Take note: within days steampunk kids across the globe will be clapping their faux leather-gloved hands with glee and trying to invest their bitcoins in something big. Really big. The UK just unveiled the world's biggest aircraft, and it looks a hell of a lot like a dirigible. Originally developed by the US military for surveillance purposes, the hybrid-airship was dropped due to budget constraints... and possibly the fact that there is nothing subtle about being spied on by a 302 foot long aircraft. It has since been sold to savvy business minds in the UK, who renamed it the Airlander and see affordable cargo and travel in its massive future. Perhaps most importantly, its development is being backed financially and publicly by Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden who also happens to be a commercial pilot and wicked smart investor. (Be still my heart.)
While it does incorporate the expected gas-filled chamber up top, the monumentally long airblob is supported by some important innovations. The upper chamber's unique conjoined cigar design can generate lift like an airplane wing, allowing the body to be heavier than air—a key breakthrough for both handling and cargo use. Not relying solely on lighter than air gas means you don't have to rope it down like a scared horse on landing. The design also allows touch-down on virtually any level surface—grass, ice, water, rock, etc. This opens possibilities for transportation and trade, even in very remote or otherwise inaccessible areas.
Thus far the hybrid-airship's stats are pretty incredible. It's a full 60 feet longer than the biggest commercial airliners from Boeing and Airbus. As Dickinson points out, "It is 70% greener than a cargo plane. It doesn't need a runway, just two crew members. And it can plonk 50 [tons] anywhere in the world you like, which is 50 times more than a helicopter." It can also stay in the air a full 21 days without needing to stop and refuel, and it can be flown and landed entirely by remote control.
Now residing in Cardington's Hanger 1, home of the ill fated airships of the 20th century, the behemoth is still being reassembled after shipment from the US. It is scheduled to fly by early 2015, and plans for a 400 footer are in the works. Oh, and you can enter to win a ride on its maiden voyage.
Filling of the Beast
I'd forgive you for thinking it looks like a big balloony art piece. From different angles it resembles (in my seasoned opinion) a bleached hotdog sandwich, two cigars or a fat shark. I'd also forgive you for naysaying a little. Past efforts towards this kind of craft had glaring security or practicality faults... but listen. This thing uses inert gas. It's as long as three whales. It can cruise over mountains, land without a pilot, fly despite being riddled with bullet holes, and it's being backed by Bruce Dickinson. It is ridiculously cool and I won't have you wrecking it for me.
I don't know what the kids are into these days, but if it isn't charismatic mega-aerobusiness and Iron Maiden I don't care because this future is awesome.