BOC has agreed to supply UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) with the helium gas required to launch the Airlander’s first commercial test flights in 2016.

The agreement is the first commercial deal signed by HAV for the Airlander’s ‘Return to Flight’ programme and BOC’s supply of helium will form a critical part of the programme.

HAV, the manufacturer of Airlander, recently launched the UK’s largest ever UK crowdfunding campaign from the manufacturing or engineering sector. This is the final piece of crowdfunding which will support HAV’s Return to Flight programme - the funding campaign, which is due to close on 14 May, has already raised over £1.4m towards its £2m target.

Founded in 2007 and a world leader in the ‘hybrid’ technology of mixing aerodynamic and aerostatic lift, HAV uses one of the two Grade 2 listed hangars at Cardington, Bedfordshire, which serve as the base for both the design and manufacture of the world’s first hybrid air vehicle.

The company is now fully focussed on developing its innovative lighter-than-air vehicles for ultra-endurance roles, such as communications, search and rescue and maritime patrol and also for transportation of heavy goods and cargo air travel, particularly in remote regions and austere environments.

The Airlander range of hybrid vehicles has been developed to meet two significant aviation needs:

  • The ability to stay airborne for days and weeks at a time in order to achieve communications, surveillance, search and survey tasks.
  • To transport heavy goods and aid point-to-point, without the need for expensive airport infrastructure.

The Airlander utilises lighter-than-air technology to produce a vehicle that operates with less noise, less pollution, has a lower carbon footprint, longer endurance and better cargo-carrying capacity than other forms of air transportation.

Using BOC helium gas, the Airlander is engineered to gain ‘free lift’ whilst using the controllability gained through having an aerodynamic shape, and having engines that rotate and can direct their thrust in any direction.

BOC has access to 25% of the world’s commercially available helium, ensuring HAV security of supply and peace of mind. Through recent investment in a UK helium transfill facility, BOC has more cylinders, liquid dewars, bulk tube trailers and people dedicated to its helium business than any other supplier in the UK.

The helium used for air vehicles and balloon gas is impure gaseous helium which is produced as a by-product of the process to create pure liquid helium used in applications such as MRI scanners. Impure gaseous helium cannot be used in MRI scanners or other applications that use superconducting magnets.

Nathan Palmer, BOC’s Head of Bulk and Packaged Gases, commented, “BOC is delighted to partner Hybrid Air Vehicles and its Airlander 10 in developments for its first commercial test flight. For over 40 years we have been working with the world’s largest aerospace OEMs and Tier 1 and 2 manufacturers and suppliers, providing industrial and special gases for manufacturing processes via a wide variety of delivery methods from compressed cylinders through to bulk gas and liquid delivery.”

“HAV has a vision to change the future of heavy goods and cargo air travel and we aim to work closely with them to support ambitious plans.”