Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's the world's largest hybrid aircraft

The HAV304 or 'Airlander' is 300ft (91m) long, 113ft (34m) wide and 85ft (26m) high

The largest aircraft ever seen was launched today, as its British creators promised they could deliver up to 1,000 more and transform how the world responds to international disasters.

Sitting in the only "shed" in the country big enough to accommodate it – one of the two Cardington Hangers that dominate the Bedfordshire landscape – the 302ft (92m) Airlander is part plane, airship and helicopter. It can stay in the air for up to three weeks unmanned and is capable of touching down on land or sea.

Cranfield-based Hybrid Air Vehicles showed off their creation they said could also set a new benchmark for greener aircraft. Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson, who is also a professional airline pilot and co-funded the Airlander, compared the £30m aircraft to Thunderbird 2 and declared it a momentous day in aviation history.

He said: “This is a beautiful thing – the sheer imagination and scale of it – British-designed and built. Rarely do you get the chance to be involved in something really at the cutting edge of aviation. We have created the world’s largest aircraft from a shed in Bedford. It is something to be incredibly proud of.”

The US Army was initially going to be the owners of the first HAV Airlander, to use primarily for surveillance missions in Afghanistan. But defence budget cuts meant the project was cancelled and HAV stepped in to bring the Airlander home and bring it to life.

The Airlander is about 60ft longer than the biggest airliners, the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8. It is also almost 30ft longer than the cargo-carrying Antonov An-225, which until now was the longest aircraft ever built.

Although resembling an airship with its giant helium-filled balloon on top of a 150ft long flight deck, the Airlander’s unique aerodynamic shape means it can generate lift like an aeroplane wing – and it’s going to get bigger. The prototype on display in Cardington is the forerunner of the Airlander 50, a 50-tonne heavy lift hybrid vehicle that should be in the air this time next year.

Dave Burns, the Airlander’s chief test pilot, gave The Independent a guided tour of the machine which from the rear looks like three giant cigars stitched together. “One of the problems with airships in the past has always been the ground handling with the number of people you need to manhandle it to keep it steady – the Airlander is the solution to that problem with its air cushioned landing system.

“The sheer mass of it makes it different to an airship, which are usually seven to eight tonnes. The Airlander is a 38-tonne machine so the inertia is incredible. Airships are like piloting an aircraft carrier in rough seas but this is very steady. It’s a majestic machine.”

HAV’s chief executive Stephen McGlennan said the plans to build up to 1,000 Airlanders in the coming decades could bring around 1,800 jobs to the area. The company has already had interest from governments and agencies all around the world.

“We want to building one Airlander a month in a few years’ time,” said Mr McGlennan. “Once they're built, they will get to work in places like Canada where they will be pivotal in operating remote mines for example or in the Middle East because of the large deserts they can operate in and master oil and gas pipelines.”

The Airlander project has just received a £2.5 million Government grant to fund research into energy efficient and quieter planes. Business Secretary Vince Cable said HAV is “a British SME that has the potential to lead the world in its field”.

Mr Dickinson said a chance meeting at a fundraiser for a movie project he was working on at the time with HAV’s founder Roger Munk, who died suddenly at the age of 62 in 2010, led him to become a key part of the project and put up the investment needed.

“I came here to a shed in about 2005 to see Roger and talk about the hybrid project,” said Mr Dickinson. “I had no idea I was ever going to see my money again but everyone has busted a gut and it’s brilliant to show it off to people today. In about five years’ time we could have a sustainable form of aviation – much cleaner and greener. You never know, someone like Amazon could be using one of these in the future as a one-stop shop in its supply chain.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor