The world’s largest aircraft passed another milestone in its return-to-flight programme when it was filled with helium and floated for the first time inside its giant hanger at Cardington in Bedfordshire.

Four fork lift trucks, attached to the 92 m long Airlander by restraining ropes and each weighted down by a two tonne block of concrete, worked in unison to ‘walk’ the aircraft along the 248 m hanger.

Between now and the end of the year technicians will be working on Airlander’s engines, fins and mission module before the giant ship is ready early next year for ground tests and its first flight.

“Seeing the Airlander come to life and floating was simply breath-taking,” says Miked Durham, technical director of Hybrid Air Vehicles, which expects to create 1,800 new jobs in the UK in the next five years.

“Airlanders are low noise, low pollution and environmentally-friendly and this was a key moment for the UK’s aerospace industry in getting this unique aircraft ready for flight.”

HAV’s Airlander – billed as the largest and one of the greenest aircraft in the world – combines the best of airplanes, helicopters and airships in a unique way to create a new type of aircraft.

With the ability to fly for days without refuelling and land on any flat surface, it has far-reaching and flexible potential, including humanitarian missions, cargo transport to remote areas, and search-and-rescue.

Airlander’s revolutionary shape provides 40 per cent of the aerodynamic lift required to keep it aloft, with the remainder coming from helium. It will carry up to 10 tonnes of cargo and be able to fly half way round the world on a single tank of fuel.

With vertical take off and landing capabilities, as well as being able to operate from  remote environments including water, desert and ice, HAV says its aircraft will be useful for many endurance tasks such as coastguard duties, military and civil surveillance, filming and academic research.

In passenger configuration they are planned to carry 48 passengers for tourism and pleasure flights, and the company is also evaluating the potential market for overnight city-centre to city-centre sleeper services.

HAV has already secured over £60 million of customer funding, along with £6m in grants and more than £12 million of equity funding.

It is also building an order book of commercial and military orders for trials, demonstration flights and for aircraft sales.