Under a clear, moonless night, in field in Bedfordshire a giant stirred. Slowly, from its cavernous hangar in Cardington the world’s largest aircraft emerged for the first time to prepare for its inaugural flight.
Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV)), the team behind the Airlander 10, were taking no chances with the cutting-edge craft, which has been meticulously rebuilt within Shed 1 over the past two years.
The ground crew were constantly checked the wind speed and direction. While the wind felt light, it was variable in strength and delayed the operation.
To make the manoeuvre, the Airlander was attached to a Towable Mooring Mast on the back of a tractor,at the nose. The back end was guided by the Castering Ground Cradle, which enabled it to swing like a weather vane with the wind once in the open and connected to a mooring mast in the fields surrounding the hangar.
Then at about 12.30am on Saturday, the order to open the second hangar door was given.
Once it had slowly ground open and with ground operations chief Alex Travell behind the wheel of the tractor, the Airlander followed a path marked by red lights to its first outdoor mooring mast.
From here it was moved to the airstrip for take off.
Getting a 92m airship out of its shed is a precision operation and takes a team of 10 to get the job done. As the tail fins passed through the opening, there were just three metres either side to play with.
This is why the HAV team were taking no chances with the wind.
Sitting in the cockpit was chief test pilot David Burns and second test pilot Simon Davies. They fired up a single engine to provide electrical power to the controls, and monitor the airship during its short first journey, making adjustments with the rudder if needed.
However, as the wind picked up, the operation was put on hold.
Head of partnerships and communication Chris Daniels, explained the air of caution surrounding the exit.
He said: “The hardest part is getting it in and out of the hangar, which is why the wind conditions are so crucial.
“Once it is out, it will sit there like a farm dog. It stays outside.”
After two more hours’ waiting, the team’s patience is rewarded with perfect conditions. Slowly the tractor began to pull and the Airlander set off on the first few metres of its journey to First Flight.
It’s been well rehearsed but was quite a sight to see the airship gliding through the colossal doors under stadium lighting.
And after viewing it from a distance rather than up-close in the shed, it now took on a new form and appeared every inch the magnificent flying machine it promises to be.
Now that Airlander is finally out of Shed 1 means it will be taking to the skies above Bedfordshire very soon - but it is impossible to say exactly when.
Chris added: “We will be carrying out four-engine tests which couldn’t take place in the hangar.
“There will also be other outdoor tests, which, if we’re not comfortable with the results, will be repeated.
“So it could take off in days, or it could be weeks.”
The weather is also a factor for take off. Chris said: “It has to be a clear day. There are rules and regulations we have to adhere to.
“It will be a fair English summer day when we fly.”
In the meantime, there’s a sense of triumph on the artificially-lit field as the onlooking staff break into cheers and applause.
The Airlander has arrived.