A new type of airship, the largest aircraft in the world, is currently preparing to take to the air. The 92-metre long Airlander 10, manufactured by Hybrid Air Vehicles, is 25% longer than a Boeing 747, meaning it really is the giant of the skies. According to its inventors, this modern era airship can reach an altitude of 6000 metres, fly at 140km/h and remain in the air for two weeks without a crew. The original concept for the aircraft was to assist the US military to maintain surveillance on certain countries where war and terrorism are common. This plan was later abandoned, however, and the craft adapted for civilian use.
An enormous airship such as this is maintained in the skies by the gas that fills it, which must have a lower density than the atmospheric air. Helium was chosen in this case as it inflates the airship structure, yet only gives a weight of 20 tons, just 10% that of an Airbus 380 airplane.
The construction of this new airship reminded me of the famous Hindenburg craft, a 245-metre-long German-made zeppelin that spectacularly exploded shortly before landing in 1937, causing dozens of fatalities. I recall watching a film as a child in the 1970s in New York with my Aunt Maria Helena and Uncle Bruno; it was named after the airship and starred George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft, directed by Robert Wise. The award-winning film was based on a conspiracy theory suggesting the airship was sabotaged, leading to its destruction, although no evidence of this in reality was ever found.
When we left the cinema in New York on that cold winter's night, I remained immersed and captivated by the history of the Hindenberg as we made our way back to our apartment, and I remember making the decision that one day I would travel in an airship. Many decades have now passed and life has not yet given me the opportunity to fulfil my wish, but who knows - maybe my chance has now come with the arrival of the Airlander 10? However, we may all just have to wait a little longer for the commercial launch of the airship – as with many new inventions, ‘teething troubles’ have yet to be overcome, clearly demonstrated by the heavy landing suffered by the craft this week in which damage was sustained to the underlying flight deck.
(Based on an article published in Portuguese in the newspaper Diário Popular, Pelotas)