Airlander, SolarStratos Prep For Flight

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Two unusual aircraft are working their way through development and preparing to fly soon. The damage to the Airlander hybrid lighter-than-air cargo aircraft, sustained during a test flight last August in England, has been repaired, and crews are prepping it for another flight soon. While completing repairs, the company also made several improvements to the aircraft to reduce the chance of future mishaps. An extra air cushion has been added forward of the landing gear, which allows the aircraft to land safely at a greater range of attitudes, and the mooring line now can be recovered by the flight crew, to ensure a stray line doesn’t interfere with approach and landing, as it did on the day of the accident. Meanwhile, the builders of SolarStratos, who aim for it to be the first solar-powered airplane to reach the stratosphere with a pilot on board, plan to start piloted test flights this month.

The team aims to fly to at least 75,000 feet, which they say is high enough to see the curvature of the Earth and to see the stars even during the day. To keep weight low, the cockpit will not be pressurized, so pilot Raphael Domjan, who leads the project, will wear a pressure suit. The mission will last about five hours, including two hours to climb, fifteen minutes to enjoy the view, and three hours to descend. The aircraft is being built in Germany, and the test flights are planned for Switzerland. Test pilot Klaus Plasa will fly the testing regime.

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