At Cardington Airfield, just south of Bedford, two vast corrugated steel hangers tower over the surrounding area. More than 800ft long – the length of almost three football pitches – and 190ft high, they are the heroic relics of the once great British airship industry.
Eighty years ago, two mighty vessels, the R100 and the R101, were housed in these great metal behemoths; incredible ‘lighter-than-air aircraft’ – with customised silver and crockery, Axminster carpeted smoking rooms and portholed cabins – that were designed to sail noiselessly across the Atlantic like aeronautical cruise ships.
Further down the road, housed in a far less spectacular stack of Portakabins, is a group of engineers who are convinced such airships can take to our skies once more. Hybrid Air Vehicles has built a scale prototype of what will soon be the largest flying vessel in the world – a huge balloon made of ultra-lightweight, super-strong polyester on top of a hovercraft landing system. If it works, it could change the future of flight.