The curvaceous aircraft known affectionately as the "flying bum" will take to the skies for real in the not too distant future as its makers have announced they’ve got the go-ahead to start production of the world’s biggest aircraft.
Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) is retiring the famous bootylicious prototype, the Airlander 10, officially named the Martha Gwyn, but have been given production approval by the Civil Aviation Authority to go on to the next phase of production for the ship.
The flying bum, as it will always be known, launched itself into the global consciousness in 2016 with its distinctive shape. The first in a new generation of airships, it was, and still is, the longest aircraft in the world at 92 meters (302 feet).
Originally designed by the US army as a reconnaissance and surveillance platform that could stay in the sky for weeks, it was then dropped due to budget cuts and purchased by HAV to turn into a payload and passenger plane. Powered by diesel engines, it is filled with helium, making it “lighter than air” and much less flammable than using hydrogen, which caused the infamous Hindenburg disaster.
We applauded when it completed its first successful test flight in 2016, flying for 20 minutes at a speed of up to 35 knots and a height of up to 150 meters (500 feet), and we sniggered when on another test flight later that year it gently nose-dived into a field.
In 2017, it suffered another disaster after it came unmoored and deflated, with minor injuries to two people and damaging its cockpit, though the company later explained deflation was its default setting as a safety precaution if it ever came untethered.
Now HAV has retired the prototype, getting ready to move on to a production-ready model instead, which could take to the skies by the early 2020s. “The prototype served its purpose as the world’s first full-sized hybrid aircraft, providing us with the data we needed to move forward from prototype to production-standard,” Stephen McGlennan, the company’s chief executive, told the Guardian. “As a result, we do not plan to fly the prototype aircraft again.”
One of the future uses of this giant airship will be to offer eco-friendly luxury expeditions. Able to stay aloft for weeks at a time, with viewing platforms that amount to glass floors, the ships could offer unprecedented viewing of landscapes and wildlife that benefit from aerial views, from Antarctica to the African plains. Even remote destinations will prove accessible as the airship can take off and land on virtually any flat surface.
"Air travel has become very much about getting from A to B as quickly as possible. What we’re offering is a way of making the journey a joy," McGlennan said in a statement back in July. (No word yet on ticket prices though.)
The success of Airlander 10 may even spawn a new golden age of airships, with Airlander 50, its "big brother" able to carry a cargo of 50 tons, already in development. So goodbye flying bum, hello future holiday destination by luxury blimp. I'll wait.