UK skies set for cheeky upgrade with hybrid airship

Depending on planning permission being given for facility

The Airlander hybrid airship looks set to go into production within a few years, if its maker can get planning approval for a factory.

Hybrid Air Vehicles announced it has agreed terms with Doncaster Council, based in north central England, for a production center at Carcroft Common outside the city to build the 92 meter (302 ft) long Airlander 10 aircraft.

The British airship builder says it wants to establish the facility as a hub for advanced manufacturing and sustainable aviation in South Yorkshire, which could lead to the creation of more than 1,200 new jobs and boost supply chains.

However, Hybrid Air Vehicles has yet to obtain planning approval for the 500,000 sqm (50 hectare) site, which has been earmarked by the council for development with the aim of stimulating economic growth.

Subject to approval being granted, HAV plans to build facilities at the site for Airlander 10 production, testing, and certification operations, and expects to be capable of producing up to 24 aircraft per year.

Airlander 10 production visualization

Airlander 10 production hub visualization

"Airlander 10 will transform what's possible for sustainable air travel, and Carcroft Common will deliver the flagship production center we need to do that," Hybrid Air Vehicles CEO Tom Grundy announced in a statement.

"Our vision to rethink clean flight has been met with robust support at every step of the way by City of Doncaster Council and South Yorkshire region. We look forward to working closely with the community as we launch our production program and progress this extraordinary project," he added.

Hybrid Air Vehicles claims that orders for Airlander 10 now stand in excess of £1 billion ($1.26 billion) – although representatives did not answer our query asking how many aircraft this amounts to, or how many customers it has. What it did reveal is that the first aircraft is expected to enter service in 2028, with Air Nostrum Group named as the launch airline.

Airlander 10 is described as a hybrid airship because it is filled with helium, but also achieves lift through aerodynamic forces. Its unusual shape acts as a lifting body, contributing aerodynamic lift while the aircraft is in motion.

Some have described the shape as resembling buttocks, branding the airship "the Flying Bum" (in the UK sense of "bum" meaning rear end, not the US sense meaning vagrant).

The maker claims the distinct hybrid design means that less energy is required to keep it aloft while, unlike an airship, it is heavier than air and can stay in place on the ground as it is loaded, unloaded or refueled. It is capable of carrying either 100 passengers or up to ten metric tons of payload.

The Airlander 10 was originally developed as the HAV 304 for the US Army's Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program. The aim of this was to come up with a platform for surveillance and reconnaissance capable of loitering for long periods (21-day on-station availability, according to Wikipedia) in the sky over places such as Afghanistan.

With the cancellation of the LEMV project, the HAV 304 was bought back by Hybrid Air Vehicles and returned to the UK, then rebuilt into the Airlander 10 prototype.

The planned production site builds on a previous agreement with the Mayor of Doncaster and the Mayor of South Yorkshire last year, according to Hybrid Air Vehicles. Underpinned by a £7 million ($8.86 million) investment by the region, this includes a commitment to collaborate on skills and supply chain development.

When asked about production timeline and customers, HAV told The Reg it had "worked with AECOM Ltd, its engineering services partners, to capture outline delivery schedules. The next step is to develop and submit a detailed planning application. This will involve wide stakeholder engagement and finalizing the site layout. This process will also involve the firming up of final building designs and detailed schedules.

"We will be able to confirm timescales as we work through this process, but the production and Type Certification program is due to begin in 2024, with entry to service for customers in 2028.

"In terms of the orderbook, HAV has a variety of reservation agreements in place including from leading regional airline, Air Nostrum Group, as well as French eco-tourism provider, Grands Espaces. In 2023, Air Nostrum Group doubled its initial order from 10 aircraft to 20." ®

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