Hybrid Air Vehicles and BAE Systems are exploring potential defense and security applications for the Airlander hybrid airship.
The partnership between BAE Systems’ innovation unit FalconWorks and Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) will look at possible applications including airborne defense logistics and long-endurance airborne communications and surveillance with large payloads.
The agreement covers the scoping of collaborations on technical programs, the exploration of potential defence market opportunities for Airlander and related supporting activity.
The Airlander was initially developed for the US Air Force with logistics and Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) uses in mind, as part of a project that started in 2009. After that program was canceled, HAV purchased the prototype and switched it to a commercial project. The airship made its first flight in August 2016.
HAV has secured orders from the European regional operator Air Nostrum for the Airlander 10, which will have a range of 4,600 miles (7,400km), a top speed of around 85mph (km/h) and will be able to stay airborne for up to five days.
The 302 x 143ft (92 x 43.5m) helium-filled airship is part lighter-than-air blimp and part airplane. Its shape is designed to minimize fuel usage through the additional lift it gives the airship.
HAV said that in defence logistics Airlander 10 could carry up to 10 tonnes of payload, providing longer-range, lower-cost and higher capacity air transport than today’s military transport helicopters.
The company also has variants of the Airlander in development that would be capable of carrying higher payloads
Dave Holmes, managing director of FalconWorks, BAE Systems Air said, “The changing character of conflict is driving new and novel approaches across the defence sector, including using new sources of synthetic and sustainable power, new materials and new processes that allow us to harness sustainable tech right from the outset.
“We’re excited to work closely with the Hybrid Air Vehicles team to jointly explore and advance Airlander’s potential defence and security capabilities.”
Tom Grundy, CEO of Hybrid Air Vehicles said, “I’m thrilled to announce this MoU with BAE Systems, the UK’s pre-eminent defence and security company, the perfect partner to accelerate the development of modified Airlander systems for the global defence market. This announcement demonstrates the significant momentum that we have built behind the Airlander project, and we are looking forward to carrying that with us into the next, crucial stage of starting production of Airlander 10.”
HAV is also working with the US Navy to assess the potential use of the Airlander airship as a logistics platform.