While the A380 and its cargo-toting sister, the A380 Beluga, are the world’s largest commercial airliners, there’s still an even-larger aircraft set to take off this summer. It’s called the Airlander 10, and to be fair, it’s technically a “hybrid air vehicle.”
Hybrid in the sense that it uses multiple ways to fly. The aircraft pairs four V8 diesel engines and a state-of-the-art carbon composite hull full of helium, which provides up to 40% of its aerodynamic lift. This means that the aircraft can carry a large payload of cargo without using as much high-octane aviation fuel. In fact, the V8 engines provide a massive amount of efficiency thanks to the helium lift. And diesel is much more affordable and accessible than aviation fuel — the Airlander has 33% of the operating costs of a typical airplane!
Given its airship heritage, the Airlander is able to land without a runway. This opens up cargo to many remote areas without aviation infrastructure. The government could also leverage the aircraft during disasters and other operations to place supplies closer to the point of need. The video below captures a sunset landing of an Airlander, demonstrating just how flexible the craft can be.
For those in the travel industry, this news is noteworthy given the continued experimentation with alternative forms of transportation. Especially in the air, which has seen solar planes, a renewed interest in airships like the Hindenburg and even high-flying internet-wielding hot air balloons.
With its landing flexibility, the Airlander opens up new travel and tourism revenue streams. Travelers could be dropped in a remote area, preventing the need to destroy landscapes for roads. Boutique hotels could offer a “suite aloft,” which takes off each evening for an unparalleled sunset and view, or even build a culinary experience in the sky. And since the aircraft can stay in the sky for 5 days with a crew (or up to 2 weeks without a crew!), there are plenty of travel-related applications of an Airlander-class aircraft.
With a price tag of $35 million, however, there will need to be a serious economic case for investing in the Airlander. New opportunities for commercialization often emerge from these sorts of bleeding-edge technologies. For example, this could soon lead to a solar-powered airship which would mean emissions-free cargo shipping. Eliminating the fuel cost of cargo shipments would drastically reduce overall shipping costs while rapidly decreasing the average time to ship.
While these technologies are out on the bleeding-edge, the effort to build and innovate in transportation is always an inspiration for all of the aviation and travel geeks in our industry. The transformation in air travel continues to take unexpected turns. From drones to balloons, many surprises are in store for the aviation world over the next years!