The U.K.’s Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd. (HAV) has begun reassembling a large airship acquired from the U.S. Army, following cancellation of the -led Long-Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program.
Cardington-based HAV plans to use the 302-ft.-long HAV304 hybrid airship, which flew only once in August 2012 at Lakehurst, N.J., as a prototype and demonstrator for its planned Airlander 50 commercial heavy-lift airship. The first U.K. flight is expected by year’s end.
The vehicle’s 1.34-million-cu.-ft. envelope was inflated with air inside the airship hangar at Cardington at the end of January, and HAV is now checking the thousands of parts that arrived via the Liverpool docks at the beginning of the year.
HAV, which designed the airship and manufactured its airframe and systems for Northrop Grumman, acquired the sole vehicle built for the LEMV program for $301,000, its scrap value, according to Chris Daniels, head of partnerships and communications.
The company is now raising up to £10 million ($17 million) in additional equity funding to take the program through re-assembly and its first U.K. flight. Existing shareholders include Bruce Dickenson, lead singer of heavy-metal group Iron Maiden and a commercial airline pilot.
HAV will seek a U.K. CAA Type B permit to operate the HAV304, renamed the Airlander 10, as an experimental prototype on demo flights. The plan is to tour Canada and the U.S. beginning in mid-2015 to show the airship’s potential for heavy-lift missions in remote areas.
The proposed tour would end in Rio de Janiero in 2016, where potential sponsors are interested in using the large airship for promotional purposes at the Summer Olympics, Daniels says, adding that other possible uses of the prototype range from academic projects to polar adventures.
Designed as an unmanned surveillance platform, the HAV304 prototype “is really an endurance aircraft,” he says. “But we can demonstrate the heavy-lift element with this aircraft. If it can easily carry 5 [metric] tons, then its big brother will carry 50 tons—60-70 tons in the colder Canadian north.”
The demo tour will help determine whether HAV develops “a variant a bit like this one [the HAV304] or goes straight to the Airlander 50,” Daniels says. The planned Airlander 50 is 390 ft. long, with a 3.64-million-cu.-ft. envelope, cruise speed of 105 kt., range of 2,000 nm., flight endurance of four days with two pilots and a payload capacity of up to 132,300 lb. (60 metric tons).
HAV has received a £2.5 million grant from the U.K. government’s Technology Strategy Board to support a £4 million project to develop specific engineering aspects of the heavy-lift variant of the hybrid airship.
While the prototype is some 12,000 lb. overweight, “we know why that was—it was the speed of the [LEMV] program,” going from design to construction in just 18 months, Daniels says. “The second vehicle will not have those issues.”
The $517 million LEMV program—intended to deploy three of the unmanned long-endurance, multi-sensor surveillance airships to Afghanistan—was canceled in 2013 after delays in building and flying the vehicle and shifts in U.S. Army funding priorities.
Although it does not have the Northrop-developed mission equipment—the payload module is empty—the prototype is still classified as a military vehicle under U.S. export controls. “We are seeking a jurisdictional ruling and expect it to be deemed a civil vehicle in the next couple of months,” he says.
In addition to cargo missions, HAV is talking to para-governmental organizations, including the U.K. national police, about potential surveillance uses and to payload providers interested in demonstrating their equipment on the airship.