The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Flying the Goodyear Blimp 1970s

They tell us writers to write what we know. Of course, this isn't always possible. You just haven't had all the experiences you're going to want to write about, espeically if you write fiction.

So, writers, here's my gift to you, one writer to another. If you want to write about flying the Goodyear blimp, here's some of how it is done.

Being the son of a science news journalist has its perks. Back in the 1970s, when the Goodyear blimp was berthed at Dulles International Airport, my father had an opportunity to cover the blimp up close and personal. He was going for a ride, along with a number of other VIPs. He asked me if I wanted to tag along. As luck would have it there was an extra seat available and what had been jealously turned to glee.

Here's how it goes. While the blimp is moored to the mast, the crew checks the engines on either side of the gondola hanging beneath the massive bag. This gondola is so well balanced and the weight counterbalanced by the bouyancy of the blimp so well that the pilot lifts the back end of the blimp gondola and pulls it to either side to look at each running engine.

We climb aboard through the side door and take our seats. When the blimp is free and three large men pulling on guide ropes that hang from the nose pull it out into the open grass, take off occurs. The blimp tips back at a steep angle (there's actually a small wheel on the bottom tail fin, which tells you how steep an angle the blimp can ascend at) and we ... um ... drift to the skies at 35 miles per hour. With the steep angle, you expect a fast ascent, but not from this sophisticated balloon. Once up a few thousand feet, windows open, fresh air rushing through the cabin, the pilot does a slow circle, checking the weather all around (need clear air for a blimp, no storms please) and the traffic. Once the pilot considers it safe we move off, once again at 35 mph. The traffic on the roads below zip by at a much faster clip.

We travel over fields, over housing developments and note all the backyard pools, and then the pilot declares that this is the safest flying machine there is and asks us if we want to fly it. Most do. The pilot steps out of the pilot's seat and sits in an adjacent, I presume engineer's, seat and waits for the first participant to take the hot seat. In my turn, the pilot showed me controls I'd use, the foot pedals, and a wooden wheel on the side of the seat for ascent and descent. "Aim for that building over there," the pilot instructed with no concern (this was way before terrorists decided to make guided missles out of commercial aircraft) and off we went, slowly, gently.

Returning to Dulles, a steep descent is required to get this fancy air bag to come down from the sky.

Steep descent is required, driving the blimp down to the ground, where the three large men are waiting, arms crossed, looking stern ... until the shadow of the blimp looms over them and they turn and run away. Well, it seems like they are running away, but actually each is catching one of the three nose lines again and running to keep ahead of the blimp's bulk. Together they and the pilot bring the blimp to a stop and moor it again.

There you have it writers, a bit of experience you can use to include blimp travel in your next novel.

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