The Airlander 10 — part plane, part airship — took to the skies amid cheers and applause from crowds gathered at an airfield in Cardington, central England.
The successful flight comes 85 years after another airship — the ill-fated R101 — took off from the same airfield in October 1930 before crashing in France, killing 48 people and effectively ending the development of airships in Britain.
Originally developed for the US army as a surveillance aircraft, the 92-metre- (302 feet-) long Airlander 10, also has potential uses in the commercial sector, such as carrying cargo, according to makers Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV).
The firm, which describes the Airlander as the “largest aircraft currently flying”, received a British government grant of 2.5 million pounds ($3.7 million, 2.9 million euros to develop the project.
The Airlander can fly at up to 4,880 metres (6,000 feet) and reach speeds of 148 kilometres per hour (92 miles per hour), according to HAV.
Filled with helium, it can stay airborne for more than two weeks unmanned and up to five days if manned.
Its first flight was delayed on Sunday due to a technical fault, which was resolved in time for theaircraft to take off in clear weather conditions for Wednesday’s 30-minute flight.
HAV CEO Stephen McGlennan said the aircraft was cheaper and greener than helicopter technology.
“It’s a great British innovation. It’s a combination of an aircraft that has parts of normal fixed wingaircraft, it’s got helicopter, it’s got airship,” he said.
A project to develop the aircraft for surveillance use by the US military was shelved due to budget cuts.