GALLERY: World's largest aircraft unveiled just weeks from take off
For a few hours the iconic Cardington Sheds were the centre of global attention as the completed Airlander airship was officially unveiled.
The world’s largest aircraft is now just weeks from taking to the skies for the first time over Bedfordshire, and its creators, Hybrid Air Vehicles, showed it off with pride to international media crews.
Tethered to the ground by four huge concrete blocks, the helium-filled Airlander rose steadily to a few metres off the floor of Shed One as ground crew loosened the guy ropes.
Back on the ground, journalists from America, Japan, Europe and, of course, Bedford’s Times and Citizen were given the chance to take a look at the cockpit and mission module, where future passengers and cargo will be carried.
Imagine a gentle, silent, luxury flight over the African plains on safari, or taking in the Pyramids from the air. HAV say the passenger cabin will be floor-to-ceiling glass, with a glass floor - like a flying version of the boats which take you over coral reefs.
Or, humanitarian aid is urgently needed in a remote area. Tonnes of cargo can be flown in to any disaster zone and land on any terrain.
And this vision is now just weeks from becoming a reality as with its engines and fins firmly reattached, the ship is being rigorously tested to ensure all the buttons and switches do what they are supposed to do.
CEO Stephen McGlennan said the Return to Flight programme is “on time and on budget” with just the ground testing to complete before the first flight.
HAV and the Airlander are a global success story unfolding just down the road, with new job opportunities being created and the work force steadily increasing.
This is perfectly illustrated by 18-year-old Joseph Fairey, who is on a three-year aviation apprenticeship with HAV.
He said: “I’ve been here long enough to see the Airlander as a flat bag, and see it inflated. And in that time, the team has really expanded.
“I used to live in Shortstown and grew up with the hangars and the airships. I always loved aircraft and engineering, and now I work here.”
While Joseph mainly works on the engines, he has also been involved with work on the hull, the fins or mission module and payload.
He said: “Every day is different. I do spend two days at Bedford College studying for engineering qualifications and the tutors there are amazed at the opportunity I have here.”