UFO sightings are likely to peak next month, especially in the Bedfordshire area.

Not because we’re expecting a visit from travellers from a distant star system, but because of a pioneering bit of technology that began life much closer to home.

The Airlander 10 is the biggest aircraft of the current era. It’s ten metres longer than Russia’s colossal Antonov An-225 Mriya, measuring 93 metres (305 ft) from stem to stern.

But unlike the An-225, the British-made Airlander isn’t just a conventional aircraft scaled up. It’s a hybrid design that owes as much to the great airships of the inter-war years as it does to modern jets.

It’s powered by modified 350 horsepower aircraft engines, but the buoyant airship-style design means that it burns a quarter of the fuel of normal planes.

Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander

Airlander can stay aloft for protracted periods – an unmanned variant could remain airborne for three days – giving Airlander considerable potency as a search and rescue, communications or surveillance platform.

Future versions could be fitted with solar panels, increasing endurance as well as making Airlander even more eco-friendly.

The current test bed version has a cargo capacity of ten tonnes, can reach 92mph in level flight and has a service ceiling of 20,000ft.

Statistics fans will be pleased to hear that Airlander is the length of a football pitch and the height of six double-decker buses.

It’s a bizarre-looking craft, but it has practical applications that supersede conventional helicopters as well as fixed-wing craft. It can hover for extended periods, and land vertically on a range of different types of terrain. It could also land on water.

 

Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson has already invested in Airlander’s parent company, Hybrid Air Vehicles, and the craft has a number of other high-profile supporters including adventurer and tycoon Richard Branson, ecology campaigner Jonathon Porritt and, for some reason, Carol Vorderman.

Next week the engines will be fitted to the main superstructure, and once the Airlander’s four massive fins have been added, this new giant of the skies will be ready to fly.

The main purpose of the test flight is to start amassing the 200 hours of flight time any new design needs before it is declared airworthy by the Civil Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

The test flight is currently slated to take place in late March, probably within a 70-mile radius of Hybrid Air Vehicles’ massive hangar at Cardington airfield, in Bedfordshire.

So if you hear someone saying that aliens are invading Luton, show them this.

Video credits: Hybrid Air Vehicles