As it prepares for the first new flight of its Airlander 10 hybrid airship, Hybrid Air Vehicles of the UK is showcasing the vehicle’s special operations credentials here at SOFEX (Hall 1, Stand A143). Persistence, large payload, modularity, quiet operations and the ability to land on any flat surface are among the Airlander 10’s key attributes in the special ops arena.
Hybrid Air Vehicles has recently received EASA and Civil Aviation Authority clearance to fly the Airlander 10 from the base at Cardington, Bedfordshire. The HAV 304 design was initially developed with Northrop Grumman as prime contractor to answer a US Army requirement for a Long-Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV).
Having earlier flown the HAV-3 subscale demonstrator, the team flew the full-scale HAV 304 for the first time from Lakehurst, New Jersey, in August 2012, but the LEMV programme was cancelled in 2013.
Hybrid Air Vehicles bought the aircraft back from the US Army and is marketing it for a variety of civilian, government and military roles. The aircraft – the world’s largest – offers a substantial payload volume and 10-tonne capacity. The payload module can be reconfigured for many roles, and can accommodate up to 48 troops, or a mix of troops and equipment, including light vehicles. It can cruise at up to 80 knots, and has a range far exceeding that of a heavylift helicopter and at a much lower operating cost.
Modularity allows the Airlander 10 to be reconfigured for many roles, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), counterterrorism, search and rescue, command and control, and covert insertion/extraction, in addition to transport. In the persistent ISR role, the vehicle can remain aloft in a manned configuration for five days. The hybrid airship concept offers a platform with very low vibration and a large power/weight capacity for sensors and communications systems.
Unmanned operations are also possible.
The vehicle itself is a double-lobed, helium-filled design, its shape being aerodynamic in profile to contribute about 40 per cent of the lift in forward flight.
Power is provided by four 325hp V8 engines, mounted in ducts with vectored thrust capability for low-speed control.
Conventional aerodynamic control surfaces are mounted on the wings and twin fins. Nestled between the lobes, the payload module incorporates a beam for carrying externally slung loads.
The design of the Airlander 10 builds in a high degree of survivability. Filled with inert gas to a low differential pressure, the laminated fabric envelope offers a low leak rate if damaged, while the airship’s multi-redundant systems are widely distributed around its large shape. Furthermore, the hull is radar-neutral, and the vehicle can be fitted with armour protection around critical areas, and a defensive aids suite.