London - Up-ended awkwardly, this is the undignified view of the world’s longest aircraft as it slowly nosedived in a field on Wednesday.
On what was only its second test flight, the 302ft Airlander 10, nicknamed the “flying bum” thanks to its curved rear end, suffered cockpit damage in what was described as a “heavy landing”.
But the descent at its base at Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire, which was captured on video by plane spotters, seemed so gentle it appeared to be unfolding in slow motion.
Aviation experts estimated the £25-million aircraft – dubbed a “great British innovation” by its makers after a successful maiden flight last week – suffered £20 000 (about R36 000) worth of damage, but mercifully the crew were reported to be safe and well.
In the video, one man watching the aircraft said: “Surely you’d be worried that you’re just going to smash that into the ground.”
He then added: “Oh my God, he’s actually just broken it. He’s just smashed that up.”
One witness claimed to have seen a line hanging down from the plane catch on a telegraph pole two fields away from the airbase, but Hybrid Air Vehicles, the Airlander’s developer, denied that was the case.
A spokesperson added: “The flight went really well and the only issue was when it landed.” The firm is investigating the drama and said it would provide an update soon.
The Airlander, which has been described as part plane, part helicopter and part airship, will be able to stay airborne for five days during manned flights.
The developers say it can be used for surveillance, communications, delivering aid and passenger travel. Unlike the hydrogen-filled Hindenburg blimp, which exploded in flames in the US in 1937, killing 36, the Airlander is filled with helium, which is inert and non-flammable.
A spokesperson for Hybrid Air Vehicles said: “Today the prototype Airlander 10 undertook its second test flight and flew for 100 minutes, completing all the planned tasks before returning to Cardington to land.
“The Airlander experienced a heavy landing and the front of the flight deck has sustained some damage which is currently being assessed.”
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has confirmed it is examining the crash, but said it would not be sending a team to the site.
The aircraft had its first test flight from the airfield, where the first British airships were built during and after the First World War, on August 17.