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And the World's Largest Aircraft is....

Published Friday, March 28, 2014. Category: Airplanes

What's larger than a Boeing 747 and the Antonov An-225 (the previous record holder for the largest aircraft)? It's the Airlander from Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV). The Airlander isn't an airplane though, it's an airship (think blimp). It can be flown by a crew and also be flown via remote control.

The Airlander is pretty amazing in size and technology. It's a bit over 300 feet long (the length of a football field) and looks like two blimps that were squeezed together. Unlike the blimps we know and love, this one is not lighter than air.

60% of the Airlander's lift/buoyancy comes from helium gas that is contained inside a laminated fabric envelope. What's really unique is that another 40% of lift is generated from the aerodynamic shape of the airship as it travels through the air. Four engines provide 25% more lift that can be used by the airship to take off or land.

Because the airship is heavier than air, it doesn't need a large crew to help "grab" it and hold it down while landing. This opens up opportunities for the Airlander to land almost anywhere, including on sand, snow, ice or water.

To help with landing, the "Heavy Lift" version of the airship will include a special landing system that employs inflatable skids that can be deflated and sucked up into the hull so that the airship is more aerodynamic while flying.

The landing system can be used in conjunction with the bow thruster to help maneuver the airship while it's on the ground and also can be used to create suction while on the ground so the airship remains stationary while it's being loaded or unloaded.

The Airlander was originally developed for the US Army as a surveillance aircraft for the Middle East wars. While drones were able to do flyovers and gather visual footage for a few hours, the military wanted more. The Airlander was designed to hover for up to 21 days.

As the war wound down, the need for the aircraft lessened. The development of the Airlander fell behind schedule. It became overweight due the tail section, which reduced the amount of time it could stay airborne. At the same time, the Federal budget was cut. Ultimately, the US Army decided to put a stop to the program and sold the Airlander back to HAV.

HAV has big plans for the Airlander. An even bigger version, the Airlander 50, is planned that will be able to carry up to 50 metric tons of payload and be outfitted with four turbine engines that generate around 10,000 hp.

Photo Credit: HAV