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Massive airships to take to the skies once again

NewsBy Neil Fetherston
Up, up and away
Up, up and away

The skies above London are set to once again see the arrival of massive airships.

Longer than a soccer pitch and filled to the brim with helium, at 302 feet long, the Airlander 10 will be the world's biggest aircraft.

Part blimp, part plane, part helicopter, it was originally created by British design company Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) for military surveillance by the U.S. Army.

But budget cuts doomed the project and HAV bought the airship back across the pond, where it seemed set to remain on solid ground until the company received a £3.4 million grant from the UK government. Thanks to this recent injection of financing, designers and engineers are now readying the craft for first flight tests scheduled for later this year.

While the concept has been around for nearly a century, airships fell out of fashion following the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, when the German passenger craft erupted into flames while trying to dock, killing 36.

While an airship might seem like a craft from a time long passed, it has been given a 21st century design overhaul and HAV hopes to have airships back in the skies over the UK by 2016.

Chris Daniels, HAV head of partnerships and communications, said: "The sole problems existing old-style airships had (were) having lots of ground crew, limited ability to carry payloads and to be susceptible to weather conditions. We solved all those problems with a new concept -- a hybrid aircraft. So a mix between a wing and an airship."