Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Oh, the View! (To a Kill)

Family movie night again. This time we find the Bond movie, A View to a Kill, with a blimp (a Skyship) in a starring role. The web gives us lots of trivia about this movie, including the fact that the Skyship had been in LA for the Olympics and that enabled the movie makers to bring it to the San Francisco Bay Area for the long shots they needed for the film. I was amused to note that the fictional Zorin Industries branding was made green, red and white so that it would fit with the Fuji branding on the airship in the long shots!

But for us the captivating moments were the views of San Francisco* and the Bay taken from the airship on a beautiful sunny day. If only we could use those scenes in our presentations...!

* this is a link to the San Francisco Chronicle aerials page, many taken from blimps. It gives you the idea.

Monday, April 23, 2007

No, they don't mean Zeppelin....

Reuters put out a story on Thursday 19 April regarding the use of an airship to fight crime in Venezuela. They titled it "Venezuela launches Zeppelin to tackle rampant crime". Sensitive to anything that mentions a Zeppelin, as opposed to a zeppelin, I eagerly read down the article.

Almost immediately I realised that this was actually a remote controlled 50 ft long airship, a blimp, and a small one at that, built by Korean firm HanGIS. While these are undeniably cute (the really small one would be heaps of fun for buzzing the neighbors), Zeppelin had nothing to do with this.

Well, I guess if the venerable Reuters can get it wrong, then I shouldn't be too hard on everyone else!

PS. You owe it to yourself to check out the HanGIS page on 'How to Operate Airship'.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Do you have a moment?...

I once wondered about the physics of the 'orbits' that people follow to avoid the Visa card salesman/triple A lady/charity worker in public places. Typically one speeds up as you get close and then you slow down once you are past the point where they can utter 'can I interest you in' and you know that they know you heard them. It probably conforms to Kepler's second law of planetary motion.

Anyhow, the reason I mention this is that today I had some fun chatting with the market research folks (because knowing in your gut that there will be demand is not sufficient. Investment requires proof!). And halfway through the conversation I realised that at some point soon, people in a nearby city are possibly going to be 'orbiting' some poor soul who will be standing there will the purpose of asking questions about the attractiveness of airship experiences*.

"And how likely are you to be interested in taking a flight? "Very interested, interested, somewhat interested or not at all interested."

*sadly for this post, it will probably be done by phone..

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

And the deductible is.....?

"So what do you want to insure?"
"err. A Zeppelin"
"Like the one that blew up in the 1930's, what was it called, the Hindenberg?"
"Well, not exactly. Shares the same name, but that's about it."
" So its like the Goodyear blimp then?"
"umm, no. Not one of those either."
"Ah, I'm not sure we have a category I can put into the computer, unless, hey, is it like a balloon?"

So goes my dream last night about the possible conversations I might have regarding hull insurance for the airship. Fortunately reality isn't quite so frustrating. But it's tempting to call 'Triple A', just for fun.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Yes, we mean Zeppelin.

A few airship related websites, blogs and lists have come across our site. We're in 'stealth' mode which is to say we're not giving much away about what we're up to right now, but it does generate some questions from the curious - mostly airship aficionados. So not surprisingly we've been asked about whether we're talking Zeppelin, zeppelin, or blimp and almost always the query ends with 'you do know the difference right?'.

So for the avoidance of doubt, yes, we do know the difference. And we mean Zeppelin.

The 'Hot Air' joke

I'm a big supporter and advocate for science education. It's what I've spent a chunk of my career to date on. Sadly, I think getting any basic form of science literacy into the population at large is a seriously uphill struggle and one that is international in scope.

On Easter weekend, a wonderful chap called Peter, who used to be a teacher of mine, and who has continued to keep in touch in various inspirational ways, provided me with the clipping from the UK's Sunday Times business section. It talks about the fact that a recent 'firing' from the UK equivalent of 'The Apprentice' TV show said that he was going to bring a Zeppelin to London for tourist flights.

According to my Dad, who confessed to watching the TV show, this firing had a lot of sympathy among the British public who generally thought that the guy was arrogant and were not surprised that he had bankrupted himself in the past. A view shared by the writer of the article who fell into the 'I'm totally ignorant of science trap' by ending her piece with a comment

"So what he lacks in acumen and charm, he makes up for with hot air. He has got his perfect project at last"

Sigh. We've got a long way to go when even a broadsheet newspaper allows this kind of basic fact checking to go undone.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Something in the Air?

A tidbit that might amuse. Back in 1896 and 1897 there was an ‘airship flap’ across several states of the USA, starting in Sacramento. Today this would undoubtedly be referred to as a UFO flap, but UFO’s hadn’t been named as such then. People saw a bright light in the sky and interpreted it in the context of what they had seen or heard about at the time. In this case, some kind of airship.

Some of the most detailed descriptions come from the then farming town of Lodi, California, where letters to the paper speculated on the probable Martian origin of these craft (Percival Lowell published his first books about canals on Mars beginning in 1895). Indeed, one correspondent claimed that the Martians were so advanced that they could surely tune in to modern telegraphy.

Mars is a popular origin of airships, but actually could be explored reasonably well with some sort of solar powered airship. A web search will bring up a few links such as this technical document.

Venus was at maximum brightness during most of this period. It still tops the list today as the object most likely to be mistaken for a UFO. Although one would hope that rural folks 100 years ago would be more familiar with the skies than the city dwellers of today, and surely should have been familiar with Venus. I guess not.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Tickets Please!

It's family movie night, and we decide to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And of course, because we're seeing airships just about everywhere...there's an airship in the movie.

Indiana comments to his dad as they move through the airport 'I got the first flight out of Berlin to the USA'. At the time, the late 1930's, the direct flights were by Zeppelin, either the Graf Zeppelin or the Hindenberg. So we watch with more attentiveness than usual as they go through the line (no TSA security here) and board the 'D-138' Zeppelin, which appears to be a model.

At this point, we look at each other in disbelief. Is that a bi-plane underneath the Zeppelin? Like the USA was doing with the USS Macon? But the Germans didn't do that.....

Actually they did. the Germans investigated adding a trapeze to the Hindenburg before its final fateful flight in order to hold a mail carrier plane, so perhaps the movie creators were using that in order to advance their story and enable Indiana to engage in the aerial battle. Or perhaps it was a lucky plot line that had some basis in reality. According to this source, in the deleted scenes more than one plane was hanging from the Zeppelin.

Then again, the airport Indiana and his father flew from wasn't in Berlin either, but was rather, Treasure Island in the Bay Area. We took the picture that accompanies this posting the other day. Incidentally, Treasure Island was once a base for Navy Blimps, becoming famous as a result of the so-called 'ghost blimp'. So there are more airship ties here than would initially be apparent.

We like most the scene in the movie where Indy dispatches the German commander through one of the hull promendade deck windows prior to take off with the comment 'No Ticket'.

We promise we won't copy this idea.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Home Sweet Home?

Most people in America don’t have much opportunity for exposure to airships. The Goodyear Blimp flies by, and possibly the MetLife one, or the Fuji one, or even the Monster one. And that’s it. People used to see them above football grounds, but that got curtailed quite a bit after 9/11. (Ironic when you consider what great surveillance platforms blimps and airships make.)

But there's one group of Americans that know more than the average Joe about airships - the communities surrounding the former airship bases.

Here, it’s difficult to escape the subject because the sheer size of the omnipresent hangars begs the question about what they used to house, and the constant stream of ‘what the heck shall we do with them now’ stories that feature in local rags, keeps the memory of the old rigid airships (like the Macon, Akron and Shenandoah) and more modern military blimps, alive.

A community in Tustin, CA, recently faced their monuments. The weather had deteriorated one historic hangar beyond economic repair, leading to a decision to demolish it, and the other is now going to become part of a new development. The community surrounding Moffett Field in the Bay Area, CA, also live with the presence of these monster homes for airships on their doorstep. Hangar One* is part of the Bay Area landscape, an incredible structure with no less incredible debates going on about its reuse. NASA Ames manages the airfield, including Hangars 2 and 3 which are the same as those in Tustin, and has had studies done on the potential reuse, but to date, nothing has been firmed up.

Hangars 2 and 3, and the structures at Tustin are remarkable for the fact that they are built almost entirely of wood because all the metal was being used in the war effort. Its a remarkable thing to see these vast structures with their criss cross bracing.

We’re just glad that there’s a few of these big structures left. After all, our Zeppelin will need a home……..

* not the Vodka named Hangar One, although I'm sure that's part of the Bay Area landscape too.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

and Airships for Tea

I can see our house starting to take on overtones of an airship museum as we make it known to our friends and family that we're in the airship business. Still, at least now they have one thing to look out for when birthdays and other celebrations roll around! Hence the answer to the question - what do you buy a British gal for her birthday? An airship teapot!

Apparently these are made from the original 1920's mold and production ceased after the R101 disaster. The whole is very nicely weighted for pouring and even though the spout does look faintly ridiculous, overall it's a very pleasing pot. If you're a member of the Airship Heritage Trust in the UK, you can get a small discount if you go through their web page. Otherwise you can order direct from Racing Teapots and they ship amazingly fast and very well protected to overseas addresses. (I also like their train.)

I recommend a first flush darjeeling, Fortnum and Masons.

Airships for Breakfast

San Francisco Bay Area folks will probably be familiar with the institution that is Bucks of Woodside, a place where one can consume copious quantities of food of all kinds, humorously detailed on the menu that also doubles as a magazine supplement! Bucks is also known for its decor, which comprises an eclectic mix of collectibles, models and the downright strange, arranged over every square inch of wall space. Given my previous post it was not surprising to spot the Macon hanging in the ceiling, among the surfing crocodile, Sokol KV2 spacesuit and assorted other models. If I find out some history about this model, I'll add a note. Its a large one and rather well detailed, including the sparrowhawk hanging from the trapeze below it. If you're in the Bay, aside from visiting Bucks, take a peek at the Moffett Field Historical Society Museum where they have lots of great stuff about the Macon and Sparrowhawks.