Airship Company Will Recover From Last Month's Crash

Oh, the human ingenuity

Airlander 10 Crash

Airlander 10 Crash

On the far right of the frame is the Cardington Sheds, the hangars where the airships are kept.Screenshot by author, from YouTube

If an airship is going to crash, it should do so in a test flight. The large, lumbering lighter-than-air craft are forever burned into the public's mind as a beautiful failure of a previous age, when in 1937 the German airship Hindenburg fell to a fiery death in the fields of New Jersey. That explosion shaped the perception of airships for a century, from everything to jokes in Archer and the iconic setpiece in NBC's upcoming time travel show Timeless, set to debut this fall.

It's with that context that everyone watched the first flights of Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander, a modern and massive airship originally designed for the U.S. military and now aimed at life as a commercial transport. On its second test flight, the Airlander crashed. Yet unlike the iconic airship tragedies burning into our collective memory, the Hybrid Airship appeared to bump into the ground, and then level out. No fires at all! (The Airlander is filled with helium, instead of the much more combustible hydrogen that filled the Hindenburg).

This is, largely, good news. It's not as great as not crashing, but it's a pretty normal and pretty safe crash, as they go. This week, Hybrid Air Vehicles released a longer statement on the crash. From that statement:

On 24 August, the prototype Airlander 10 undertook its second test flight and flew for over 100 minutes, completing all the planned tasks before returning to Cardington to land. The Airlander experienced a heavy landing during which, the aircraft sustained some damage. Both pilots and the ground crew were unharmed and the aircraft is now secure inside its hangar and is being fully inspected ahead of carrying out all necessary repairs. We believe it useful to outline the steps we will now implement to ensure a safe return to flight test. The Company is now undertaking a thorough investigatory process to ensure that all relevant factors which contributed to the heavy landing are identified and that steps are taken to remedy them or to ensure that the risks associated, are properly and safely mitigated before the aircraft returns to flight. This process will involve a report to and discussions with the relevant aerospace industry regulators and our insurer. Through the investigatory process we will arrive at a definitive understanding of the root causes of the event and the necessary steps and timescale to safely return to flight.

Airships may no longer be solely the domain of art and nostalgia. Making a modern airship work, especially after a crash, is the domain of science. It appears that Hybrid Air Vehicles is going to figure out how to avoid the problem in the future, methodically.