Hybrid Air Vehicles Tests Engines Ahead of First Flight

 - February 20, 2015, 11:06 AM
A ceremonial inauguration for the engine test rig, at the Hybrid Air Vehicles hangar in Cardington, UK. [Photo: Chris Pocock]

Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) has begun testing the powerplants of its Airlander 10, the 300-foot-long airship-cum-aircraft that the company hopes to return to flight later this year. It previously flew once in 2012 as the U.S. Army’s Long-Endurance Multi-Purpose Vehicle (LEMV). The British company is making some detail changes to the 325-hp duct-mounted diesel engines, four of which power the air vehicle, before it flies again.

The UK government is helping to fund some of the preflight activity by HAV, a privately held company supported by entrepreneurial investment. The Low Carbon Aircraft Technology Experimentation (LOCATE) program has provided $6 million for the engine test rig; wind-tunnel testing; computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research; a helium purification system; and other assistance. A new $5 million grant from the Regional Growth Fund will help HAV to double its workforce from the current 40 as the air vehicle begins flight trials, followed by demonstrations in 2016.

According to HAV’s technical director Mike Durham, the nine-month delay in returning to flight has proved beneficial in understanding and maturing the innovative technology. For instance, he told AIN, “by the end of the LOCATE program, we expect to have a fully validated CFD model for both the Airlander 10 and the scaled-up Airlander 50 that will follow. This will be the only such model in existence for hybrid air vehicles.” Durham acknowledged that the accelerated timescale of the LEMV project did not allow for much detailed research of this type.

HAV operation director Tom Grundy said that the Airlander series “can be a game-changer in many different airborne applications.” The company expects to demonstrate the prototype air vehicle to resource exploration companies needing to lift heavy equipment into remote areas economically. It has given the UK Ministry of Defence a fully costed proposal for a Concept Capability Demonstration of the Airlander 10 as a surveillance platform, carrying sensors provided by Selex ES. HAV is also modifying the payload module beneath the envelope, to demonstrate 24- and 48-seat passenger carrying options.