The two huge hangars at Cardington airfield, 50 miles north of London, stand as witness to the golden age of the airships in the 1930s. Inside one of them, a successor to those giants of the sky is being prepared for flight. British company Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) is pursuing the goal held by so many proponents of lighter-than-air (LTA) and related technology for so many years. The goal of revolutionizing the air cargo market–and maybe also the persistent surveillance market–with buoyant lift.
Hybrid Air Vehicles
Roger Munk’s sudden and untimely death in February 2010 at the age of 62 robbed the airship industry of a true pioneer. He had led a series of British companies specializing in lighter-than-air technology (LTA) for nearly 40 years. HAV was his latest company, founded in 2007 to take forward the hybrid concepts that, he eventually concluded, offered more promise for the future than conventional airships. Before that, his life had been starred with technical success and marred with financial failure.
In recent years, major aerospace companies such as BAE Systems, Boeing and EADS have all expressed interest in lighter-than-air and hybrid air vehicles, for ISR and remote heavy airlift applications. But apart from HAV, only Lockheed Martin (LM) has progressed beyond the drawing board.
In the 1990s, prompted by Fred Smith of Federal Express, the renowned Skunk Works in Palmdale, California, studied concepts for a huge cargo-carrying hybrid named the Aerocraft.
This could be the shape of things to come–moving cargo into remote locations on a large, lighter-than-air (LTA) craft. Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) of the UK is still pushing the LTA concept for a variety of missions, despite the early demise of the U.S. Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) surveillance program. HAV provided the design and key components to Northrop Grumman for the LEMV, which fell behind schedule and flew only once, in August 2012.
The U.S. Army cancelled development of the Northrop Grumman long-endurance, multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV), a huge, optionally manned hybrid airship that the service planned to deploy to Afghanistan as an urgent requirement for persistent surveillance. The airship was overweight and behind schedule; it made its first and only announced flight last August, about 10 months late.