The world’s largest aircraft took to the skies for a successful maiden voyage – its first since being revamped in the UK.
The 302ft-long (92-metre) Airlander 10 – part plane, part helicopter, part airship – loomed overhead at Cardington airfield in Bedfordshire as the sun started to set on Wednesday evening.
Photographers and plane spotters baked in the sun as they waited to see the aircraft, whose bulbous exterior has earned it the less-than-glamorous nickname “the flying bum”, take off.
Crowds clapped and cheered as the craft soared above them during its first outing from the First World War hangar where it was revealed in March after undergoing hundreds of changes by Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) over two years.
First developed for the US government as a long-endurance surveillance aircraft, the British firm launched a campaign to return the craft to the sky after it fell foul of defence cutbacks.
HAV chief executive officer Stephen McGlennan said the team had been waiting for low winds for the launch but added the airship could “operate very happily” in 80 knots of wind.
He said: “Think of a big helicopter, a really giant helicopter. This can do the same thing that a helicopter can do – that’s to say, provide air transportation for people and goods without the need for a runway – but this thing can take more over longer distances, it’s cheaper and it’s greener.
“It’s a great British innovation. It’s a combination of an aircraft that has parts of normal fixed wing air craft, it’s got helicopter, it’s got airship.”
The Airlander took off at approximately 7.40pm.
The Airlander performed one lap of the airfield before landing about half an hour later, with light fast fading and the moon visible in the sky.
It is about 50ft (15 metres) longer than the biggest passenger jets but its four engines appeared noticeably quieter than a plane or helicopter as it took to the skies.
Mr McGlennan, who is not a pilot but has practised flying the craft on a simulator, said it was “very simple” to manoeuvre.
He said: “It’s a very stable, benign aircraft that responds very gently in flight, we expect it to be an unusually calm flight experience.”