Above a field in rural Bedfordshire, a shiny, futuristic craft the size of a football pitch ascends majestically into the evening sky, and gawping onlookers crane their necks for a better view. This could be the trailer for the latest Independence Day film, but it is the maiden flight of the Airlander 10, a helium-filled craft aiming to kickstart a new age of the airship.
It has been a while coming – the first flight had been delayed several times and Wednesday’s takeoff was held up for hours – but once in the air, showing off its curves as it banks and soars for its audience, the Airlander is quite a spectacle.
At 92m long and 43.5m wide, this is the world’s largest aircraft, dwarfing heavyweights such as the Airbus A380 “superjumbo”. It is a bit cheaper, too, with a catalogue price of £25m, compared with $375m (£287m) for an A380.
It can also carry a 10-tonne payload, comparable with military transport helicopters such as the Boeing CH-47 Chinook, the US Air Force’s workhorse of choice.
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