In my article Spy Balloons and Open Skies, I said I would focus on recent developments in airships that will help combat global warming, provided we change some of our trading practices and leisure habits, in a future article. This is it.
A brief history of British airships
The first flight of a British designed and built airship was on 22 September 1902 flying 48 km (30 miles) from Crystal Palace to Ruislip carrying an advertisement for baby food. The British Army and Navy saw the potential use of them as observation platforms and, during World War 1, the Navy used 156 of various types to spot German U-boats. Interest of military and commercial use of them was lost after the crash of the R101 Hindenburg in 1930.
In 1979, interest in airship development using new technologies resurfaced and several prototypes were built at Cardington, near Bedford. Many problems were encountered and overcome by incorporating aircraft propulsion and helicopter style landing gear to produce a demonstrator in 2008, followed by a full prototype of a Hybrid Air Vehicle for a potential US Army programme in 2012. The project was cancelled the following year.
Attention then turned to adapting the design for commercial operations with flight trials in 2016 -17. An improved, longer replacement with a new nose, tail and gondola was announced in January 2020 as the Airlander 10.
Spain decides to buy
In June this year, Air Nostrum, partner in the Iryo high speed train company, ordered 10 Airlander 10 hybrid airships from Hybrid Air Vehicles based in Bedford, England. Two months later they doubled the order to 20. Their aim is to reduce the carbon footprint of their fleet of 34 Bombardier jet airliners and five ATR72 turboprop aircraft by at least 55% by 2030 to meet the EU’s “Fit for 55” goal. The Airlander can lower CO2 emissions by 90%. HAV (hybridairvehicles.com) They chose the 100-passenger version, Airlander 10, due to its low fuel consumption, passenger comfort and operational versatility.
It will be the world’s longest aircraft at 98 metres (322 feet) capable of a range of 300 to 400 km (186 to 249 miles) with 100 passengers, cruising at a maximum altitude of 6,096 metres (20,000 feet) at a maximum speed of 129 km/h (80 mph). It is powered by four engines, a mix of diesel and electric, but is expected to be fully electric from 2027. It doesn’t need an airport runway and can operate from greenfield sites, underused airports and waterfronts. Its underslung cabin has comfortable seating and all-round views of the terrain below. The Airlander will be manufactured in South Yorkshire and Air Nostrum expect to start taking delivery to their base in Valencia from 2026.
Go fast, go slow, go safely
The capability of machines we have developed to transport us by land, by sea and by air have advanced at an exponential rate. From the first powered flight by the Wright brothers on 17 December 1903 of 37 metres (120 feet) in 12 seconds at 10.9 kmph (6.8 mph) to Erick Warsitz, German test pilot’s flight in a Heinkel HE178 jet powered aircraft on 27 August 1939 was only 36 years. Just 30 years later on 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the Moon. When we leave the surface of our planet, safety is of paramount importance, even in a slow airship. Remember the Hindenburg airship disaster of 6 May 1937.
As Britain is no longer a member of the European Aircraft Safety Agency (EASA) since Brexit, the UK Civil Aviation Authority must work with EASA to complete the certification process for the Airlander. If it does not meet EASA standards, Britain will not be allowed to export it. For 20 years Britain was an integral part of EASA, sharing our skills and resources on aircraft certification, aircrew training, and air traffic control. We have lost the cost benefits of pooling our resources with our neighbours. Please compare their websites and draw your own conclusions.