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Why the UK is launching the world's largest aircraft, again

After being grounded since 2013, Airlander 10 is getting a second chance.

Aijaz Rahi/AP
U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft takes off on the second day of Aero India 2015 at Yelahanka air base in Bangalore, India, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. Aviation companies from around the world are participating in the five-day event which runs through Feb. 22.

The world’s largest aircraft, Airlander 10, is poised to fly again after the UK government awarded a grant worth $5.25 (£3.4) million to get the ship off the ground again.

The 300-foot-long aircraft was created by British design firm Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) over five years ago. It intended to be used by the US Army for surveillance in its Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle program in an attempt to bring blimps back into the military's arsenal. But budget cutbacks prompted the Pentagon to cut the program, and the aircraft was sold back to HAV in 2013, according to the Verge.

While the US was interested in the aircraft for military purposes – it even took a test drive over New Jersey once –  the UK seems to be more intrigued by its potential for commercial aviation.

Airlander 10 is built for long endurance and low fuel use. Is designed to be light, in fact the HAV website describes it as a “lighter-than-air craft,” making it inexpensive compared to non-buoyant aircraft – only 10 to 20 percent of what costs to operate a helicopter.

Despite the light weight, it can carry approximately 20,000 pounds for five days without landing. For comparison, a commercial jet could circle the globe nearly three times in that span of time. The Verge predicted  that the aircraft could create 1,800 new jobs in the UK.

In addition to the monetary funding, Innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency, has started an engine test program, provided technical support, and helped double to HAV staff in the past year to prepare for the influx of business.

The engine test program is going forward successfully. On Feb. 19, the craft’s four-liter V8 engine, which is is based on the engine from a Mercedes four-wheel drive vehicle, was tested in Bedfordshire, UK to the awe of the many staff members who gathered to watch.

“This is the first step to bring the Airlander to flight,” HAV’s chief executive Steve McGlennan told Bedford Today. “We are back on track and pleased at how testing has performed. We are looking at December of maybe late November.”

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