World's longest aircraft is unveiled in UK

How the Airlander was built

Related Stories

The world's longest aircraft has just been unveiled in Britain's biggest aircraft hangar.

At first, you might mistake it for a giant airship - gas-filled balloon on top, pod slung underneath.

But the unique, aerodynamic shape of the balloon - it looks as if a series of cigars have been sewn together - means it can also generate lift just like an aeroplane wing.

That is key, because it enables the designers to make the machine heavier than air, which cuts the need to have dozens of crew hanging on to ropes holding it down every time you land.

In fact, you can land it via remote control with no-one on board at all if you like. And on water if needs be.

Let me put it into perspective for you.

This thing is two-and-a-half times longer than the distance covered by the Wright brothers' first powered flight.

With a length of 302ft (92m) the new airship is about 60ft longer than the biggest airliners, the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8.

It is also almost 30ft longer than the massive cargo-carrying Antonov An-225, which until now was the longest aircraft ever built.

Bruce Dickinson The hybrid airship is "a game changer", says Bruce Dickinson
Government funding

It costs about $100m (£60m) and the designers are planning an even bigger version that will eventually be able to carry 50 tonnes at a time.

The company developing it has now received £2.5m of government funding to develop the technology and engineering for the project.

"We are jointly funding £2bn of research and development into the next generation of quieter, more energy efficient and environmentally friendly planes," says Business Secretary Vince Cable.

"That includes backing projects like Hybrid Air Vehicles' innovative low carbon aircraft which can keep us at the cutting edge of new technology.

"Here is a British SME that has the potential to lead the world in its field."

Cardington airship hangars Cardington's hangars were built for Britain's early 20th Century airships
'We'll fly over the Amazon'

All of which will be welcome news to one of the project's high-profile investors, Bruce Dickinson.

He is one of those people who can't stop achieving stuff.

As if being the lead singer of one of the world's most successful and enduring rock bands, Iron Maiden, was not enough, he is also an airline pilot, businessman, and is investing in this project.

Start Quote

The airship has always been with us, it's just been waiting for the technology to catch up”

End Quote Bruce Dickinson HAV investor

"It's a game changer, in terms of things we can have in the air and things we can do," he says.

"The airship has always been with us, it's just been waiting for the technology to catch up."

He wants to sell them and he'll be very good at it. As we chat in the hangar, he goes through its credentials.

It is 70% greener than a cargo plane, he says. It doesn't need a runway, just two crew. And it can plonk 50 tonnes anywhere in the world you like, which is 50 times more than a helicopter.

He wants to drum up publicity with the kind of trip Richard Branson would dream up. A non-stop flight around the world - twice.

"It seizes my imagination. I want to get in this thing and fly it pole to pole," he says.

"We'll fly over the Amazon at 20ft, over some of the world's greatest cities and stream the whole thing on the internet."

The airship in its hangar at Cardington A first British flight is scheduled for later this year
Historic hangars

It is not surprising that we had to go to Britain's biggest aircraft hangar to see the world's longest aircraft.

For the best view, we had to climb the world's scariest staircase too (safe of course, but not one for the faint-hearted).

Cardington shed number one, in Bedfordshire, is nearly as impressive as the flying machine inside it.

Built 100 years ago, it dominates the skyline around here (along with its neighbour Cardington number two shed) and it is bristling with history. This is where they built the ill-fated airship, R101, back in the 1920s.

That behemoth was twice as long as the hybrid air vehicle, had a beautiful dining room and lounge on board, and was meant to herald the future of flight, right up until the moment it was devoured by fire after a crash in France in 1930.

Technology has come a long way since then. The Hybrid Air Vehicle (HAV) is full of inert helium, not explosive hydrogen.

The HAV is back in the UK after the US Army ran out of money to develop the project.

An illustration of HAV's Airlander airship The advantage of modern airships is they can deliver supplies to remote areas, say supporters
Flight plans

The US military bought it a few years ago and got this aircraft flying as a surveillance machine - it can stay in the same spot for 21 days at a time, and can fly with a lot of bullet holes in it too.

When the US defence budget was slashed, the British developers bought it back, and now they are planning the first UK flight later this year.

They are hoping to sell it to oil and mining companies to deliver heavy equipment to remote corners of the world. But they are also keen to sell its humanitarian possibilities.

The HAV, which has been named Airlander, could ferry tonnes of supplies to and from any disaster zone, day in and day out.

All you would need is a crew of two and a patch of ground, or water on which to land.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    16:51: Markets update

    The FTSE 100 share index closed at 6961, a rise of 0.61%, after gradually climbing all day.

    • Shares in Aviva rose 7.05% after it reported a 6% rise in operating profits to £2.17bn and a 30% increase in its final dividend.
    • Friends Life - which is slated to merge with Aviva in a £5.6bn deal next month. - climbed 7.07%
    • Meanwhile, Rio Tinto fell 2.88% and HSBC declined 2.64%.
     
  2.  
    16:31: India marriages Jon Bithrey Business reporter
    India mass marriage

    Marriage can be an expensive business, but in places like India, it can be much more so - because families have to stump up often crippling gifts before their daughters can marry. The BBC's Vishala Sri-Pathma has been investigating during Business Matters' trip to Chennai in southern India.

     
  3.  
    16:19: Russia inflation
    rouble notes

    Russia's annual inflation rose to 16.7% in February, and monthly inflation rose to 2.2% month-on-month, the Federal Statistics Service has said.

     
  4.  
    16:14: Petrobras corruption probe
    Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: February 2015

    The opening of a Brazilian congressional probe into alleged corruption at state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) erupted into a shouting match when lawmakers rushed the dais and accused the probe's leader of seeking to manipulate the outcome.

     
  5.  
    15:53: US factory orders

    The Commerce Department also said orders for non-defence capital goods excluding aircraft - seen as a measure of business confidence and spending plans - rose 0.5% compared with a 0.6% rise the previous month.

     
  6.  
    15:51: US factory orders
    Garment factory New York

    The 0.2% fall in January follows declines of 3.5% in December and 1.7% in November.

     
  7.  
    15:45: US factory orders

    US factory orders slip 0.2% in January but key investment category shows gain.

     
  8.  
    Muesli v granola 15:33: Via Email

    Live page reader Paul Williams writes: "I'm sure you are a healthy eating bunch at BBC Business but there is a distinct difference between muesli and granola - the former is server 'raw' whereas the latter is baked until crisp." Paul, you are absolutely right - granola is normally baked with honey.

     
  9.  
    15:21: Via Email Nigel Cassidy Europe business reporter

    If Greece was looking for more immediate financial help or leeway from the European Central Bank to meet its immediate financing needs, it got a pretty dusty answer from President Mario Draghi. He said the ECB's rules prevented it from monetary financing - that is printing cash to buy sovereign bonds. So no green light for Greece, for example, to issue more debt in the form of T-bills to tide itself over.

     
  10.  
    15:19: Via Email Nigel Cassidy Europe business reporter

    ECB chief Mario Draghi struck a slightly more optimistic tone at the start of his monthly press conference - decamped this month to Cyprus. The growth forecast he works on has been revised up slightly to 1.5% this year, rising to 2.1% in 2017 - thanks to the low oil price and the fall in the euro on the foreign exchanges. Plus the ECB's monetary measures to date.

     
  11.  
    14:58: Pawnbroker

    The UK's biggest prawnbroker has said its annual profits were hit after the price of gold fell during the year. H&T, which has 191 outlets, said its pre-tax profit fell almost 18% to £5.5m in the 12 months to the end of December as the average gold price fell 15% to £768 per troy ounce. But H&T shares rose after it maintained its full-year dividend.

     
  12.  
    Via Twitter Lerato Mbele BBC Africa Business Report presenter
    Fast food outlet global distribution

    tweets: The Fast Food train is blasting it's way into Africa. This week on "Africa Business Report" we look at the trends.

     
  13.  
    14:27: ECB bond-buying

    Greece can't rely on the ECB to raise the limit on its issuing of short-term debt, Mr Draghi said. "The ECB is a rule-based institution. It is not a political institution," he said. This could limit one possible option for Athens to fund itself.

     
  14.  
    14:17: ECB bond buying
    European and Greek flags near the Acropolis

    "In one sense you could say the ECB is the central bank of Greece," says Mr Draghi. "In fact you could say the ECB is the central bank for all countries in the eurozone," The purchase programme can't buy Greek bonds, he says. That's firstly because Greece is part of a debt restructuring programme. Secondly, the ECB can only buy investment grade bonds and Greece's bonds aren't rated that highly yet. Thirdly, the ECB can't buy more than a third of a sovereign's bonds.

     
  15.  
    14:16: ECB bond buying

    The ECB increased emergency liquidity assistance for Greeks banks: "We have raised the ELA today by €500m," Mr Draghi said.

     
  16.  
    14:08: ECB bond buying
    Euro - US dollar rate

    The euro briefly rose to $1.1115 during Mr Draghi's press conference before falling until it was 0.4% down on the day. The drop happened after Mr Draghi said there was a chance quantitative easing could continue beyond September 2016.

     
  17.  
    14:06: ECB bond buying

    The ECB now sees GDP growth accelerating to 1.5% in 2015 from last year's 0.9% and ahead of its December forecast for 1.0%. It foresees GDP growth of 1.9% in 2016, higher than December's forecast, and of 2.1% in 2017.

     
  18.  
    13:59: ECB bond buying

    In case you were looking for Mr Draghi's exact wording on bond buying, this is what he said: "We will on 9 March 2015 start purchasing euro-dominated public sector securities in the secondary market. We will also continue to purchase asset-backed securities and covered bonds which we started last year." Hope that's clear.

     
  19.  
    13:54: ECB bond buying
    Mario Draghi

    High structural unemployment and low growth in certain parts of the eurozone "is not grounds for complacency," Mr Draghi says. In a clear reference to Greece he adds "structural reforms need to be implemented swiftly... and credibly".

     
  20.  
    13:48: ECB bond buying
    Mario Draghi

    Mr Draghi says inflation is expected to be a bit lower this year as a result of lower oil prices, but inflation is expected to be somewhat higher in 2016, rising to around 1.8% in 2017.

     
  21.  
    13:45: ECB bond buying
    US oil well

    There are risks to the eurozone, Mr Draghi says, but the lower oil price and the actions of the ECB mean those risks have been mitigated. He expects inflation to pick up in late 2015, he says.

     
  22.  
    13:39: ECB bond buying

    Mr Draghi says domestic demand should be supported by the ECB's policy measures. Demand for European exports, for example, should increase as prices become more competitive, he adds. Mr Draghi also expects the lower oil price to be helpful over the next few months.

     
  23.  
    13:37: ECB bond buying
    Euros

    Mr Draghi said the ECB had "already seen a significant number of positive effects" from its monetary policy, including improved borrowing conditions for firms and households.

     
  24.  
    13:34: ECB bond buying

    ECB president Mario Draghi tells assembled journalists that bond-buying will start on 9 March. The combined monthly purchases will amount to €60bn, he adds. The intention is to continue with monthly bond purchases until September 2016. But Mr Draghi leaves the door open to continuing the programme beyond this deadline, if necessary, to get inflation back up to the bank's target of 2%.

     
  25.  
    13:24: Braneater
    Granola

    Eighties' pop smoothies Daryl Hall and John Oates are suing an upmarket breakfast cereal maker called Early Bird, which was had the temerity to call its granola (muesli on this side of the pond) Haulin' Oats. The duo's lawyers claim the name is "an obvious play upon [their] well-known Hall & Oates mark". Chew on that.

     
  26.  
    13:12: Market update

    Aviva is still the top riser in London this lunchtime, up 5.7% following strong annual results. HSBC tops the fallers, down 2.4%. The FTSE 100 is 0.4% higher at 6,946.

     
  27.  
    13:00: IAG
    Willie Walsh

    Who doesn't love an LTIP? That's a long-term incentive plan in biz speak - or "windfall" if you prefer. Shares vesting under such a plan have boosted IAG boss Willie Walsh's pay package to an impressive £6.4m for 2014 - 27% higher than the previous year. Still, shareholders may not complain too much considering the share price of the BA and Iberia owner has risen 27% over the past year too.

     
  28.  
    Taking the biscuit Via Email David Tinslet, UBS economist

    Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) members may have spent more time deciding what biscuits to have at their regular policy meeting than the actual policy decision this month.

     
  29.  
    ECB holds rates 12:46: Breaking News

    And now the European Central Bank has announced that it too is doing nothing to interest rates this month, leaving the main bank rate unchanged at 0.05%. We'll hear more on its bond-buying programme at the press conference at 1330 GMT.

     
  30.  
    12:23: FCA review

    Banks may be forced to compensate some customers after failing to meet standards on selling complex investment products, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has said in a review of the sector. Structured products range from alternatives to cash deposits to complex investments linked to multiple financial assets or indices. Some firms assessed by the watchdog have been asked to determine if customers were harmed.

     
  31.  
    12:08: Interest rates

    Martin Beck, senior economic adviser to the EY Item Club, says the next rate rise could be almost a year away. "While the risks of an earlier rate rise have probably increased lately, we still think it most likely that the Bank will wait until February 2016, by which time inflation will be back above 1% and heading towards the 2% target."

     
  32.  
    Bank holds interest rates 12:00: Breaking News

    That's it: six years of interest rates at 0.5%. The Bank of England, in the least surprising move of all time, has left rates unchanged - and neither has quantitative easing been altered.

     
  33.  
    11:43: Aer Lingus
    Aer Lingus

    The Irish government expects BA owner IAG to sweeten its €1.36bn offer for Aer Lingus to convince it to sell its 25% stake in the airline. Deputy prime minister Joan Burton said the transport minister anticipated "further offers forthcoming from IAG".

     
  34.  
    11:30: Mikhail Fridman

    David Cameron's spokesman says the PM "entirely backs" the seven-day deadline to decide the fate of Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman's newly acquired North Sea assets. He added that the government was ready to act if assurances were not received.

     
  35.  
    11:22: TSB pay
    Paul Pester

    TSB has revealed its chief executive Paul Pester (pictured) received a salary and bonuses totalling just shy of £1.9m last year. As a comparison, Barclays boss Anthony Jenkins was paid £2.3m last year. TSB listed in London last June - although its shares are 10% below the float price at 260.1p.

     
  36.  
    11:06: Car sales up in February

    Staying on a car theme, UK new car sales rose 12% in February, says the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). February car sales totalled 76,958, taking sales in the first two months of 2015 to 8.3% overall. Sales rose by nearly 10% last year, their highest rise in a decade, the SMMT said in January.

     
  37.  
    10:49: Aston Martin at Geneva
    Aston Martin Vulcan

    Do you like Aston Martins? Of course you do. In which case you really ought to take a look at its new car, the Vulcan.

     
  38.  
    10:35: Cold homes
    fireplace

    The health watchdog NICE - the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence - is calling on plumbers and heating engineers, as well as family doctors to sound the alarm if people in England are living in homes that are too cold. The aim is to reduce the higher level of deaths in winter.

     
  39.  
    10:19: Greek unemployment
    A man walks by greek flags for sale

    Greece's jobless rate rose to 26% in December from 25.9% a month earlier as the economy shrank slightly in the last quarter of 2014, statistics agency ELSTAT says. That's the lowest unemployment rate since September 2014 and now quite a bit below the record high set in September 2013, when unemployment hit 27.9%.

     
  40.  
    Mobile World Congress Via Twitter
    BBC

    BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones tweets: From the Ubuntu phone to VR headsets find all our coverage by choosing mobile phones topic in BBC news app @BBCRoryCJ

     
  41.  
    09:42: Zalando expansion
    Zalando

    Watch out Asos... Zalando, Europe's biggest online-only fashion retailer, plans to hire 2,000 new staff as it aims for sales growth of 20% to 25% this year. It is considering setting up local distribution hubs in Britain as well as Italy, Spain and the Nordics to complement its existing warehouses in Germany. Frankfurt-listed Zalando is worth almost €6bn (£4.3bn); Asos is valued at £2.7bn.

     
  42.  
    09:24: House prices

    The current figures may be slightly deceptive however. Halifax says prices rose by 2.6% in the three months to February, compared with the previous three months. Its housing economist, Martin Ellis, says a modest rise in activity reflects increases in real earnings and spending power, recent falls in mortgage rates and changes to stamp duty.

     
  43.  
    09:10: House prices
    Sale and Sold signs

    House price in February were 8.3% higher than the same month a year ago, according to the latest Halifax figures, falling back from 8.5% rise last month and a peak in July of 10.2%. Compared with January prices were 0.3% lower. The average house now costs £192,372, Halifax adds.

     
  44.  
    08:57: Market update

    London's FTSE 100 Index is up 0.14% at 6,929 as traders wait for more details of the European Central Bank's bond-buying programme to be released later today. Aviva shares have jumped this morning after it raised the dividend by 30% on a strong set of annual results.

     
  45.  
    08:44: Carrefour results
    Carrefour

    Carrefour - the world's second-largest retailer after Walmart - plans to spend about €2.5bn (£1.81bn) on revamping stores in 2015 - the final leg of a three-year turnaround plan. The French group could also go ahead with an IPO of its business in Brazil - the supermarket chain's second-largest market - if conditions remain favourable. Operating profits came in at €2.38bn for 2014.

     
  46.  
    Via Twitter Radio 5 live

    Sean Farrington tweets: On Wake Up to Money's podcast today...After 6 yrs of low interest rates, where could you have got good returns? @seanfarrington

     
  47.  
    08:25: Virgin Money
    London marathon

    After listing in November, the challenger bank is set to be admitted to the FTSE 250 later this month. Its shares are up 13% to 327.5p, valuing it at £1.4bn. Virgin Money, which sponsors the London marathon, said today that underlying pre-tax profits rose 127% to £121.2m for 2014.

     
  48.  
    08:23: ECB bond buying BBC Radio 4

    Andrew Wilson, chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, also tells Today it will take time before we will see the impact of the ECB's bond-buying programme. He expects inflation to remain low for most of this year: "Almost certainly we will see negative rates of inflation this year; we're really talking about 2016 to see the impact of this policy."

     
  49.  
    08:12: Bupa results

    Bupa wants to capture a slice of India's fast-growing health insurance market when rules on foreign investment are relaxed. Stuart Fletcher, chief executive, says it's "still quite a nascent market - there is tonnes of headroom for growth". The private healthcare group posted annual profits up 8% to £638m today.

     
  50.  
    SFO bank probe Robert Peston Economics editor

    Does alleged scamming of £200bn Bank of Eng scheme to rescue banks show that some bankers need psychiatric help?

     
  51.  
    07:53: Best investments Radio 5 live
    Lego

    Wake Up To Money was asking listeners earlier about the best investment they have made. For one listener it was a Lego Millennium Falcon set. Have you made a particularly canny investment? Give us your thoughts at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or @bbcbusiness.

     
  52.  
    07:42: Aviva profits

    Mr Wilson's comments came as the insurance giant Aviva reported a 6% rise in pre-tax operating profit of £2.17bn, compared with just over £2bn a year earlier. The insurer has has been going to through a strategic overhaul including the sale of its North American business last year. It also raised in annual dividend by 30%.

     
  53.  
    07:31: Aviva profits
    Aviva stadium

    Aviva chief executive Mark Wilson says its annual results show the insurer is making "tangible progress". Aviva - sponsor of Dublin's rugby stadium - started "2015 in a position of strength", but he adds it would be "wrong to assume that our turnaround is nearing completion, as we have further to travel than the distance we have come".

     
  54.  
    07:20: London Stock Exchange Group
    LSE Group

    Another good year for London Stock Exchange Group, with revenue up 32% to £1.28bn and adjusted pre-tax profits up 17% to £445.9m. However, on the pure pre-tax level profits slipped 5% to £284.3m. The company is worth £8.3bn and its shares have risen 18% in the past year.

     
  55.  
    SFO Bank investigationVia Twitter Kamal Ahmed BBC Business editor

    "Unprecedented" much over-used by us hacks, but this actually is @BBCNews SFO launches Bank of England criminal probe

     
  56.  
    07:10: ECB bond buying BBC Radio 4
    The EURO logo

    The European Central Bank reveals more details of its bond-buying programme later today - but don't expect any surprises, Andrew Wilson, chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, tells Today. He says we've already seen "marked weakening" of the euro, so it will be interesting to see what impact ECB action will have.

     
  57.  
    06:55: Drones
    drone

    The House of Lords has called for a tracking system for all drones and their users. A report by the EU Committee of the House of Lords described drones - or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, to give them their official title - as an "exciting new technology", but warned that their use poses risks to the general public and other airspace users.

     
  58.  
    06:44: China growth BBC Radio 4

    China's 7% economic growth target for 2015 is about "sending a message" particularly to local governments, which look to Beijing for guidance in setting their own targets. But at the the same time the government is very concerned about the level of debt in the banking sector - something it is trying to address, Duncan Innes-Ker, China analyst with the Economist intelligence Unit, tells Today.

     
  59.  
    06:30: AbbVie

    Big news from the pharma world overnight as US company AbbVie announced a deal to buy leukemia drugmaker Pharmacyclics for $21bn (£13.8bn). It appears to have won the prize from under the nose of Johnson & Johnson, which some reports say was close to a deal.

     
  60.  
    06:20: Brazil economy Radio 5 live
    Copacabana beach

    The Brazilian currency - the real - has hit a 10-year low after the central bank raised interest rates by half a point to a stonking 12.75% overnight. The BBC's Daniel Gallas in Sao Paulo tells Wake Up to Money that the country could tip into recession this year as the government embarks on an austerity drive, raising taxes and cutting spending.

     
  61.  
    06:11: Interest rates Radio 5 live

    It's been six whole years since the Bank of England cut the base rate to 0.5%. That's been good for borrowers, but not so great for savers - of which there are many more after all. Vivan Slattery, an independent financial adviser, tells Wake Up To Money many of her clients have stayed in cash but are now looking at alternatives given that rates do not seem set to increase sharply anytime soon - particularly as many mortgage holders are now on the standard variable rate.

     
  62.  
    06:05: China growth Radio 5 live

    China has announced that its target growth rate for 2015 is 7% - down from 7.5% for last year. The BBC's Ali Moore in Singapore says the new target is not a reflection of panic in Beijing but part of its drive to lower expectations and rebase the economy to focus more on domestic demand. "It's more about quality than quantity," she adds.

     
  63.  
    Welcome to Thursday Chris Johnston Business reporter

    Good morning from me and Matthew West. Another busy day of business news coming up - we'll be here to guide you through it all. Get in touch with your comments at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on Twitter at @bbcbusiness.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • A robotClick Watch

    The latest in robotics including software that can design electronics to solve problems

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.