Fujifilm Blimp Comes To Dayton, Ohio
What started out as a pleasure trip became a chance in a lifetime for Peter and Edy Wine.
We are a freelance photographer/writer team, and originally, Peter wanted to take a few pictures of the Fujifilm Blimp, which was delayed by bad weather in Williamsport, PA and couldnít be here for the scheduled Great Blimp Meet July 11-13. It was parked at the US Air Force Museum waiting to be of service to the Vectren Dayton Air Show (July 17-20, 2003.)
It had been cruising around the Dayton area most of the day, and our patience and determination paid off (along with a press pass.) After it landed for the final time, we were permitted to speak with one of the pilots, Capt. Mike Hance, and allowed to board the airship. It was almost as good as flying, as the huge aircraft swayed back and forth about five feet off the ground.
When youíre in the gondola, you donít get the sense of how big the blimp really is. At six inches taller than a 747, and nearly as long, the Fujifilm Blimp is a very imposing visitor to Dayton.
As configured today, the very comfortable seats will accommodate up to 6 passengers (plus Pilot and Co-Pilot); transporting them smoothly and quietly at about 35 MPH and at an altitude of around 1000 Ė 3000 feet. ("Why go higher?" asks Capt. Hance.) In standard seating, it can seat up to 12, plus the flight crew.
The Fujifilm Blimp is in town to support the Vectren Dayton Air Show, but Capt. Hance likes to talk about Fujiís products, as well. Did you know that Fujiís one-time-use cameras are made in North Carolina? Or that they are made of 90% recycled materials? Now you do. And thatís not only part of Capt. Hanceís job, but his passion as well.
So how does one get to be a Fujifilm Blimp pilot? Capt. Hance, who has been flying the Fujifilm Blimp for the last five of its twenty years, says he was in the right place at the right time to be hired as pilot. Capt. Hance says itís one of "the best jobs in aviation." It takes up to 2 years to be trained as a blimp pilot, and Capt. Hance says that almost anyone with aviation training COULD be further trained to be a blimp pilot. But he went on to add "no one can get on board and fly one," without the training, regardless of your aviation background. "More people have flown the Space Shuttle!" he emphasized.
Capt. Hance is also quick to point out that the Fujifilm Blimp is completely safe to operate. You see helium is not flammable and even if the engines quit you will still float. "Itís the largest fire extinguisher in the world," he boasts. The two Porsche engines with rotable-ducted propellers are used to control direction, but also can take-off and land almost vertically. In the 20 years since the first Fujifilm Blimp took to the air for the 1984 Olympics, there has never been a serious problem. When you consider that the blimp travels enough miles to circle the earth 1.5 times annually, thatís a pretty impressive record.
If you get to ride on the Fujifilm blimp, youíll find a lot to like. There is even a bathroom available! However, if you want to buy a ticket to ride youíll be very disappointed, as all passengers ride by special invitation. In addition to the great view out the windows, there is also an interesting view in the cockpit. The Fujifilm Blimp has state-of-the-art avionics, including the ability to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) if needed.
Capt. Hance says you know itís a big event if the Fujifilm Blimp shows up! He likened the experience of riding in a blimp to a 200-foot long sailboat in the air. The view is incredible out the windows is great and through the lens of the on-board camera you can "spot a golf ball in the grass at 1500 feet!" (Think Tiger Woods might be interested in working out a deal with the Fujifilm people? Nope. Golfers already have lots of spotters on the ground.)
The Fujifilm Blimp can go as high as 9,000 feet, and has 2 forms of compensating weight (ballast.) They have water and "shot" types. "Shot" ballast is a 22-lb. bag of lead pellets. In the five years heís been flying the Fujifilm Blimp, Capt. Hance says heís never needed to use the water ballast for an emergency ascent. The water ballast is under slight pressure. "Less than one PSI," says Capt. Hance.
After clearing up some misconceptions about blimps and hot air balloons ("like comparing a Mack truck to a Volkswagen, " according to Capt. Hance,) Peter took some pictures in the cockpit, and then went outside to lay in grass and take some more.
The crew was super and thanks to them, Peter and Edy were given the opportunity to share this experience with you.
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