Bedford Clergy visit neighbour – in giant hangar
There was much ‘episcopcal excitement,’ as Linda, his PA put it, when the Bishop of Bedford was invited to visit Airlander. He took her, the clergy from Bedford Deanery and the Dioesan Communications Officer to join him.
Apart from being a highly innovative project creating a hybrid aircraft that is helicopter-cum-aeroplane-cum-ballooon, the project is sited in the famous and vast hangars almost opposite the front garden of Bishop’s Lodge, Cardington, where the Bishop lives, a few miles outside Bedford.
Proving themselves astute in aeronanutical matters, the clergy asked many questions as they looked on in awe at the vast craft, 93 metres long. It was quite clear that one Self-Supporting Minister, the Revd Sam Cappelman, who holds a private pilot’s licence, wanted to get his hands on the controls once he learned that that would be sufficient, provided no passengers were on board.
They heard about the testing programme necessary to obtain a certificate of airworthiness from the Civil Aviation Authority, which would involve numerous increasingly exacting test flights, with essential personnel only on board. All agreed that a Bishop blessing the craft could qualify him as an equally essential part of this programme.
The craft potentially has numerous commercial and humanitarian uses because of its capacity to reach places with little or no runway at low cost and is very green, using a fraction of the fuel consumed by a convential aeroplane.
Also accompanying the visit was Professor Helen Atkinson CBE , Bishop Richard’s wife, who is an eminent engineer and who was recently included in a list of the five hundred most influential people in Britain today. She was most impressed by the project.
The Bishop said: “We certainly felt loved by our neighbour, Airlander, with this invitation. It proves to me that there are genuinely no limits to where you will find clergy venturing. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to fly in one of these craft. I am genuinely excited by the ingenuity involved in creating such a machine. What started as a military project, but was then dropped, has now potential to be of great service to humankind.”
Once clergy were excited by steam. Bypassing hot-air balloons and neatly also sidestepping any comments about hot air and preaching, could hybrid helium be the next big hobby? The Revd Hugh Symes-Thompson, even admitted, to much laughter, that he had flown a remote-control helium flying fish around Cranfield Church.