The world's largest aircraft has been unveiled -- and it's a mammoth

Who says our visions of a blimp-filled future are passé? Behold the Airlander, a hybrid air vehicle that's part blimp, part airplane, and part helicopter. Experts are calling it a 'game changer' — and it could revolutionize the transport industry.

Developed by Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd., the Airlander was recently unveiled in Britain's largest aircraft hanger. Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, an avid pilot and HAV investor, was there to meet the press.

"It's a game changer, in terms of things we can have in the air and things we can do," he told the BBC. "The airship has always been with us, it's just been waiting for the technology to catch up."

The massive aircraft uses both aerodynamics and lighter-than-air (LTA) technology to generate lift (it's full of inert helium, not explosive hydrogen). It's 302 feet (92 meters) long, which is about 60 feet longer than the biggest airliners (the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8). And it's almost 30 feet longer than the massive cargo-carrying Antonov An-225, the longest aircraft ever built. Well, at least until now.

The world's largest aircraft has been unveiled -- and it's a mammoth

The Airlander's maiden voyage is scheduled for later this year.

The world's largest aircraft has been unveiled -- and it's a mammoth

Once aloft, it can stay there for up to three weeks. It'll be able to carry 50 tonnes to virtually anywhere in the world — which is 50 times more than a helicopter. It's green, doesn't require a runway, and can be controlled remotely. It can even fly with a lot of bullet holes in it, too (hinting at potential military applications).

The world's largest aircraft has been unveiled -- and it's a mammoth

Indeed, this was once a U.S. project, but British developers bought it back. They're hoping to sell it to oil and mining companies to deliver heavy equipment to remote and highly inaccessible areas. It could also be used for humanitarian purposes, like shipping supplies to poverty-stricken areas or disaster zones.

[ BBC | Telegraph | Images: HAV ]

Related: The Monstrous Sky Whale.