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World's Largest Aircraft Completes Its First Flight (cnn.com) 190

The world's largest aircraft has finally completed its first flight after months of preparation and years of searching for funding. The Airlander 10 as it's called spent 20 minutes in the air on Wednesday, landing safely at Cardington Airfield north of London. CNNMoney reports: "Part airship, part helicopter, part plane, the 300-foot long aircraft is about 50 feet longer than the world's biggest passenger planes. The Airlander, made by British company Hybrid Air Vehicles, has four engines and no internal structure. It maintains its shape thanks to the pressure of the 38,000 cubic meters of helium inside its hull, which is made from ultralight carbon fiber. The aircraft was originally designed for U.S. military surveillance. But the project was grounded in 2013 because of defense spending cuts. [The team behind the giant blimp-like aircraft] said the aircraft could carry communications equipment or other cargo, undertake search and rescue operations, or do military and commercial survey work. The Airlander can stay airborne for up to five days at a time if manned, and for more than two weeks if unmanned. It can carry up to 10 tons of cargo at a maximum speed of 91 miles per hour. The aircraft doesn't need a runway to take off, meaning it can operate from land, snow, ice, desert and even open water." You can view the historic flight for yourself here (Warning: headphone users beware of loud sound).
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World's Largest Aircraft Completes Its First Flight

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  • "hey, y'all! watch this!"
    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Thursday August 18, 2016 @07:26AM (#52724289)

      "hey, y'all! watch this!"

      Meanwhile, North Korean garlic, chili and cabbage head leader, Kimchi Jong-Un, has announced that they have successfully launched a giant rocket pin, which intercepted "a real big ass balloon".

    • by flink ( 18449 )

      Why would anyone need to shoot it down? The whole thing is a bomb! [youtube.com]. /s

  • Waste of helium (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 18, 2016 @06:06AM (#52724141)

    Helium is a rare element on Earth, despite being common in space. We need to be conserving our helium supplies. Why are we wasting helium on stuff like this?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      we should switch to Hydrogen, it's easier to get

      • by lbmouse ( 473316 )
        Plus if Trump wins the Presidency history would really be repeating itself in a hurry!
    • Re:Waste of helium (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 18, 2016 @06:25AM (#52724165)

      So this is a waste, but party balloons ore ok? Because I guarantee a lot more He is wasted on party balloons than will ever be used on these aircraft, by many orders of magnitude.

      • The Helium used in party balloons is highly impure and it is not cost effective to refine. One would hope that this aircraft is using the same impure Helium.
        • by dj245 ( 732906 )

          The Helium used in party balloons is highly impure and it is not cost effective to refine. One would hope that this aircraft is using the same impure Helium.

          Not always. According to this helium wholesaler [askzephyr.com], grade 4.5 (99.995%) gas is often used in the balloon industry. Granted, getting the "5th nine" is a lot more costlier than getting to 4 nines, but I would not use "highly impure" to describe that level of purity. Most industrial uses use 99.997%. Anything higher than that is research/military grade and probably relatively low-volume in comparison to the welding shops, cryogenic cooling systems, and manufacturing users using 99.997% or lower.

      • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

        So this is a waste, but party balloons ore ok? Because I guarantee a lot more He is wasted on party balloons than will ever be used on these aircraft, by many orders of magnitude.

        It depends on how many of such aircraft are made but I estimate the number of orders of magnitude to 2 or 3 (100x to 1000x more). One Airlander 10 has the equivalent of 2.5 million party balloons inside it, though I suppose this helium can get pumped out and recycled at the end of life.
        But helium as a lifting gas accounts for only a small part of total usage, and party balloons are only part of it (maybe half, to about 5%).

        Possibly one of the biggest waste is in MRI machines. They use up several times more

    • We need to develop materials that allow us to create airships using vacuum (even lighter than hydrogen).

      =)

    • Re:Waste of helium (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday August 18, 2016 @09:57AM (#52724827) Homepage

      Helium is a rare element on Earth, despite being common in space. We need to be conserving our helium supplies. Why are we wasting helium on stuff like this?

      Sigh, this stuff again....

      1) All lifting uses combined (party balloons, blimps, etc) make up a fraction of the 13% "other" category.. The big wasters are industry, where they buy either gaseous (e.g. welding) or liquid (e.g. cryogenics) and just dump it to the outside air. No recovery effort whatsoever. To the people who run cryogenic / industrial equipment: Yes, I know, recovery systems are a cost and it's always iffy whether it pays for itself. But you, "cryogenic people", and you, "we're running out of helium people", fight amongst yourselves and leave lifting purposes - which use little helium - out of it.

      2) Of that fraction of a 13% dedicated to lifting purposes, blimps use only a small fraction of it.

      3) Modern fabric for blimps such as vectran or aluminized BoPET leak literally several orders of magnitude less than old fabrics like polyurethane-coated nylon.

      4) Old style blimps need regular venting to adjust lift. Part of the purpose of this new generation of hybrid blimps is that they don't have to do that. And it's not the only type that can do this; variable-superpressure blimps can as well, as can phase-change blimps (see project ALICE).

      In short, you're looking at a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of a small fraction of a fraction of 13% of helium usage. No, this is not a problem. Furthermore, concerning helium itself:

      1) It's not clear that we're anywhere near "running out of helium". Helium hasn't been studied nearly as much as more economically important resources like oil and gas. We really don't even understand why most deposits that are rich in helium are like that. Entire new categories of helium deposits, such as volcanic helium, are looking increasingly likely to be economical (it had previously been thought uneconomical because it would all be diluted with CO2; we're now finding that this isn't always the case). We're finding out that groundwater plays a role in where helium migrates to. And on and on. As helium prices rise, more work is finally getting put until understanding helium resources and finding new ones. It used to be just way too cheap for that.

      2) The absolute worst case for helium is refrigerating it from the atmosphere, as the end stage of what we currently do to separate other noble gases. By volume, neon is about 3,5 times more common than helium, while helium is about 60 times more abundant than xenon; so the volumetric price for helium should be between that of neon and xenon, but closer to neon. Expensive, but still available. Except for one thing...

      3) ... we'll never get to that point. Because any gases from the ground will always be significantly more helium rich than the atmosphere, so we'll always use them as our source. Even if today's helium resources do get depleted (not likely anytime soon, see #1), it just means a steady progression to less helium rich gases (including virtually limitless volcanic ones) as the source. It will never approach the price of gases like neon, even in the worst case.

      Also, from the summary:

      The Airlander, made by British company Hybrid Air Vehicles, has four engines and no internal structure. It maintains its shape thanks to the pressure of the 38,000 cubic meters of helium inside its hull,

      Um, no, it's not. Blimps don't work that way. Loads are distributed at the very least by catenary curtains and cables.

      If you want a small scale example, take a garbage bag, blow air into it, and tie it off (blimps only have a couple hundred pascals overpressure, they're not like party ballons). Now hang a weight from it. Notice how horribly it deforms. You need catenary curtains to distribute the weight of your load across the fabric, to maintain your desired (aerodynamic) shape. You also need ballonets, so that the blimp doesn't explode when you change altitude.

      • by bigpat ( 158134 )

        Now that is a convincing argument.... bottom line is to go ahead and use as much helium as is economically viable and don't worry about imposing balloon bans or silly restrictions.

      • You sound like you know something, what are you doing on Slashdot?

        How does this airship stay on the ground? In the videos I've seen it doesn't look like there are any cables, does it have a way of adjusting lift or do they try to make it more or less neutrally bouyant?

      • Um, no, it's not. Blimps don't work that way. Loads are distributed at the very least by catenary curtains and cables.

        The outer envelope does that job on smaller ones. Here's some pictures:

        http://www.anabatic.aero/ [anabatic.aero]

        No cables inside or curtain inside. I worked on a project with one of the blimps back when the company was called minizepp, and we had an 8m long version. The construction had an impermeable bag on the insid and a ripstop nylon outer. Th gondala is velcro'd and then tied with ropes to the envelope

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          First off, typo on your specs page that you might want to fix (Lenght -> Length) :)

          What's your internal pressure? The higher the internal pressure, the less the deformation without internal reinforcement, and the smaller the envelope, the easier it is to bear a higher pressure. You often see superpressure balloons at small scale, but rarely at the large scale. I'm betting no ballonets either? Superpressure balloons have a degree of inherent altitude maintenance by resisting volume change (you'll note

          • First off, typo on your specs page that you might want to fix (Lenght -> Length) :)

            Nice try, but no. I was a happy customer of http://minizepp.com/ [minizepp.com] who went out of business or sold to those guys. The minizepp guy (it was one guy) basically adored blimps and made these wonderful ones. I think like many people in his position, business considerations were limited to "the bare minimum I need to continue making blimps", which is sadly not terribly sustainable.

            What's your internal pressure?

            Pass! I mean I lit

  • by MenThal ( 646459 ) on Thursday August 18, 2016 @06:18AM (#52724149)

    If it can carry tons of cargo, why the huge difference in time for manned (5 days) and unmanned (2 weeks)? ... Is it perhaps the size of the portapotty needed for the bricks people on that thing will lay during the voyage?

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      Same as manned spaceflight versus unmanned. To support people you need living spaces, food, water, heat/AC, pressurized cabin, etc. Lots of extra weight and energy consumption.
      • But space can't take tons of cargo, so I don't see which way the math turns into 3x.

        If it was filled with passengers, then it would add up, but just crew?

      • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Thursday August 18, 2016 @07:24AM (#52724277)
        Same as manned spaceflight - the glory days have gone.
        This is 300 foot long. The Graf Zeppelin of 1928 was 776 feet long with a useful lift of 60 tonnes.
        The Hindenberg was even bigger.
        • And, believe it or not, the Hindenberg had a smoking room. Now that's asking for trouble!
        • by dj245 ( 732906 )

          Same as manned spaceflight - the glory days have gone. This is 300 foot long. The Graf Zeppelin of 1928 was 776 feet long with a useful lift of 60 tonnes. The Hindenberg was even bigger.

          Material science and strength calculation complexity was a lot less advanced in the 1920s. You could build a better airship today if you wanted to, but it probably wouldn't make sense. Cargo airplanes are likely more cost efficient. Fuel-wise, the airship might be favorable, but the financial impact of an expensive asset taking 3 days to travel 6,000 miles vs 12 hours for a plane is a large consideration. The 747-ERF freighter can carry 248,600 lb (112,760 kg), nearly double the Graf Zepplin. And it ca

          • by plover ( 150551 )

            Right now, people are willing to wait weeks for a cargo ship to cross the ocean; those ships hold thousands of containers. But the expensive assets are unavailable during the journey. If you need them faster, your only choice is to load them on a plane, and you can have them in a day. But what about the middle ground? Is there no market for cargo that needs to arrive in three days instead of three weeks, at one tenth the price of air freight? I'm thinking that half of Amazon purchases could be shipped

          • Previous articles I've read on airships have typically focused on their ability to operate without an airport, or even a simple airstrip. They can pickup and transport large, heavy equipment directly to where it's needed regardless of most terrain. It seems like a nice capability, but I don't know what the market for that really is.

            • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

              I spoke once to a engineer that built motors for ships. His problem was that the motors were just too big to be transported from where he was (Bavaria) to where the ships were being built (Hamburg). They just didn't fit in the roads between these two places. So he had to build only the "small" motors (four meters high, ten meters long), while the really big stuff was built in China and shipped by ship (or just used for ships built also in China).

              This Zeppelin would be the perfect solution for him. The carry

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            Well yes, but how much fuel will it use?
          • by dbIII ( 701233 )

            Material science and strength calculation complexity was a lot less advanced in the 1920s

            Not as much as you would think.
            Those same age-hardened aluminium alloys are in use in aircraft today and solid mechanics calculations haven't really changed since then, we can just do it a lot of calculations a lot quicker with computers. Techniques like finite element analysis are about applying those same old calculations to much simpler geometries to do a vast number of simple operations instead of a few difficult o

        • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Thursday August 18, 2016 @10:07AM (#52724917)

          Same as manned spaceflight - the glory days have gone.
          This is 300 foot long. The Graf Zeppelin of 1928 was 776 feet long with a useful lift of 60 tonnes.
          The Hindenberg was even bigger.

          As soon as I saw the picture of it, that's exactly what went through my mind as well. They claim in the write-up that they're some kind of revolutionary fusion of different technologies...it's just a modern blimp with turbofans for thrust and some fins for directional/pitch control. Nothing new to see here, and not even very big when compared to craft of similar nature.

          Even more importantly, it's a solution in search of a problem. They originally built it for the military...which means "we thought they'd buy it from us, but they just laughed so we need someone else to give us money now." Note the prominent "Invest in Us" button at lower right.

          Also, 10 tons of cargo is NOT a lot of capacity for something of this size. That's 20,000 pounds...while a C-17 can carry 169,000 pounds. A lot of that cargo capacity will be consumed by holding crew and the things needed to support them, as well.

          So...in short, what you have is an airship that cannot be parked outside (you would not believe what wind will do to something this big but this light), that cannot go very fast, that cannot carry very much, that probably (given the pervasive use of carbon composites and Vectran in its construction) costs a shit-ton of money to build and repair, and that is made by a company that probably won't be in business much longer. Waaaaaaa hoo.

          • It is very different, IMHO.

            The Zeppelins were rigid, true lighter than air craft with bladders used to control buoyancy and maneuvering engines.

            This is a heavier than air craft with no bladders, only using aerodynamic lift like an airplane. And it doesn't have a rigid envelope.

            Basically "flies like a plane" vs "flies like a blimp" is the big difference and what makes this a hybrid airship. It should also make this thing MUCH easier to handle.

            Sam

    • Obviously, with unmanned, you don't need to worry about pilot unions and strikes.

  • by ribuck ( 943217 ) on Thursday August 18, 2016 @07:24AM (#52724279) Homepage

    Airships of the past were much bigger. The Hindenberg was 803 feet long (245 meters), more than twice the length of this midget.

    • by Mouldy ( 1322581 )
      Cardington Hangars is where Britain used to make airships in the past. The R101 was the biggest at 777ft.

      More recently, the hangars have been used for various film sets including Batman and Star Wars.
    • My Dad grew up in New Jersey. He said when the Hindenberg flew by, the teacher let them look out the window. Even though it was miles away they could clearly see it I guess. The Washington Monument is a mere 555 feet tall. The Empire State Building is 1250, not including the spire. So try to imagine more than the WM, and more than half the ES floating by low on the horizon, perhaps with the swastika visible. The implications weren't fully understood yet--a few years later my Dad and all his brothers w

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 18, 2016 @08:03AM (#52724387)

    when will US posters finally stop using imperial manner and units when posting, translating foreign information into their own old-fashionned sick measurment units ? is it a flying ship or a myriapod ? (300 feets ... !! )

    • by dfghjk ( 711126 )

      Never, and people who complain about it are hypocrites. It's not incumbent on others to deal with your inconveniences.

    • either that or you can become familiar with other units.

      There is something nicely retro in knowing that an acre was a measure of how much land an ox and a farmer could plow in one day; that the plowed in a straight line for 1/8 of a mile (a furlong). Even knowing that a mile was the measure of a 1000 paces (a pace is two steps- left, right).

      You want to be objective? Then I suppose you want us to use Kelvin for temperature? Ah, isn't this a nice 300 degree day?
    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      when will US posters finally stop using imperial manner and units

      Right after they start using coins bigger than a quarter-dollar, implement universal health-care, give their streets names, stop believing in God, replace grid-iron with soccer, and drive on left.

    • So feet is in fact the "correct" units to use here.
    • when will US posters finally stop using imperial

      We'd have to start using them first.

      A) America uses American customary units, which were derived from colonial era English units. British Imperial units share a common heritage, in that they were derived from those same English units as well, but the Imperial system was created in 1824, after America's independence, so the two countries diverged, resulting in the two systems having a number of differences [wikipedia.org].

      B) Brits still use miles in everyday practice, so feet are consistent with the system already in common

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Thursday August 18, 2016 @08:14AM (#52724425) Homepage

    Is that a good idea? Sure, it saves weight, but if it ever suffers partial deflation in the air there will be a total loss of control preventing them even attempting a crash landing as the aerofoils and props start pointing in random directions.

    • That's a stunning revelation!

      You'd better contact the Goodyear company ASAP. It looks like they've been putting people in incredible peril for over 90 years now with their fleet of deflatable blimps. You've got to stop them!

    • Given the effects of scale, a leak should be a ton less dramatic than most people would imagine. Even on a car or bicycle a leak can be very slow, it'd be more like that than what happens humorously in cartoons.

    • preventing them even attempting a crash landing

      Don't worry, no one has ever failed to make an attempted crash landing.

  • It's also the largest flying butt in the air. That's what my kids would say, especially the 6 year old boy.

  • This thing could do the NYC-London trip at a comfortable speed in about three days. At top speed, two days. I wonder what the operating costs are. It might be a great way to travel with amenities.
  • "When it gets down to it -- talking trade balances here -- once we've brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they're making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here -- once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel -- once the Invisible Hand has taken away all those historical inequities and smeared them out into

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