Skip to main content

Helium Head

MetLife Blimp Moor Shot (011:365)
"MetLife Blimp Mooring Shot"
Olympus E-3 with ZD 50-200mm
1/640, f/4, ISO 100, 92mm
Today, I had the opportunity to get up close and personal to a blimp. This is the second blimp I've seen at Orlando Executive Airport; the first was advertising DirecTV. I spotted this one on Monday on the way into work. When today rolled around I made sure to come better prepared, so I had the E-3 with the ZD 50-200mm and the E-P2 in the car. I made sure to leave as early as I could to catch a bit more light before sundown. On the way home I pulled off the 408 and made my way to the same spot I'd used for the DirecTV blimp.

As I was taking my first few photographs, a truck drove up and parked next to where I had parked. Oh no, I thought. I'm going to get yelled at for taking pictures. That's what I've come to expect in this post-9/11 world. Instead, the first words out of the drivers mouth was "Would you like to get closer?" He had to ask me again before it fully registered I wasn't in trouble.

The driver quickly identified himself as the pilot, and one of the group that drives from city to city, using the blimp as a big flying billboard. After making sure I wasn't going to be a bother, I got back in my car and followed him to a simple staging area, close to where the blimp was moored.

Airship Bill
"Airship Bill"
Olympus E-P2 with ZD 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/800s, f/6.3, ISO 800, 9mm
His name is Bill (and a fine name if I do say so). He was quite happy to show me the airship and very patient to explain, in general, how it all worked. Slipped into the stream of facts were several stories about others who come out to see the blimps. He called them blimp groupies, or helium heads. He told the story of one nice lady who came out and decided to sit next to the blimp in her lawn chair while reading a book. Others come out like I do to take photographs at all hours.

If you look at the photography of Airship Bill you should notice the round fixture on the skin, right above his head. It contains a porthole that allows him (and others in the crew) to observe the interior of the blimp, and to make measurements in order to maintain proper buoyancy while moored. This blimp (and others like it) maintains overpressure to remain properly inflated. The interior contains another interior balloon, which is inflated with regular air. Helium is very expensive; therefore, the blimp is flown by controlling the amount of regular air in the inner balloon, as well as using the pusher engines to provide thrust and directional control. The amount of helium remains constant, and is added to compensate for leakage over time.

Blimp Mooring Shot
"Mooring Mast and Blimp"
Olympus E-3 with ZD 50-200mm
1/320s, f/4, ISO 100, 50mm
When a blimp isn't aloft it's down on the ground and moored to its tower. Today, the blimp was hovering such that it's small bumper wheel beneath the gondola wasn't touching the ground. This was to keep the bumper wheel from diviting into the ground in case a gust cause the blimp to shift. I was even warned that this might happen, and to not get too close if the winds picked up. Bill seemed concerned that when you've got your eye on the camera your attention isn't on what the blimp is doing. Which brings us to rule #1 about photographing blimps: always have someone nearby at all times. Don't do this alone.

One of the facts I remember concerns the advertising on the exterior: It's made of the same material that bumper stickers are made of, and it's all carefully cut into hundres of small sections in such a way that it will properly wrap around the rounded exterior when applied. The darker blue lines are the edges of the sections. Applying exteriors to a blimp isn't the kind of job I think I'd want; I don't know how many times I've silently cursed the fact I had a wrinkle or air bubble under a bumper sticker or similar appliqué.

Blimp Cockpit Interior
"Blimp Cockpit Interior"
Olympus E-P2 with ZD 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/160s, f/6.3, ISO 800, 9mm
The gondola was simple but efficient. According to Bill the instruments are what you'd find in your typical small Cesna. Since I've never been in a Cesna I'll have to take his word for it.

There's a round mirror that allows the pilot to quickly check the engines, and there's another porthole for looking up into the gasbag. The pilot has what appear to be a pair of wheelchair wheels on either side of the seat, for raising and lowering the blimp when under way.

Blimp Engines and Landing Wheel
"Blimp Engines and Landing Wheel"
Olympus E-P2 with ZD 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/1250s, f/6.3, ISO 800, 12mm

Blimp Engine Detail
"Blimp Engine Detail"
Olympus E-3 with ZD 50-200mm
1/400s, f/4, ISO 100, 137mm
There are two engines attached to the gondola at the rear, one on each side. They're organized as pushers. According to Bill they're the equivalent of snowblower engines. I have no idea how noisy they might be when operating.

I'm looking forward to more blimps coming into Orlando Executive, and of documenting them. According to Bill there can be upwards of three at a time on the field, which would offer some interesting compositions. I'll have to keep my eye on the airfield as I pass by each day. Maybe, just maybe, I'll take a detour one morning on the way into work just to be different.

I find blimps compelling. They seem to float as if by magic. They have a quiet elegance that no other powered aircraft can approach. They're fun and as it turns out, approachable. I guess I am a helium head. And I have no problem with being called that, at least in this context.


Popular posts from this blog

A Decade Long Religious Con Job

I rarely write inflammatory (what some might call trolling) titles to a post, but this building you see before you deserves it. I've been seeing this building next to I-4 just east of Altamonte/436 and Crane's Roost for nearly 12 years, and never knew who owned it. Today on a trip up to Lake Mary with my wife I saw it yet again. That's when I told her I wanted to stop by on the way back and poke around the property, and photograph any parts of it if I could.

What I discovered was this still unfinished eighteen story (I counted) white elephant, overgrown with weeds and yet still under slow-motion construction. It looks impressive with its exterior glass curtain walls, but that impression is quickly lost when you see the unfinished lower stories and look inside to the unfinished interior spaces.

A quick check via Google leads to an article written in 2010 by the Orlando Sentinel about the Majesty Tower. Based on what I read in the article it's owned by SuperChannel 55 WA…

Be Careful of Capital One Mailings

Capitol One ("What's in your wallet?") sent me a bit of deceptive snail mail today. I felt sure it was a credit card offer, and sure enough, it was. I open all credit card offers and shred them before putting them in the trash. Normally I just scan the front to make sure I don't miss anything; the Capital One offer made me stop for a moment and strike a bit of fear into my heart.

The letter's opening sentence read:
Our records as of December 30, 2009 indicate your Capital One Platinum MasterCard offer is currently valid and active.Not paying close attention during the first reading, I quickly developed this irrational worry that I was actually on the hook for something important, but I wasn't quite sure what. The letter listed "three ways to reply" at the bottom; via phone, the internet, and regular snail mail. I elected to call.

Once I reached the automated phone response system, the first entry offered was '1', to "activate my Capital …

cat-in-a-box channels greta garbo

So I'm sitting at my computer, when I start to notice a racket in back. I ignore it for a while until I hear a load "thump!", as if something had been dropped on the floor, followed by a lot of loud rattling. I turn around and see Lucy in the box just having a grand old time, rolling around and rattling that box a good one. I grab the GX1 and snap a few shots before she notices me and the camera, then leaps out and back into her chair (which used to be my chair before she decided it was her chair).

Just like caring for Katie my black Lab taught me about dogs, caring for Lucy is teaching me about cats. She finds me fascinating, as I do her. And she expresses great affection and love toward me without coaxing. I try to return the affection and love, but she is a cat, and she takes a bat at me on occasion, although I think that's just her being playful. She always has her claws in when she does that.

She sits next to me during the evening in her chair while I sit in mi…