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Funding boost for British cargo-carrying airship

Airships capable of carrying 50 tonne payloads received a funding boost today with the award of £2.5m from the Technology Strategy Board.

The funds are part of a £4m public and private sector project to develop specific engineering aspects of Hybrid Air Vehicles’ (HAV) current airship design in order for it to carry commercial loads and passengers.

HAV’s HAV304  - a 92m long airship capable of remaining airborne for five days manned at an altitude of up to 20,000 feet - flew in 2012 as part of a US Army/Northrop Grumman demonstration programme and will fly again this year as the company accelerates its plans to manufacture airships in Britain.

The current helium filled airship is powered by four 350hp, four litre V8 direct injection, turbocharged diesel engines and test flights this year will inform the design of Airlander 50, a cargo-carrying airship that will be built at the start of 2016 with first flights scheduled for 2018.

Stephen McGlennan, CEO of HAV, said the ability to take off and land vertically - and land on surfaces including water, desert, ice and fields - makes his company’s technology attractive to a number of customers requiring a point-to-point logistics solutions.

‘There’s thoughts about how you could do replenishment of aircraft carriers using these technologies, bringing whole engines for F-35s onto the carrier deck,’ he said.

Today’s grant announcement will help HAV create a detailed model of the aerodynamic characteristics of the aircraft and its engines using wind tunnels and CFD simulations; a methodology for engineering the largest composite structures used in aviation; and to develop the software that will control and monitor the hull pressure system.

Independent reports estimate a demand for between 600 and 1,000 units and HAV will use part of their funding to investigate improved manufacturing and assembly techniques, which in turn could lead to the creation of 1,800 jobs in and around the Bedfordshire area where the company has rented hangar space

Investor Bruce Dickinson, better known as the lead singer of rock group Iron Maiden, has invested £250,000 into the venture.

He said technology advances - leading to stability in flight control, structures, powertrain, weather forecasting, and ground handling - have advanced to a stage that makes airships a viable mode of air transportation. 

In a statement, the government’s business Secretary Vince Cable said: ‘As part our long term industrial strategy we are jointly funding £2bn of research and development into the next generation of quieter, more energy efficient and environmentally friendly planes. That includes backing projects like Hybrid Air Vehicles’ innovative low carbon aircraft which can keep us at the cutting edge of new technology.’


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Readers' comments (19)

  • Good luck to them.

    Trouble is, there have been so many false dawns for airships, one has to wonder.

    Cargolifter AG in Germany couldn't even persuade Airbus to use their services to take A380 fuselages from Hamburg to Toulouse. If ever there was a market for Airbus cargo lifting - that must be one of the best.

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  • Try GASBAGS, the worlds only lighter than air comedy web site (Just Google it)

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  • A further development of this air vehicle as a passenger carrier at an increased speed, would make the high speed train project completely pointless. I hope others could see this potential!

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  • along with skylon uk aero development is exciting right now

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  • I have my doubts.
    All this talk of vertical take off and landing is fine until a wind blows.
    Where do you park them when idle. They will each need at least a 200m diameter circular area with a tall mooring pole, just like all Airships before them unless each comes with a Cardington style hangar.
    Some folk will make a good living out of this concept, but it won't be the investors I fear.

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  • According to Hybrid Air Vehicles, profiled pneumatic tubes on the underside of Airlander 50’s two outer hulls are configured to provide a ‘hovercraft’ like plenum that allows for ground manoeuvring over all types of ground and water.

    They say: “The system provides a unique capability to reverse its flow and ‘suck itself down’ to the ground aiding stability during freight handling. The system can fully retract in flight for reduced drag / improved fuel efficiency.” JF

  • Would be very interesting to see a practical demonstration of flying to a remote location, off-loading 50 tonnes of payload and flying the airship (now with 50 tonnes of excess lift) back to base.

    How do you make a small fortune out of airships?............start with a large one.

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  • A few coments have appeared regarding offloading and sudden relative gain in lift. Surely the lost cargo weight can simply be accomodated by either compressing gas from the envelopes into storage or dumping the appropriate amount of lifting gas. As long as enough is retained to lift the airship once empty all should be well.

    The above is simply how submarines work, why should the same not be applied to air-ships.

    What whould concern me more is the effect of atmospheric pressure changes and temperature changes causing expansion / contraction of the gas and subsequent lift changes, especiall y with such a high volume of gas and relatively large solar collector area of the envelope. But again the aforementioned methods could be used to control this.

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  • Anonymous makes a good point above but it might be possible if you compress 50 tonnes equivalent of lift gas before making the return leg of the journey? Only trouble is that it adds to your energy requirements; comprssing that huge volume of gas into cylinders is going to be energy hungry!

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  • Geofrey IAson:
    To answer your question -
    water in the oceans is free: hydrogen or helium is extremely expensive and not to be 'wasted'

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  • Then surely the solution is to replace the cargo weight with a water ballast when unloading...station, lake, river, sea....

    'Small' scale gas compression could be used to mitigate atmospheric pressure changes

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