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World's longest aircraft to have glass floors

Design plans for the Airlander 10 include glass floors, en suite cabins, and horizon-to-horizon views.

Posted: Aug 9, 2018 11:53 PM
Updated: Aug 9, 2018 11:55 PM

It may not have the most attractive exterior, but it seems the Airlander 10 -- currently the world's longest aircraft -- will more than make up for this on the inside.

Known as the "flying bum" due to its rather unusual shape, the hybrid helium airship built by Hybrid Air Vehicles is to feature an interior to rival that of a luxury hotel or cruise liner.

With its 46-meter-long cabin boasting plush en suite bedrooms, an on-board "altitude" bar and glass flooring that provides horizon-to-horizon views, the curvaceous craft will provide an opulent flying experience to those lucky (and wealthy) enough to travel on board.

The impressive design plans, developed in collaboration with design consultancy Design Q, were unveiled at the Farnborough Airshow in July.

Once launched, the aircraft, which can reach heights of up to 6,100 meters (16,000 feet) will host three-day expeditions for a maximum of 19 passengers.

Traveling in style

"Airlander challenges people to rethink the skies -- that's the driving force behind everything we do," Stephen McGlennan, CEO of Hybrid Air Vehicles, said in a statement.

"Air travel has become very much about getting from A to B as quickly as possible. What we're offering is a way of making the journey a joy."

The aircraft can take off and land from virtually any flat surface, which eliminates the need for traditional infrastructure such as ports or airports.

Part-airship, part-helicopter, part-plane, the 92-meter-long Airlander 10 owes its buoyancy to 38,000 cubic meters of helium.

The pressure of the lighter-than-air gas helps maintain the aerodynamic shape of a hull made from carbon fiber, Kevlar and Mylar.

That figure, which resembles a rather large posterior, provides 40% of Airlander's lift as it flies through the air.

How real is the hypersonic revolution?

Unfortunate shape

It's also fitted with four 325 horsepower V8 diesel engines that can propel it to speeds of up to 148 kilometers per hour (91 mph) and provide vertical thrust for horizontal takeoffs.

Beneath it is space for a payload capable of carrying up to 10 tonnes and a set of retractable pneumatic "skids" that can be used for landing on land, sand, water or ice.

"We see it as the future," Nick Allman, HAV's program director, told CNN Travel. "It's going to be cheaper, it's going to be greener, we're going to be able to go to places we can't go to and from now.

The airship's environmental credentials come from its greatly reduced fuel consumption and engine noise levels, in comparison to jet planes.

Airlander 10 hangs on to its helium, which is divided into several compartments. These can be manipulated to help control the aircraft but also provide fail-safes in case one is breached.

Altitude is altered by inflating or deflating auxiliary air bags known as "ballonets," and by altering its speed -- without forward momentum it gently glides to the ground.

Flying from New York to London in 11 minutes

'Special machine'

CNN Travel was on hand to witness the aircraft in all its glory when it was unveiled fully assembled in a giant hangar north of London in 2016.

"It's really quite a special machine to fly," said test pilot David Burns.

"The view from the flight deck is excellent because of the large windows and the airship characteristics, flying at a fairly lowish altitude."

Airlander 10 has successfully completed six test flights so far, but there have been some incidents along the way, such as a collapse in the UK when the aircraft came loose from its moorings

It still needs to prove its safety credentials to the relevant aviation authorities by completing 200 hours of test flights without any incidents before being offered to prospective customers.

However, if it does proves successful, blueprints have already been drawn up for Airlander 50, a bigger, better version capable of lifting five times the cargo.

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