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Lightship A 60

15 Apr
2012

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If you have attended a major sporting event, especially in Europe or North America, you have probably seen an American Blimp Corporation product whirring overhead. Major corporations use these to advertise their products and publicize their firms, with symbols and trade marks appropriately emblazoned on their sides. These blimps are also excellent platforms for television cameras when a bird’s eye view of a stadium or golf course is desirable.

American Blimp Corporation has an advertising subsidiary called the Lightship Group based in Orlando, Florida, who bill themselves as ‘he global leader in airship advertising.’ A quick look at their web page discloses that nearly all of those company blimps that we have seen everywhere are actually flying billboards that are leased. It seems a rather ingenious concept to me.

Well, imagine my surprise when I spotted one of these blimps just a few hundred feet overhead and obviously landing at a quiet rural airport that is 5 minutes from my office. I forgot my digital camera that day, but I still wanted a close look at this airship that had made an impromptu stop for the night in a town of about 14,000.

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As I rounded a turn on the small road to the airport, I spotted the Avicta Complete Cotton blimp on the ground about 500 yards west of the airport administration building. I inquired about the blimp and the airport manager responded that he had received a telephone call from the ground crew requesting permission to moor at the airport overnight. 

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Looking aft from the mooring mast

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Comparison of main American Blimp Corporation airship models

A rear view of the starboard engine. Note the transportable mooring mast and the Fw 190 type cooling fan mounted on the engine

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Limbach L2000E, similar to engines used on the Avicta blimp (www. limflug. de)

The cockpit is pretty comprehensive as you can see

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View looking aft from the pilot’s seat. Three passengers can Jerry valves excess helium from the ballonet be seated on the bench behind

One of numerous 251b ballast bags carried aboard the blimp in a storage compartment

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This is the emergency pressure relief valve for the ballonet The elevator control wheel

Life jackets, just in case

It was a warm, muggy day and there was a brisk wind blowing dark-bottomed cumulus clouds across the South Carolina sky. As I came around the corner of a newly constructed hangar, I spotted a gentleman in shorts and a canary yellow polo shirt. I waved, and the wave was returned—a good sign.

As I approached the blimp, I scolded myself for leaving the digital camera at home. I strode up and introduced myself to senior crewman Jerrad ‘Jerry’ Summers, who is in charge of the blimp while it is moored.

I followed Jerry back to a portable ready room that featured a PC, map table, drink coolers, and an air conditioning system. I waited for him to record some information, including fuel on board, and then followed him back over to the blimp for a 25-cent tour. I told him to watch for the numerous fire ant nests in the grass.

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A first sight of the blimp – courtesy of a disposable camera…

On the way to the blimp, I had stopped at a gasoline station and store and purchased a Kodak disposable camera. While these toy-like cameras are anathema to me some pictures are better than no pictures! The blimp gently pivoted to and fro on its portable mooring mast and bobbed up and down like a large boat. Jerry Summers cited some statistics about it and succinctly pointed out various components including the ballonet. He had obviously done this before.

He unfolded some boarding steps and I carefully timed my hop up into the bright, cheery cabin. It reminded me of the inside of a small cable car. The pilot sits in one of two bucket seats up front and there is a comfortably padded bench seat aft that seats three persons. (A fourth passenger is usually seated at what would be the copilot’s position).

I snapped numerous pictures of the interior of the gondola. After a little contemplative time in the pilot’s seat, I hopped out to shoot a few exterior shots. Jerry and I then exchanged email addresses and we bade each other farewell. The blimp was tentatively scheduled to depart Orangeburg for Greenville, North Carolina—around 250 miles distant—at 0700 hours the next morning.

The blimp’s departure was delayed by weather, so I took some photos after it lifted off the runway. I couldn’t help thinking that it would be great fun spending the day aboard this colorful craft.

Have a look at the Lightship web site, lightship. com, and see if you recognize some of the blimps in the pictures. Here’s hoping you spot a blimp soon!

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Veteran blimp captain Terry Dillard (far right) poses with passengers after a trip 

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