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World's largest aircraft takes off

Press AssociationPress Association 18/08/2016 Jemma Crew

The world's largest aircraft has taken to the skies for a successful maiden voyage - its first since being revamped in the UK.

The 92m-long Airlander 10 - part plane, part helicopter, part airship - loomed overhead at Cardington airfield in Bedfordshire as the sun started to set over southern England on Wednesday evening.

Photographers and plane spotters enjoyed the rays as they waited to see the aircraft, whose bulbous exterior has earned it the less-than-glamorous nickname "the flying bum", take off.

Crowds clapped and cheered as the craft soared above them during its first outing from the First World War hangar where it was revealed in March after undergoing hundreds of changes by Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) over two years.

First developed for the US government as a long-endurance surveillance aircraft, the British firm launched a campaign to return the craft to the sky after it fell foul of defence cutbacks.

HAV chief executive officer Stephen McGlennan said the team had been waiting for low winds for the launch but added the airship could "operate very happily" in 80 knots of wind.

"Think of a big helicopter, a really giant helicopter," he said.

"This can do the same thing that a helicopter can do - that's to say, provide air transportation for people and goods without the need for a runway - but this thing can take more over longer distances, it's cheaper and it's greener.

"It's a great British innovation. It's a combination of an aircraft that has parts of normal fixed wing air craft, it's got helicopter, it's got airship."

After take off at approximately 7.40pm (4.40am AEST on Thursday), the Airlander performed one lap of the airfield before landing about half an hour later, with light fast fading and the moon visible in the sky.

It is about 15m longer than the biggest passenger jets but its four engines appeared noticeably quieter than a plane or helicopter as it took to the skies.

McGlennan, who is not a pilot but has practised flying the craft on a simulator, said it was "very simple" to manoeuvre.

"It's a very stable, benign aircraft that responds very gently in flight, we expect it to be an unusually calm flight experience."

People have been practising to fly it for at least five years, he added.

The Airlander 10, which uses helium to become airborne, can travel at a speed of almost 150km/h.

Wednesday's flight marks the beginning of 200 hours of test flights for the craft, which will be able to stay airborne for about five days during manned flights.

HAV claims it could be used for a variety of functions such as surveillance, communications, delivering aid and even passenger travel.

It is also hoped the Airlander 50 will eventually be developed, which would be able to transport 50 tonnes of freight.

Donna Seymour, 50, was one of the hundreds of spectators who waited patiently for hours ahead of the highly-anticipated take-off.

She said seeing it become airborne was "absolutely" worth the wait.

"It was beautiful. It's just so unusual," she said.

"I think it's quite appropriate," she joked, when asked what she thought of the aircraft's nickname.

She added that she would love to go on board in the future.

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