Sunday, October 26, 2008

Airship Ventures' Zeppelin Coming to California

There was an article published on line by AP news (My Way News) about a company called Airship Ventures that will soon be offering sightseeing tours of California based out of the old U.S. Naval airfield Moffett Field. As a bit of trivia, Moffett Field has one of the 13 remaining airship hangers in the country.

The Zeppelin was invented by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin of Germany in the late 19th century. The massive airships were use in war and peace until the airship era came to an end in Lakehurst, New Jersey. In 1937, LZ-129 Hindenburg burst into flames and crashed just short of the docking mast, and it was viewed by thousands. Newsreel footage of its destruction has been played ever since. Out of the 97 people onboard, 35 died in the accident.

Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik began building a new generation of zeppelins in 2001. Their Zeppelin NT (as in New Technology) is 246 feet in length. Which makes it about 15 feet longer than a Boeing 747 airliner. The ship was built in Germany, but shipped by containership to Beaumont, Texas, before a cross country flight to California. While the Zeppelin might look like a blimp, its not. It has a rigid internal frame covered by a outer canvas hull. It can carry 12 passengers and two crew members. Now while the Hindenburg had flammable hydrogen as its lifting gas, the Zeppelin NT uses the nonflammable helium. Since the Zeppelin NT has been operational in Germany, 80,000 people have now flown on the airship.

Typically, it takes about 18 months from start to finish to build one of the Zeppelin NT s. There is one in Germany and another zeppelin in Japan. Zeppelin NT #4 is the airship that Airship Ventures now flies. It had its maiden flight in May of 2008. Airship Ventures has ordered two additional zeppelins that would operate on the east coast of the United States providing the same type of tours on that side of the country. Those flight operations are being planned to begin around 2010. New York and Florida the likely spots.

Airship Ventures president Brian Hall, who started this company with his wife Alexandra, took his first airship ride in Cologne, Germany in 2006. Brian Hall made his money being a software entrepreneur. To reporters, he said the following, “It's a way to see the world that you haven't experienced it before. In a zeppelin, you're flying low and slow. You're going at a leisurely pace. You're seeing things that you wouldn't see from the road.”

While worries of the current economy is not far from Mr. Hall's mind, he still expects to sell about 15,000 tickets a year in the Bay Area tours. Aiming to attract people who want something special for birthdays or anniversaries.

This week starts flight operations for Airship Ventures by offering rides to view Napa and the Sonoma wine country, Big Sur coastline, and other San Francisco view spots. Costs per person is $495 for the hour long flight.

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