A hybrid aircraft derives its lift from a combination of aerodynamic lift (like an aeroplane), lifting gases (like an airship) and vectored thrust (similar to a helicopter). Airlander generates up to 40% of its lift from aerodynamics by the passage of air over the hull and the remainder from buoyant lift from the helium. At lower speed and closer to the ground, vectoring engine power is used to provide additional lift and manoeuvrability for take-off, landing and ground handling.
The idea is to have the best of all worlds. The lifting gas offsets the weight of the aircraft meaning that less energy is required to keep it aloft. Like an airship, this means that it can carry a lot of payload, burn very little fuel and fly for a long time.
The use of aerodynamic lift means that Airlander can generate more or less lift as required. This means that, unlike an airship, it is heavier-than-air. It can therefore stay in place on the ground while it is loaded, unloaded, fuelled and maintained, meaning that it requires little or no expensive, fixed infrastructure.
In this way, Airlander combines the efficiency, capability and environmental friendliness of an airship with the practicality of a normal aircraft. Airlander minimises the need for expensive ground infrastructure to operate the aircraft in remote places, while enabling safe, quiet, efficient and capable flight. Its low cost, low environmental impact and unique flight capabilities enable us to Rethink the Skies.
Airlander is designed and manufactured to the same standards of safety as every other aircraft. Airlander will have a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) type certificate, and we are approved by the CAA to design and build aircraft. Equally, in operation, its operators will be subject to the same regulations as apply to other aircraft.
Airlander 10 has a top speed of 130kph and can stay airborne for up to five days. Although this is not as fast as the fixed-wing airplanes we are used to, speed is not the most important feature for our potential customers. For example:
The hybrid-electric configuration used for mobility applications will have an electric range of 350km and a hybrid-electric range of over 750km. In other applications such as long-range logistics, surveillance and comms, typical operating ranges can be up to 2000 nautical miles (3700km). These long-endurance applications will continue to use fuel-burning engines, with Airlander's in-built efficiency offering a dramatic reduction in emissions to other aircraft even without the addition of electric power. Airlander's ferry range (the distance it can fly itself, empty, for example to deliver it to its operating location) is 4000 nautical miles (7400km).
Airlander’s hull has a relatively low radar return as it is constructed from fabric and helium-filled. Airlander’s engines aren’t gas turbines and therefore have relatively low infrared radiation. They’re also widely spaced, which further reduces the aircraft’s heat signature. The aircraft can fly at up to 20,000 feet and typically operates at altitudes above the range of small arms fire and most man-portable air defence systems. Read our vulnerability & survivability paper to find out more.
The biggest difference between Airlander and eVTOLs is scale. Most eVTOLs are for 4-6 passengers, while Airlander will be able to fly with 90 passengers. Airlander's efficiency means that its hybrid and electric configurations can go further and/or carry more payload or passengers for a given amount of electrical energy.
One of the other big differences between Airlander and eVTOL concepts is when you can expect to see them in service. We have flown Airlander 10 as a full-scale prototype and are ready to enter production. We have strong, established relationships with regulators and a plan for Type Certification. We have both Design and Production Organisation Approvals. These are critical steps on the journey to bringing a new aircraft type to market and will see Airlander 10 available for operation within just a few years. There are some eVTOL aircraft that are in early flight testing now, but the majority are earlier in their development.
We have a put together a selection of route comparisons to highlight the emissions reductions possible with Airlander 10 for a number of popular routes. You can explore the route comparisons here.
It does not need to. Although large, Airlander needs only an open, relatively flat space to take off and land. This allows the aircraft to land in remote locations for surveillance operations or to take passengers to the furthest corners of our world. This flexibility in operations is one advantage of Airlander’s hybrid design. Unlike traditional airships, Airlander is heavier-than-air, which allows it to "sit" on the ground similar to an aeroplane or helicopter.
Unlike most aircraft, Airlander is designed to operate without a hangar. The majority of maintenance can be performed while the aircraft is on the mast. For some operations, a hangar will improve maintenance efficiency. We have designed a hangar suitable for Airlander.
In terms of operating the aircraft, Airlander simply requires a flat surface of appropriate size: a 600m diameter circle. This could be any surface including grass, sand, or water. This opens up the opportunity to operate Airlander from locations where traditional infrastructure options aren’t available.
There are some conditions where Airlander can be loaded and unloaded without any infrastructure at all. In general, though, the aircraft will need to be attached to a mast for loading or “parking”. A smaller portable mast can be carried on the aircraft and Airlander is also supplied with a bespoke mooring vehicle for use at more permanent basing locations.
Airlander pilots will require an Airship Commercial Pilot License, abbreviated to CPL(As), plus an Airlander Type Rating. A CPL is required for any flying on any type of aircraft for which a pilot is paid. Initially, holders of aeroplane or helicopter commercial pilot licenses will be trained to earn the airship CPL to which they will then add the type rating, accounting for the special features of the Airlander hybrid aircraft. In future, Airlander pilots will be trained from non-pilots through the same process.
For aircraft maintainers, each part of the world operates differently but with similar principles. For example, under the European systems (UK Civil Aviation Authority and European Aviation Safety Agency) licensed maintainers will require a separate rating (L5) on their aviation maintenance licenses (known as Part-66).
Airlander will fit into the existing air traffic management just as any other aircraft would. Our operations will be at different altitudes and speeds to some other aircraft, just as helicopters and light aircraft are different to passenger jets. We will interoperate in normal airspace like many other types of aircraft.
Like any other commercial aircraft, Airlander will be type certified and capable of flying in a wide range of weather conditions. The aircraft can safely take off and land in up to 30 knots of wind. Unlike other large aircraft, Airlander is not cross-wind restricted, as it can simply turn into the wind and take off in any direction.
The aircraft will also be capable of withstanding lightning strikes and icing conditions. This is a requirement for all type certified commercial aircraft.
Find out more here about the impact of weather on Airlander's operations.
Airlander was designed to operate in a wide range of operating temperatures to allow worldwide operation. This includes conditions where icing might occur. Any areas of the aircraft where ice build-up could occur in flight (e.g. propellers) will have ice protection. All of these elements will be fully tested as part of Type Certification.
You can find out more about the impact of temperature on Airlander here.
Turbulence is the random or chaotic disturbance of the atmosphere away from its steady state. It is created primarily from three natural causes; the effect of the terrain below, the effect of the jet stream and by storm systems.
Airlander is significantly less affected by turbulence, compared to a traditional passenger jet, for two reasons. Firstly, Airlander has a substantial inertial mass due to the 44,000cu.m of gas held within its hull and this inertia helps reduce the effect of turbulence on the cabin. Secondly, Airlander’s hull is effectively the wing and due to its large size (it is nearly 100m long) the hull ‘bridges’ across the relatively short period turbulence so that it ‘averages’ the turbulence out (several up gusts and down gusts may be acting on the hull at the same time thus causing the overall force to be reduced). So while you will feel turbulence when you fly on Airlander, it will be substantially reduced when compared to an aeroplane subject to the same level of turbulence. Your coffee will certainly stay in the cup!
You can find out more about the impact of turbulence on Airlander here.
We're now working towards the type certified production aircraft. We are anticipating aircraft in service with customers from 2028, with test flying to begin at some point before that. The exact timeline is dependent on a variety of factors including orders, certification, and build progress.
We are currently preparing for the launch of our production and type certification programme. This programme will deliver the first Airlander 10s into service with customers.
There will be many milestones during the course of the programme, so you can expect further updates as we progress.
We have not yet determined where our final assembly and airfield will be located, but our headquarters and Airlander Technology Centre are both located in Bedford. We'll make further announcements in due course.