Assembly of the unique Airlander lighter-than-air transport vehicle is now complete, Hybrid Air Vehicles announced today. The ship was shown off to visitors, fully inflated and hovering, inside the hangar in Bedfordshire, U.K. The next step will be a ground-testing phase, then it will roll out of the hangar to start an extensive flight-test program. The company said it expects to log 200 hours of test flying by the end of the year, and then will complete a series of trials and demonstrations with prospective customers. Also on display was the vehicle’s multi-use cabin, which can handle a variety of roles, including surveillance, cargo, and passenger flights for up to 48. The airship is 302 feet long.
About 60 percent of the ship’s lift is provided by helium, and the other 40 percent is driven by the ship’s aerodynamic shape and thrust from its rotating engines. In flight, it will have a top cruise speed of about 80 knots and can remain aloft for up to two weeks. It was first developed as a surveillance platform by the U.S. military, but when funding ran out, the British company took on the project. About $1.1 billion has been invested in the aircraft so far, according to the Daily Mail. Hybrid Air Vehicles is not the only manufacturer exploring lighter-than-air technologies — the U.S. Navy is working with Aeros, and Lockheed Martin also has an airship design in the works.