On Wednesday, for what was only the second time, the largest aircraft on the planet eased off the ground at Cardington Airfield in Britain. For nearly two hours the 302-foot-long airship - the Airlander 10, nicknamed the "flying bum" for its twin lobes that, in a certain light, approximate a giant backside - made a ponderous circuit through the air.
Everything seemed to go well for the helium-filled craft. The skies were clear. As Hybrid Air Vehicles, the company that manufactured the airship, put it on Twitter, it was a "Glorious English summer day." After 100 minutes, the ship swung back toward the airfield to land.
But on the return journey, around 11 a.m. local time, something went wrong.
"It seemed to be coming down okay," Angela Marie Hatwell, who had come out to watch the $40-million ship, told the BBC. "And then the nose just tipped."
The Airlander tilted forward and was unable to pull out of its dive as it floated closer toward the airfield, front-first. Disaster struck like a narcotized sloth, as the ship slowly crunched down in what Hybrid Air Vehicles described as a "heavy landing" and bystanders called a crash.
It was different from the first landing, the level descent that Hatwell had seen a week before. This time, the forward end of the cabin hit first, she said, "and it was horrible." The two pilots seemed surprised about what was going on, according to onlookers who said they could see the crew through the cabin windows.
No one was injured in the incident, though a statement on the Airlander website revealed the "flight deck has sustained some damage." (Unlike the Hindenburg, which was filled with flammable hydrogen, the Airlander is not in danger of bursting into flame.) Rumors that the aircraft had clipped a telephone pole, Hybrid Air Vehicles tweeted, were untrue.
"Hybrid Air Vehicles runs a robust set of procedures for flight test activities and investigation of issues," the company said in its statement. "We will be running through these in the days ahead as we continue the development of the Airlander aircraft."
© 2016 The Washington Post
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