Thursday, May 29, 2008

Check box

Paperwork, lots of it, accompanies what we are doing. But it has its amusing moments, like when Scott forwarded me our DOT application for a number for our company so we can operate the mast trucks. The form has A to Z and then AA to CC for options you can check for what your cargo of your truck will be. Scott checked 'DD Other' and then wrote in 'Self Propelled Airship'.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Run time in the teens?

The dealer assured us that these 15 hours were "test drives only". But seriously, how often do you see double digit numbers on the indicator? Here they are, shortly before the ship takes her first flight!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Looking forward to the sun

All the shots we have of #4 right now are in cold and moody skies. Not even photoshop could perk them up! Here's one of the best we have, and we're looking forward to getting some from her flights once the sun comes out!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Road Trip Part 3

Sorry, no new pictures, but I got this email last night.

Subject: Big News!
Date: May 21, 2008 10:46:21 PM GMT+02:00

Chelsea vs. Man United in O/T!!! Woo-Hoo!!!
Have a safe flight home.
-Scott & Chris

PS: We hear that things went okay in FN today too.

Followed by this one this morning.

Subject: BAD news
Date: May 21, 2008 11:56:44 PM GMT+02:00
Chelsea just lost to Man.U in penalties and tomorrow I will have to ride all the way to Santa Maria with Chris.


Looking forward to the next installment...

Jumping for Joy (or out of relief?)

Alex (Airship Ventures) and Michael (Zeppelin) relieving some post-Jungfernflug (maiden flight) stress on a trampoline in Oberstadt Meersburg that evening.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The ship flew and landed and is hangared. More later.
All are very happy here!

Permission to Fly

Roberts grin says it all. He's holding the paperwork that shows everyone is signed off on #4 and, weather permitting, she can now be taken for a test flight!

Still waiting

It's about 4.00pm here and the weather outside is still gray and a little gusty. #3 has been flying all day which is good news. The engineers are mulling over the results of this mornings testing, and everyone is in a state of suspense, waiting to know if the ship will fly today. I'm particularly interested as I'm meant to be heading back to the USA tomorrow and my method of getting from Friedrichshafen to Frankfurt will depend on whether I need to wait to see if the airship will fly in the morning!

But while we wait, here's a wonderful picture taken earlier from #3 of #4 on the ground by Michael Häfner.

A nice rack...

As part of our preparation to handle special missions (air sampling, imaging, comms, etc), Robert and I spent part of the afternoon checking out the floor mounted flight-test rack. In the not too distant future, we will have a gadget-rack of our own.

How do you say "Barcalounger" in German?

One of the many fantastic things you can do with a Zeppelin is have a "flying boardroom". In this picture, Robert demonstrates some of the extended range features of the prototype barcalounger, erm, swivel seat. The real nice thing about these seats is that in an 8 or 10 passenger configuration, you can arrange it such that all the passengers can face each other, carry on a conversation, and catch wonderful views from the window (side or rear) that ends up in front of them.

Neither snow, nor rain...

Working with Wolfgang von Zeppelin over the past few months, we learned that the ship will be carrying the usual German first flight covers that are done by the Kinderdorf Flugpost to benefit the "Childrens Village" project. She will also be carrying a handful of our own envelopes. This morning we quickly made up a small pile of our Airship Ventures notecard envelopes with a rubber stamp imprint of the NT, one of the USS Macon (ZRS-5) and proper German postage stamps. It will get a Friedrichshafen cancellation on the first flight day as well as the on board cancellation. We will then carry these on our trip halfway across the world, collecting cancellations as we go, and they will finally arrive at Moffett Field and get cancelled by the post office there. These little treats, which will also have pilot and other signatures, will be given to our wonderful team, some folks at Zeppelin, a couple of museums and we will have a small number left over which we will use for good causes to be announced.

how many designers does it take to run a webcam?

Us 2 designers in California & Rob the illustrator in Rhode Island were up late and up early for a couple days glued to the Zeppelin webcam. We got really good at watching airplanes and race cars wheeled into buildings across the street, and screaming at the computer when some mysterious 3rd or 4th person somewhere in the world would receive their control of the camera and point... at what? Since we already felt the camera was ours, we took turns sharing the investigation of every inch of the Friedrichshafen airfield (did you know the airfield is the first airfield in the world?!). Can you find the bird poop on the top of a light fixture?

And what did we get for our efforts? a guy cutting the lawn, although it was kind of fun to slew pitch and zoom the camera to follow him up and down the rows

why didn't she come out?, what's up, too windy?? - we saw the wind sock - and too rainy?? - looked damp???

So today we were about to get off the camera, but we stayed up longer than we planned, chatting on the phone when suddenly, the doors are opening the doors are opening!!!! ahhhheie!!!

hey, the nose is coming out!!

Why don't I see it, Ahhhh!!, My connection is crashed! OK. back in again, and there she is, with our San Francisco, Hollywood, Treasure Island - stamps! weee, looks great.

HEY who has the webcam, somebody is pointing at nothing!! ahh, back to the Zeppelin, in full out on the field.

Thanks for letting us be a part of this journey - Maria, Rob & Matthew

Road Trip Part 2

While all the excitement is happening here in Germany, our intrepid survey team of Scott Danneker (Chief Pilot) and Chris Sandford (ZLT's Ground Crew Chief), remain on the road, working steadily westwards from Galveston to San Francisco. They are checking out all the likely airfield and locations where the airship will have to go. Here are their latest pictures.
Sierra Blanca, TX - the highest ground that all airships have to transit over on their way to the west coast.
The field at Deming NM, well known by airship folks.
Dragoon Pass, AZ, will pose no problem for the Zeppelin.
Goodyear Field, Phoenix, AZ.
Thanks guys!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Actually, I'm sure that's not quite what is going through Fritz Günthers mind as he gets into the pilots seat of #4 and prepares to begin a couple of hours of full engine run ups and checks. But I think his smile says it all.

Older Sister

A great sight, even on a gray and windy morning, two Zeppelin NT's on their masts. Some passengers arriving early for the first flight of the day on #3 were able to enjoy being part of this historic occasion.


Herr Brandt, the CEO of Zeppelin (foreground) with Herr Günther, Head of Flight Operations, watching the wind and weather carefully as the ship emerges.

Just so everyone knows

We thought we'd make sure she was recognizable as the Airship Ventures ship. The concept is similar to the luggage labels or stamps of old. She's got quite a journey ahead of her, but she'll be Going Places. The stamps you see here, drawn by Rob Walker and designed by Matthew and Maria, are San Francisco, Hollywood, Treasure Island, Lake Tahoe, Napa Valley, Yosemite and Moffett Field. Better pictures of the branding later.

Hello Ship!

I can hear the engines of #4 in the background as I sit in a warm conference room and type this. It's very cold this morning and overcast, but before the wind got too high, the decision was made to take her out of the hangar. Watched by an assortment of engineers, Zeppelin personnel and ourselves who had all managed to get in before 7am, #4 slowly came out of the hangar.

While we're waiting..

A weather front has moved in and the full run up engine tests which were to be done outside this morning have not happened. We are all watching the weather with a close eye to see when we might get the window for the final checks and then a window to fly. Watch this space.

In the meantime, here is a great picture from last week of feet inside the ship. I was fortunate to be able to go inside the Zeppelin before the helium was put in and to see the whole structure, ballonets (air bags) etc. It was quite an experience. The Zeppelin engineers were doing final pinhole checks on the air bags with a fog machine, having already done it with light. When the time came to exit the ship, we went down through the front ballonet, which was rather like walking into a dense nightclub atmosphere!

Sneeky peak

Sigh, there was so much sunshine last week, but the ship wasn't ready. Now she's ready, it rains.

I was on the airfield a week ago and was able to take this shot as #3 was emerging from the hangar. Yes, that's #4 sitting there with the Zeppelin NT brand on her.

Faking it

The Zeppelin NT simulator.
I want one of these.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Thumbs Up" or "Fancy Meeting You Here"

Noted airship historian and author John Provan just happened to be out at Zeppelin this week with a film crew for a documentary project. Can't wait to see the results of his new project!

Belly Buttons -- An Innie or an Outie?

This was the last little bit of the envelope to be "sewn up". For better or worse, I decided to call this the "belly button" of the ship.

Brmmm Brmmm

Oliver, one of Zeppelins pilots, sat in the pilot seat of #4 this morning. He was accompanied by a number of engineers crouched around the cockpit. Outside, a team of mechanics prepped and waited. They were going to fire up the engines for the first time.

A few coughs and each engine was turned over a few times to get the oil pressure up. Finally, with all the safety precautions in place, the fuel valves were opened and in turn, each engine was fired up and run for a while. Much shaking of hands and big smiles!

As I type this, the conference room is filled with a low throb as the airship is in the hangar on the other side of the wall and they are continuing to test the engines. She almost feels alive.

Breaking free

After her helium filling yesterday, the ship spent the night still suspended from the ceiling of the hangar. This morning, the mast truck arrived to take her on board so that she could be released. The engineering teams were still working on final tests when quite a crowd assembled inside the hangar to watch. Slowly the mast truck inched towards the ship until they were almost nose to mast head. Then the mast was lowered until it was in line with the nose. A ground crew man climbed the mast to check that there were no obstructions and the nose line was pulled taught by the winch line until the nose settled into the clutch in the cup.

Overhead, two maintenance technicians on a large cherry picker started the process of removing the straps securing the ship to the hangar ceiling, and she was set free to sit on her landing gear. Cool.

Fill 'er up

The Linde Helium trucks arrived early on the 15th. As we walked into the hangar we were greeted with this unearthly wooshing noise, the sound of helium under very high pressure going through the nozzle and expanding into the hull. The expansion is so rapid that a sonic effect is set up and it's quite loud!

The filling took most of the day and then overnight the airship was on the helium purifier, getting rid of moisture, particulates and heavier atoms and molecules to leave the helium about 98% pure.

She is now an airship that could fly and yesterday she went from having assembly insurance to proper hull insurance. The first of a number of big events done!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Road Trip part 1

As previously mentioned, our intrepid Chief Pilot, Scott and Zeppelins Ground Crew Chief, Chris, are on the road this week investigating the port(s) where we are hoping to bring the ship in with the Airship on board. Then they are checking out each airport and field that we might use on the way to San Francisco. Logistics also have to be figured out - where is the nearest Avgas, helium, hotel, etc.

One of the biggest issues is determining whether there is enough clear space for the Zeppelin. Scott has visited many of these airfields before with blimps, but they are all smaller than the Zeppelin so it is essential that a very careful measurement of the potential space and all obstructions is done. As you can see, the team are employing what Scott terms 'the wheel of fortune'. If it gets to the right marker point, then we have a potential landing site!

Making a mark

One of the benefits of buying an airship is that you get to name it (more on that later) and you get to decide what is on that huge hull for the maiden flight. We want to make sure people know that she's on her way to California so we hope you'll enjoy the branding when you see the final pictures.

Most of it has yet to be put on (she's not called AI), but this is a cool picture from Josef Hueber at Airbornegrafix showing the process. Thanks Josef!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Waiting for gas.

Thursday is a big day for #4. The helium arrives. Not quite as big a day as it is for a blimp which would be flat until being inflated. But once the helium is in, then the Zeppelin can be released from the chains holding her airframe up and she'll be moored to a mast in the Hangar. This is the first step in getting her ready to fly.
At more than 8000 cubic meters, we're expecting several large tankers to arrive and the helium fill will probably take 24 hours or so.
For those who prefer non metric measurements, that's about 290,000 cubic feet or, if you assume a party balloon has a volume of about half a cubic foot, close to 600,000 party balloons.
Anyway, I thought you'd enjoy this picture....

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Coming up....

Please bookmark our blog and stay in touch via our mailing list. The next six months are going to be CRAZY! Coming up on the blog...
  • #4 in all her glory. She's almost ready to fly.
  • Our Zeppelin Pilots-in-training will let you know about their adventures
  • Our Chief Pilot, Scott, is on a long Road Trip with Zeppelin's Ground Crew Chief, Chris. Together they are scoping out the airports and sites that the airship will travel through on her way to California. Expect some pictures and posts from them as they cross many States.
  • News of The Route that the airship will take once in the USA
  • At least one post about all the onerous regulations to do with 'selling travel'.
  • Lots of stories we wrote in the past but couldn't post for confidentiality reasons will finally get posted.
We hope you enjoy the ride with us!

Pinch me, it's really happening...

This past year has been quite a journey for us, from my first blog post about how we wanted a Zeppelin badly enough to figure out how to get one, to all the numerous trips, discoveries and ups and downs. Some people have asked us why we don't have slick videos or lots of artists impressions, after all, surely you need all that to sell your ideas? Well, to be honest, we've just not had the time. Every waking hour that we've spent building this company has been on removing the risks and barriers to making it happen.

You see, if you don't remove all the barriers, then when you go to ask people for investment, the first thing they say is "do you have X?" or "Have you planned for Y?". And in most cases, they aren't going to invest until the risk reaches a level that they are comfortable with. So you end up in a sort of catch-22, needing to spend money to get the issues dealt with so that you can find investors, but needing investors to provide you the money to spend!!

Fortunately, not everyone has the same feelings about risk. The earliest investors who take the biggest risk are often called Angels because they believe in you and help you when it's not at all clear when or even if, this will really happen. Aside from founders who often put a great deal of their own investment in, Angels are the first external people that validate what you are doing. They provide much needed emotional support and also a network of people that they can introduce you to. They are your first cheerleaders. Our first Angels joined us at the end of last year after we'd been on the fund raising trail for a couple of months having at least established that most of the issues could be overcome.

Angel funding then allows you to keep moving forward while you remove further risks and eventually you get to the point where you can close the funding deals with the larger investors from a position of reasonable strength.

On Monday (fortunately not Tuesday as that was the Hindenburg anniversary), we completed our funding. This final step involved a few weeks where Brian, myself and our legal teams all saw midnight, from our desks or on the phone, too many times. But that funding, plus some additional financing already secured, allows us now to be as confident as we can be that the Zeppelin is coming to the USA in the fall.

The team here is happy and a little exhausted, and we haven't even had time to issue press releases about all the great people we've been hiring, but when we see our ship leave the hangar for the first time in the not too distant future, I think we're all going to be a little emotional.

What a ride..... so far...... more to come!