin? You could do that In Germany

A company was operating sightseeing tours in Zepellin NT crafts in California between 2008 and 2012…

Ah yes, Airship Ventures. [1]

I got to ride on one of their last Bay Area flights. It was one of the most fun things I've ever done. See [2] for photos. The lake with houses around it is Larry Ellison's home.

Passenger boarding was interesting. The zeppelin is hovering when you board, so they don't have everyone get off before the new passengers get on. The zeppelin would float away! Instead, they swap passengers one by one to keep the weight stable.

Once on board, the passengers are in the same cabin with the pilots, so we could talk with the pilots, see how they fly the airship, and ask for little sightseeing detours along the way.

Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei still operates tours in southern Germany. [3] If you ever get a chance to ride on one, do it!

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airship_Ventures

[2] https://geary.smugmug.com/Flying/Airship-Ride/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Zeppelin_Reederei

I remember seeing them go overhead once in a while. I hadn’t realized they ceased operations. Just a couple of days ago I saw a blimp overhead, I thought it was them, but it must have been the Goodyear blimp moving between football games. I believe Goodyear uses Moffet Field as a staging stop on occasion.

Goodyear bought 1 or 2 Zeppelin NT to replace their aging blimps.

Edit: All their „blimps“ are Zeppelin NT now https://www.goodyearblimp.com/behind-the-scenes/current-blim... and they manufactured them by themselves with parts and know how from Germany.

> they manufactured them by themselves with parts and know how from Germany.

They assembled the zeppelins in germany. Because it's pretty certainly simpler to ship the parts and a few engineers than to make the trip in assembled blimps.

Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH might grumble.

The article seems unclear on the order of events. What happened after the prototype crashed? Was there another prototype? What is "successful final testing?"

The Guardian [0] suggests that Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) is not going to rebuild (repair?) the prototype that crashed but is now instead going into production.

HAV themselves have more on the move to production at [1]

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/13/worlds-biggest...

[1] https://www.hybridairvehicles.com/news-and-media/news/hav-aw...

The timeline i understood from the article was testing was successful, and then after testing was completed the prototype crashed / failed.

BBC articles are often terribly written. Maybe they sub out to a content farm.

I can already hear Hell March[1] playing. Kirov Reporting!

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBOD8qeCBuc

Helium Mix Optimal!

The original Red Alert was such a phenomenal video game.

EA announced at remastered version few months ago. I’m both excited and anxious about it.

You may have just made my day! Link for those interested: https://m.ign.com/articles/2018/11/14/ea-announces-command-c...

Hearing "Kirov reporting", still gives me the sweats.

Time to add some AA to the build queue

A single B2 bomber can carry about twice as many bombs as the maximum capacity of this blimp so this ain’t a Kirov for sure.

Great news after the crash last year - I currently work in Cardington and can see the sheds (never hangers) from work.

Press release from HAV themselves at [0]

[0] https://www.hybridairvehicles.com/news-and-media/news/hav-aw...

Looks okay, but not sure about the use cases. Its slow and it's capacity advantage can be outmatched with numbers in existing platforms. A slow luxury cruise? Reconnaissance - but radar cross section would be too big. Am I missing something?

This is civilian surveillance given the low payloads just the right payload for electronic gear and a small staff to man it or even automate its flying as a drone say over London not all bad in terms it would be great for traffic control applications

related, allegedly fully solar powered hot air balloon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdNuQv_LV5U

watched that video in the link, wondering why Airlander 10 is so noisy?

Wasn't that rather the helicopter noise? Either way it was a stupid decision to include audio. Nearly blew my ears off

Indeed, it wasn't a good idea to release footage with unfiltered audio.

looking forward to the voyages of the giant butt and the inevitable kardashian comparisons.

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