Funding boost for British cargo-carrying airship

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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.’