Famous for airships, the Cardington sheds are once again home to a cutting-edge lighter-than-air vehicle which, one day, could take tourists for joyrides.
At 93m long, the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) is the world’s biggest flying vehicle. It is designed and built by Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), based in Cardington and Cranfield University Technology Park.
Spokesman for the company Chris Daniels said HAV is the offshoot of 40 years of development in Cardington and has been working on this airship with the US military for the past two years.
He said: “The ship is technically different to a blimp in that it is fractionally heavier than air, takes off in a similar way to an aeroplane but floats due to being filled with helium.
“It has four engines and can cruise at speeds of 60-75 knots, or 80 miles per hour and uses an exceptionally low amount of fuel.”
But unlike an aeroplane, the LEMV can take off and land on a variety of surfaces including ice, water and desert. It can also carry tonnes of equipment to the most extreme environments. As well as military uses, this capability makes it ideal for humanitarian missions to difficult-to-reach areas.
While its arrival in Shed 1 is good news for Bedfordshire, it is bad news for the US Army which ploughed $300million into the project until government budget cuts forced it to pull out of the project.
Mr Daniels said: “Two years ago, HAV won the contract with the US Army to develop and build the airship for surveillance. The project was axed and HAV were able to buy the aircraft back for just $301,000.
“It was deflated, packed up and shipped over from the States. We couldn’t fly it over, not because it couldn’t make that trip but because we need the right licences.”
The company will spend the next few months checking the components and reassembling the ship, inflating it with air initially.
The first helium-filled test flight is planned for the end of next year and they hope to have it fully licenced by 2015. At this point it is expected to find its place in the commercial market.
Mr Daniels said: “Long term its new customers could range from advertising to television, to delivering humanitarian aid. It could also be used for tourism, luxury flights or joyrides.”