DSJ’s editor, Douglas Harpel, sat down with Hybrid Air Vehicles’ new Chairman, Kevin Taylor, in the company’s exhibition booth at the 2018 Farnborough International Air Show.
DSJ: You were announced just yesterday as the new Chairman of Hybrid Air Vehicles. Why did you decide to take the job of leading HAV forward?
Taylor: HAV brings together a fairly unique set of opportunities and the time is coming, right now, when I think that those opportunities are going to materialize. If you look at HAV’s product, Airlander, it has three sources of lift: its got natural buoyancy, aerodynamic lift from from the hull shape and control surfaces on the aircraft, and also the thrust vectoring of the engines, which also produces lift. That combination gives it a unique set of capabilities, namely: high endurance with large payloads, at very low power consumption. I don’t think that there’s a comparable solution available today. And now that Airlander’s been through its prototype phase – and there’s a lot of system modeling going behind that prototype — I think that the time is right to bring it to the next phase, which is to see the system into service in the not-to-distant future. In aviation, those sort of opportunities don’t come along very often. I think that it – Airlander — is at its point in time. Certainly the move towards zero carbon generally, very low power consumption, and those other attributes of high endurance and high payload, I think will fulfill a green agenda with something that’s got very high utility. So that’s an exciting opportunity. That’s why I am with HAV.
DSJ: And that unique capability of the Airlander, to take large payloads long distances in an economic and eco-friendly fashion, do you see that as being most applicable in the defense or civil spheres?
Taylor: We’ve got six key campaigns for Airlander and they spread across both defense and commercial applications, so I think that it [Airlander] has tremendous applicability in both domains. There are surveillance and communication applications, which are more towards the military side, and there’s tourism and leisure and you see [here in the HAV booth] examples of that all around you. And we are doing a launch today of the new cabin configuration that’s aimed at tourism and leisure. It’s the same core vehicle that can do all those six campaigns.
DSJ: How did your experience at BAE Systems — I assume that it was mostly in defense domains — prepare you for doing what you are going to do here at HAV, which obviously has a significant civil component? *
Taylor: Over my career at BAE Systems, I ran major parts of the company. I ran the military division. I ran the submarine division. I ran the cyber part, the intelligence part, and I also ran the missile part of the company, a joint venture. What that experience has given me is a very good appreciation of moving from development into production in large capital programs, and that’s where HAV is going to be in the relatively short term, so I am hoping that my experience in managing those things will help HAV transition, as seamlessly as possible, into that world.
DSJ: When I think about this from a defense application perspective, and I think about the wars that the U.S. military just fought, I think about the transition to so-called denied environments, where air dominance or supremacy is not assured or likely. What’s the implication for utilization of a hybrid air vehicle in these environments? I’ve heard that the Airlander can take a punch and keep flying.
Taylor: It’s not as vulnerable as one might think, that’s true. First of all, it depends on where you put it. It can be in stand-off, so it can be outside the range of vulnerability. But also, tests have been done on its survivability against small arms/ordnance fire. There’s not much differential pressure between the outside and the inside of the vehicle, so it can actually take a hole through the hull and still be highly functioning for a very considerable length of time.
DSJ: “Rethink the Skies” is HAV’s spiffy new public relations theme launched here at Farnborough. Does it mean “we used to fly this kind of thing a lot, but we got away from it, and should return to it?” What exactly does “Rethink the Skies” represent to you?
Taylor: That’s exactly what I want people to rethink, because one of the biggest challenges we have with hybrid air vehicles is getting away from that perception that these are airships that have been around before. This is new technology. It has aerodynamic surfaces that give it lift. It does have natural buoyancy, but it also has vectored thrust from the engines. It’s that combination that’s new.
DSJ: It’s new, and that changes exactly what?
Taylor: I think it changes some applications and some missions that can now be done much more effectively with that combination of characteristics and capability.
DSJ: So what comes next? What can you say about the schedule for the next Airlander flight tests?
Taylor: After the completion of our flight test program with our prototype aircraft, we are now in the process of finalizing our production design. We will then move on to production and type certification. We expect Airlander 10 to be in service with customers in the early 2020s. I can say that the flight test regime already executed took the Airlander to a regime of Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 7, which is a very good stage to go the next stage of defining what the production version will be like, and that’s exactly where we are now.
DSJ: Based on your experience, what/who do you see as the first end user for the Airlander? Are there any particular customers that you want to talk about that are “on the cusp” of a decision to move forward?
Taylor: As I said, we’ve got six key campaigns that spread across defense and commercial, and they are at various stages of discussion. Hopefully one of those is going to land relatively soon and that will eventually lead the way into HAV entering service. I’d love to talk about particular customers, but, unfortunately, there are confidentiality arrangements around them, as this [Airlander] is a new, unique capability. As you can imagine in the defense world, where government officials have security restrictions, or in the commercial world, where corporate officers have confidentiality agreements around what they want to do, so I am not at liberty to be more specific on individual customers, but it’s one of those six key campaigns.
DSJ: When do you think that there will be news in this regard? Will we be discussing Airlander launch customers at Paris [Le Bourget] next year, or at Farnborough 2020?
Taylor: I sincerely hope so.
DSJ: Thank you.
* Kevin Taylor is a graduate of Oxford University and a Chartered Engineer. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the University of Central Lancashire. In addition to chairing the HAV Board, he also chairs the UK Government Industrial Development Advisory Board. His executive career spanned over 30 years in the UK aerospace and defence industry, having been Group Strategy Director for BAE Systems Plc and previously running the military air business within BAE Systems.