On 28 October 2012, at about 1410 Eastern Daylight-saving Time, an unmanned airship (callsign Airship 11) departed Keysborough, Victoria on a 30 minute test flight to assess the airship’s centre of gravity and manoeuvrability characteristics. The airship was controlled via a portable radio-controlled transmitter.
The crew planned to operate the flight below 200 ft above ground level and within 100-200 m of their location, with the airship remaining clear of the Moorabbin Class D control area.
Shortly after takeoff, the crew noticed that the airship’s centre of gravity was rearward, resulting in a nose-up attitude. About one minute later, when it was at about 130 ft, the pilot realised that he could not turn the airship to the left. The crew had lost control of the airship although the data link was still functioning.
Attempts to contact the Moorabbin control tower were unsuccessful. At about 1428, the air traffic controllers at Moorabbin observed the airship about 2 NM to the south-east at about 1,000 ft. At about 1500, the airship landed on the roof of a commercial building, sustaining minor damage.
As a result of this occurrence, the airship operator is taking the following safety actions:
- source an airship from another manufacturer;
- develop a safe method for tethered air testing;
- develop a simulator for a small X-tail airship;
- locate a suitable site for flight testing away from populated areas;
- install the ground control station in the support vehicle;
- develop a pre-flight checklist; and
- develop a change management process.