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The largest aircraft in the world, a hybrid helium ship, has just taken to the skies for the very first time.

Lifted by over 1,340,000 cubic feet of helium, Airlander is part plane, part helicopter, and part blimp — a combination that allows this massive airship to fly not for days, but for weeks on end.

Airlander: A short history

It’s been a long process to get this incredible craft off the ground. Originally, the United States Army developed the ship as part of a surveillance program, but scrapped the plans midway. Hybrid Air Vehicles, the UK company that was helping to design the ship, bought the rights from the Army in 2012 with plans to use it for commercial purposes. It took a $1,000,000 crowdfunding effort to help see those plans through.

Helium lift

It wasn’t until 2015 that the Airlander was finally ready to be filled with helium. Remaining in its hangar, the giant hybrid helium ship was lifted off the ground for the first time on Halloween night. However, finishing work was still needed on the installation of the four 350-hp V8 diesel engines before any actual flights could take place.

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Maiden flight for hybrid helium ship

The first flight was originally planned for the spring of 2016, but final tweaks delayed the plan by a few months. On August 17, the maiden voyage finally took place.

The Airlander hybrid helium ship left its hangar and flew for about 20 minutes over the Cardington Airfield, reaching speeds of 40 mph.

The 44,100-pound, 302-foot long ship is capable of flying at speeds of 92 mph and carrying a payload of 22,000 pounds, or half of its body weight. Manned, it can fly for 5 straight days. Unmanned, for two consecutive weeks.

Hybrid Air Vehicles released a statement, announcing “All test objectives were met during the flight.”

If you’re wondering, the Airlander is indeed the largest operating aircraft on the planet today, but not of all-time. Older airships, including the Hindenburg and the USS Akron were considerably larger.


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Sources: Hybrid Air Vehicles, YouTube, Interesting Engineering