The largest aircraft in the world measures 302 feet long, and it’s almost ready to take off. British aeronautical firm Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) has unveiled the Airlander 10, an experimental airship with an impressive list of capabilities. The aircraft can haul literal tons of cargo, and is also designed to stay in the air, without a human crew, for up to three weeks. The airship is held aloft with the help of helium, but make no mistake: this is not just another Goodyear blimp
HAV says the engineering team is making the final preparations to get the new airship off the ground. A series of last-minute modifications to the Airlander’s hull include an enormous lower port fin, four turbocharged diesel engines, and the airship’s lightweight but durable carbon composite payload module, which is where passengers or cargo would go. A few more improvements are still in line, and HAV expects to have the aircraft ready for launch by the end of this month.
The massive airship is being constructed in a hangar, and HAV hopes its durable, self-sufficient design will attract buyers soon. The balloon part of the aircraft is made from a triple-layer weave of three super-tough materials: carbon fiber, mylar, and kevlar. Inside, a million cubic feet of inert helium keep the ship aloft, and the balloon is unpressurized, which actually prevents leaks even if the craft’s thick skin has a few holes. Despite the four powerful engines, nearly half of the airship’s lift is attributed to the shape of the hull and the trapped helium, cutting down on the amount of fuel needed to fly the thing.
The company plans to put Airlander 10 into mass production by 2018 and crank out as many as half a dozen giant hybrid airships a year. If the concept takes off, these enormous crafts could have unlimited potential as floating luxury resorts, high-volume cargo transportation, military assets, and even a sky-high safari-mobile.