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Aiming for a new era in airships

It's a plane, it's a helicopter, it's a butt-shaped blimp. The Airlander 10 is like no other aircraft in the skies.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You can see the Airlander 10's home long before you actually get there. I first glimpsed the immense Hangar One in the English village of Cardington from about 5 miles away while I was still on the train from London. Later, as we were approaching in a taxi from the station, I could see it towering above a new housing development next to the former Royal Air Force base.

The hangar looks like a relic from another era, and for good reason. First built a century ago to house the giant rigid zeppelins that used to dominate the skies above Europe and the United States, it's now home to a strikingly modern and unusual aircraft. Though the Airlander 10 looks like a blimp, or rather two blimps stuck together and smashed flat, it flies like an airship, an airplane and a helicopter. And, yes, it well deserves its nickname of the "The Flying Bum."

Originally built in 2012 as a reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence vehicle for the United States Army, the Airlander 10 (then called the HAV 304) ended its military career after just six months when the Army canceled the program. Hybrid Air Vehicles, the British company that built the airship, then purchased it back from the US government and brought it back to England. The immense hangars at Cardington, the largest such structures in Britain, were a natural home.


You can see Cardington Hangar One, which houses the Airlander 10 and Hybrid Air Vehicles, from miles away.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Hybrid is now modifying and developing the Airlander for a variety of uses including freight, advertising, surveillance, communications and luxury passenger transport. It's a lofty idea, decades after the superior speed of airplanes effectively regulated airships to novelty status. But Hybrid is hoping that the Airlander's innovative technology will usher in another airship era beyond the pokey blimps that plod above sporting events. More and bigger Airlanders are planned, each with the ability to haul massive loads to out-of-way places where an airplane couldn't land.

Click through the gallery above to read the full story of the Airlander and to visit its hangar home.