A big idea takes flight

Source: HM Government, www.greatbusiness.gov.uk

It’s bigger than a football field, making it the world’s largest aircraft (about 60 feet longer than an Airbus A380). It is a mixture of aeroplane, airship, helicopter and hovercraft. It’s greener and quieter than other air transport. Oh, and a larger version is already in prototype. And it’s all being designed and built in Bedfordshire.

The helium-filled Airlander is the creation of Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), a seven-year-old company that itself was born out of decades of British innovation and research in Lighter Than Air (LTA) craft.

HAV was able to make the step from initial prototype to the manufacture and test flight thanks to a 2010 contract from the US Department of Defence. Led by Northrop Grumman, the aim was to create a so-called Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) – a super-sized surveillance aircraft that had the capability of spending days in the air on a single mission.

The first test flight of the Airlander took place in August 2012. But in 2013, budget cuts led to the cancellation of the project. HAV bought it back from the DoD at effectively scrap value.

“We remain on very good terms with the US Department of Defence,” says HAV’s communications director Chris Daniels. “We continue to share data with them and we expect our dialogue to bear fruit in the future.”

So the Airlander came back to the UK, where it lives in a giant hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire. It’s there because it’s is the only place in the UK that can house it, having been built for airship manufacture in 1915.

One hundred years ago, Bedfordshire was at the cutting edge of aviation. Now it is again. 

At present, Airlander 10 can carry up to ten tonnes and can stay airborne for up to five days. It is envisaged that Airlander 10 might be used for surveillance and communications, for filming, research and survey work.

However, there is (literally) a bigger picture. HAV’s aim is to transform and disrupt the cargo market by building a craft that will be able to carry 50 tonnes – the Airlander 50.

This enormous construction will be able to transport goods and equipment literally to all corners of the earth. It can land on water, desert or ice, enabling access to remote and inaccessible places, from the jungles of Africa to the icy terrain of Canada.

“All the studies indicate that there is a market for up to 1,000 of these craft,” says Daniels.

That’s because Airlander 50 transforms a key metric for transportation: the cost per tonne kilometre (ie. the amount it costs to carry one tonne over one kilometre). For example, a mining company could slash the costs of transporting ore from a remote mine to a processing plant.

By delivering point to point, it will also reduce the frictional costs of transportation. The more borders and ports through which a cargo has to pass, the more it incurs bureaucracy and paperwork and, in many cases, the greater possibility of spoilage and theft of goods. Airlander will be able to travel from source to site. And its environmental credentials mean that it can claim to be the greenest form of cargo transport.

Funding for prototyping

It is for the prototyping and broad technological development of Airlander 50 that HAV secured £2.5m from Innovate UK alongside investment from a group of private investors. (One of the investors is Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, whose presence on the shareholder register gives literal rock star status to the venture.)

This really is a British SME with the potential to lead the world in its field.

The development is being led by HAV with other world-class British firms including avionics experts Bluebear Systems and materials company Forward Composites and specialist teams from Cranfield, Liverpool and Sheffield universities.

Funding to unlock private investment

Hybrid Air Vehicles has also been the recipient of a significant grant from the Regional Growth Fund, in one of 56 new awards announced on 12 February 2015.

The backing immediately unlocks equity investment from private individuals and will ultimately lead to commercial agreements with customers, who will continue the funding of the business through a series of trials and demonstrations taking place during 2016.

“We are delighted to have received RGF funding,” says Stephen McGlennan, CEO of HAV. “The commitment of the UK Government to our business is vital, and this will ensure we fly our innovative Airlander aircraft and enter the commercial market. To achieve this we need to create jobs, and the RGF grant immediately helps us to do this.”
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HAV Launches New STEM Partnership
Pictured above Mark Robinson Head of Content and curiculum at The Learning Partnership and Henry Williams Projects and Events Manager at HAV. Presenting an early prototype of the competition aircraft. Hybrid Air Vehicles Limited will be the Engineering Partner for The Learning Partnership’s Navigate to the Line competition. Hybrid Air Vehicles Limited has long been a keen supporter of a variety of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) focused educational activities. As a company that relies on the best and brightest engineers, it is important to us that the future engineers of tomorrow are being encouraged to consider STEM today. This year, we are making an even greater commitment to STEM education. HAV will be the Engineering Partner for The Learning Partnership’s newest STEM in schools competition, Navigate to the Line. Best known for their Race to the Line competition, The Learning Partnership develops competitions to help meet STEM curriculum objectives while building interest in careers. The new competition will ask students to design a remote-controlled, micro:bit-enabled lighter-than-air aircraft. HAV has been involved in developing the competition and will continue to support The Learning Partnership with content designed to bring a variety of scientific principles to life. With the help of their teachers, students will explore buoyancy and the use of vectored thrust, both key parts of what makes Airlander a hybrid aircraft. Navigate to the Line will bring students’ skills together to take on a challenge inspired by Airlander’s capabilities and engage them with STEM subjects. "Encouraging students to consider STEM career paths is just another way we’re bringing Rethink the Skies to life across our business, and it is a goal HAV shares with The Learning Partnership," comments Tom Grundy, one of HAV’s executive directors. "We look forward to seeing how the competition develops." Educators who are interested in the competition are encouraged to contact The Learning Partnership. "2018 is our pilot year and we’re looking for schools who are keen to be the first to try this new competition," adds Aulden Dunipace, Managing Director of TLP. "We’re confident this is going to be an amazing competition and a great way to get Year 8 students excited about STEM." For more information about Navigate to the Line, please visit www.navigatetotheline.co.uk. About Hybrid Air Vehicles Limited Founded in 2007, Hybrid Air Vehicles is the company behind the innovative Airlander hybrid aircraft. Airlander can take off and land from virtually any flat surface and offers a powerful combination of flexibility, persistence, payload capacity, and efficiency. Suitable for roles from surveillance and border patrol to search & rescue and expeditionary tourism, Airlander is an aircraft that encourages customers to Rethink the Skies and consider new approaches to solving some of the toughest challenges facing aerospace today. Please visit www.hybridairvehicles.com for more information. For any STEM-related enquiries, please email stem@hybridairvehicles.net. About The Learning Partnership Set up to understand and apply within education the latest knowledge in the field of neuroscience, TLP has pioneered major advances in educational leadership, teaching and learner engagement over the last decade. The company is now focused on supporting global engagement in STEM by building and delivering STEM engagement programmes and competitions and linking these experiences to iconic organisations and programmes in the world of STEM. To learn more about TLP, visit http://www.thelearningpartnership.com/.

Video Channel

How Collaborative Expertise Launched the Airlander Project
A video from The Institution of Engineering and Technology explaining how Hybrid Air Vehicles has been working with Forward Composites to apply decades of race-bred British carbon composite expertise in the development and manufacture of the revolutionary Airlander.
We completely agree with you. https://t.co/IftfzHAxXk
HAV's own Tom Grundy spoke with @vagomuradian about #Airlander10's unique capabilities during #FIA18. See the full… https://t.co/aiQ1s7cCWA
Did you see HAV's Tom Grundy being interviewed by @WeAreFINN during #FIA18? Have a look! https://t.co/W019tpHbGi… https://t.co/ybwRGyYE3f