Cardington hangars have been making headlines this week as Shed 1 opened up to reveal the world’s largest aircraft undergoing reconstruction within - and a Bromham man will pilot it.
The Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander 10 (previously the HAV304), which at 92m long is dwarfed by the cavernous building, is bigger and more environmentally-friendly than a 747.
Originally built for the US military, the helium-filled aircraft was dismantled and shipped back to Bedford where it is being prepared for it’s first UK test flight, planned for December.
Chief test pilot Dave Burns is the only man in the world who has flown the vehicle. He piloted it for tests in America before the US government axed the project.
Mr Burns, who has lived in Bromham for the past 31 years, trained as a commercial pilot and flight test engineer before becoming an airship pilot in 1982 with Airship Industries.
He said: “For the first flight, Airlander 10 will fly up and down the valley between Cardington and the A1, where is it mostly farmers’ fields. We’ll take it to about 3,000ft, later it will go up to 10,000ft. People will be able to see it for miles and I expect many will think the aliens are landing!”
Mr Burns likened flying the aircraft to piloting a narrow boat, or barge, as it has a slower response to the controls than an aeroplane.
He said: “Flying it is more like sailing in that things happen at a lower speed. You need to be thinking ahead. Any adjustment takes a moment to have an effect.”
While the Airlander 10 is being reconstructed, Mr Burns is preparing by using a flight simulator and travelling to America to fly other airships. Once the Airlander is in full production, he will be involved in training a new generation of pilots.
Hybrid Air Vehicles is currently developing the Airlander 50, which will be able to carry 50 passengers, or 50 tonnes of freight. The firm is in negotiation with companies around the world and expects there to be a demand for hundreds of these vehicles. The main industries showing an interest are mining, military and luxury travel but, says head of partnerships and communications Chris Daniels, there will be many uses that they haven’t thought of yet.
He said: “We have been approached by someone who wanted to use the vehicle to observe colossal squid off the coast of Antarctica. Because the Airlander can take off and land anywhere, including ice and water, and stay airborne for days, people will find amazing ways of using it.” The Airlander harnesses the principles of traditional aeroplanes and airships to be the world’s largest and most energy efficient air craft. It is marginally heavier than air once filled with helium, and the design of the body creates lift like an aeroplane wing. The hull is made of a laminated fabric which contains bullet-proof Kevlar. In the unlikely event it punctured the ship would take several hours to float down to earth and the inert helium gas would prevent fire.
Iron Maiden frontman and aviation enthusiast Bruce Dickinson has put £250,000 into the project. To see what he says go to http://www.bedfordtoday.co.uk/news/local/cardington-shed-1-opens-doors-to-reveal-world-s-largest-aircraft-1-5907322