Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Second Incident Casts Doubts Over Airship as Viable Freight and Passenger Carrier

Another Crash for the Great White Hope
Shipping News Feature
UK – Following the start of Airlander 10's next phase of flight testing, the part-blimp, part-plane hybrid aircraft broke free from its moorings and, once again, crashed into a field. This follows on from an incident in August last year when the airship ran into a telegraph pole causing severe damage to its cockpit. This time, the incident caused the aircraft to trigger its safety system, ripping open its hull to deflate the £25 million aircraft. In a statement, HAV explained:

“The aircraft was not flying at the time of the incident. Our initial assessment is that the aircraft broke free from its mooring mast for reasons that will be investigated. The aircraft has a safety system which operates automatically in circumstances of the aircraft breaking free of its mast, and is designed to rip open the hull and deflate the aircraft. This is a safety feature to ensure our aircraft minimises any potential damage to its surroundings in these circumstances. The aircraft is now deflated and secure on the edge of the airfield. The fuel and helium inside the Airlander have been made safe.”

The incident at Cardington airfield, home base of the Airlander 10, saw two members of staff from, Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), the aircraft's builder, sustain slight injuries as a result of the crash. One was taken to hospital for assessment as a precaution and has since been discharged. The other sustained his minor injuries while dealing with the aftermath of the crash. The value of the helium lost has not be released but is likely to equate to around £100,000.

The day before, the Airlander has now embarked upon the 2nd phase of test-flying, known as Airworthiness Release 2a (AWR2a). AWR2a permits Airlander to fly higher, up to 7000 feet; faster, up to 50 knots; and further away from its airfield, up to 75 nautical miles away, but most crucially allows the craft to undertake display and demonstration activity.

This latest incident once again brings into sharp focus the vulnerability of ‘lighter than air’ craft. Whilst the lifting agents are now infinitely safer than hitherto, Mother Nature alone controls the caprices of the wind and, as anyone who has ever flown a kite can evidence, these can be a force which must be reckoned with. Whilst craft such as the Airlander can be useful in regions where clement weather, such as deserts and some other deserted regions, doubts remain if they can ever be considered truly reliable in populous areas.

Photo: courtesy of Beds, Cambs & Herts Roads Policing Unit.