Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) has raised nearly £1.5 million ($1.99 million) in a new round of fundraising linked to a UK government grant. The company’s prospects have been buoyed by the increased focus on environmentally-friendly air transport, but HAV still needs to find another £140 million in order to fly its first production hybrid airship in early 2024.
About £117 million was raised previously, including a mix of shareholder investment, earlier UK government and European Union grants, debt, and the original £61 million spent by the U.S. Army on the aborted Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program. The single LEMV was subsequently moved from the U.S. to the UK, where it became the Airlander 10 prototype. The Airlander features outer hull fabric with helium providing lift, composite structure, and four diesel engines.
The prototype was wrecked in November 2017 after it detached from its mooring mast. Since then, HAV has concentrated on refining the design, developing maintenance procedures, exploring certification requirements, and marketing to potential customers. It says that although the prototype flew only six times, these covered a significant part of the ultimate flight envelope. It flew to 3,700 feet, reached 37 knots, and demonstrated a three-hour endurance.
The design changes include aerodynamic improvements such as changes to the hull, tailfins, and strakes. More vectored thrust control was added to the two forward engines by removing their ducts. HAV added a bow thruster to aid handling at slow speeds and on the ground as well as new, enlarged payload modules that vary according to mission. The landing skids are replaced by a retractable four-point landing gear. HAV also designed a pilot training simulator. The aircraft is now at Technology Readiness Level 7.
For the base aircraft, the company already claims a 75 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to competing non-hybrid aircraft. Last year, HAV announced a partnership with Collins Aerospace and the University of Nottingham to develop electric engines. Initially, two of the four diesel engines would be replaced by 500 kW electric propulsors. Later, an all-electric version could be built, but range would be only 215 miles.
Firm orders remain elusive: the company says that it has letters of intent for 15 aircraft, but has not identified the signatories. It foresees four key market segments: luxury tourism; communications and surveillance; point-to-point cargo delivery; and short-haul passenger transport. HAV said it has three tourism and transport prospects with multi-billion dollar organizations. It is also having active discussions with three defense customers. It now hopes to secure the first orders in the first quarter of next year.
The payload remains 10 tonnes for most missions or 60 passengers. Cruise speed is up to 80 knots. Typical range is 2,300 miles. In the unmanned surveillance role, the LEMV was designed to loiter with a one-tonne payload for 21 days at 20,000 feet. HAV is now suggesting a manned surveillance role that carries three tonnes for up to five days at a lower altitude.
HAV is offering a fixed price of £50 million for the “common core” aircraft. Customers would pay extra for modification packages to suit their requirements. The typical all-inclusive cost of ownership would be $2,200 per flight hour. The cost per tonne-kilometer is $3.
HAV is seeking strategic partnerships and much more government funding to complete the aircraft and systems engineering and it has also launched a crowdfunding campaign. The funding would help the company establish a final assembly facility, assemble and fly three aircraft, and achieve type certification and first deliveries in mid-2025. The company said that the market can support a production rate of 12 aircraft per year, which it could supply from 2027.
“We have been working with a diversified group of potential investors over quite a long time. We're confident that they will be there to support the business as it moves forward,” said HAV CEO Tom Grundy.