Looking up as the cigar-shaped Farmers Airship gently floats overhead, it may appear to be like any other blimp you might see flying over a golf tournament, NASCAR race, or football game. But as soon as it begins its landing approach, deftly turning into the wind and descending more like a helicopter than a fixed-wing aircraft, you know this airship is different.
The Zeppelin NT, manufactured by Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH in Friedrichshafen, Germany, is the largest, most advanced airship in the world at 246 feet long—15 feet longer than a standard 747 and 50 feet longer than the largest blimp currently operating. There are only three Zeppelins in the world, and this ship is the only one in the United States.
It’s owned and operated by Airship Ventures, which has been offering “flightseeing” tours from its base at Moffett Field near San Jose, California, since 2008. For the first time, the Farmers Airship is touring the country.
“Being on tour is a whole new experience,” Brian Hall, Airship Ventures CEO and founder, said. “It’s a cross between a traveling circus and 1920s barnstorming. It’s something unique to take all across the country.”
While Zeppelins and blimps look similar, there are several distinct differences. First, the Zeppelin has a semi-rigid internal frame made of carbon fiber and aluminum. The frame is covered with a synthetic canvas hull and filled with helium. It is propelled by three 200-hp Lycoming IO-360 engines—one on either side of the hull, and one at the tail end of the ship.
The side engines provide vectored thrust with the ability to rotate up to 120 degrees with variable-pitch propellers. The aft engine drives two propellers, one that provides lateral thrust similar to a helicopter tail rotor and the other that can rotate 120 degrees to provide hover capabilities or forward thrust.
The engines give the airship the ability to literally land on a dime.
Combined with fly-by-wire controls connected to three tail fins, the airship is extremely maneuverable. It can stop, hover, land, and climb vertically, which allows Airship Ventures to land the aircraft with only a three-person ground crew.
A blimp has no internal structure. Its shape is a result of the internal pressure from the lifting gas. Without a structure, the engines are fixed to the gondola, which creates more noise and vibration. It is flown much more like a fixed-wing aircraft, needing space for a final approach for landing and a ground crew of eight people to help secure it.
What also makes the Farmers Airship different is that you can go for a ride in it! The cabin seats 12 passengers and a crew of two (one pilot and a flight attendant). The panoramic windows provide a wonderful view from a cruising altitude of 1,000 feet, and with a speed of 35 mph you can easily get great photos.
“We are bringing this wonderful experience of airship travel to people,” Brian said. “Oshkosh is going to be very special. I can’t think of a more awesome way to experience the show.”
For more information or to book a flight during AirVenture, visit www.AirshipVentures.com or call 650-969-8100.