Friday, February 18, 2011

Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship
"Ghost Ship"
Olympus E-3 with Zuiko Digital 50-200mm
1/2500s, f/4.5, ISO 200, 64mm, +0.3 EV

I came across my third blimp of the year at the Executive Airport today. It was white (or a lighter shade of pale), and except for standard aircraft markings in small letters on the lower dorsal fin, there were nothing on the body at all to indicate who owned and/or ran the airship. At least, not from the expressway.

What added to today's interest, besides the nondescript body, was the large ground crew gathered about the blimp; it was being prepared for flight when I stopped by this afternoon to take some photographs.

Ready to Detach
"Ready to Detach"
Olympus E-3 with Zuiko Digital 50-200mm
1/2000s, f/5, ISO 200

I tried to walk closer to the blimp, but was quickly intercepted by one of the ground crew before I barely walked onto the grassy surround where the blimp was attached to its mooring. While I walked he came running. He asked, politely but firmly, for me to head back towards the paved area where I'd parked my car. As I turned around and walked back to comply, a guy who looked like a line-backer, dressed in a suit, came up to politely gage what kind of person (threat) I was. A little chit-chat ensued, and he noticed my E-3 with 50-200mm attached was "a really nice camera". He asked if I was a pro, and I laughed and said, no, I was an amateur. I made sure to explain that I'd been out earlier this year photographing the MetLife and DirecTV blimps as well. Since I didn't act crazy or like an immediate security risk, he left. Yes, he was security. Serious security. And he had about five others cohorts (near as I could tell) to help him if the need arose.

Most of this is just speculatation, but I have a few bits and pieces as well as some personal experience to fall back on as to what this flight was about. This looked to be a joint operation between the Navy (which I believe owned the blimp) and the Air Force. The car was carrying a full compliment of passengers. What was interesting were the two in military flight jumpsuits standing at the lower right corner of the photo above, right in front of the guy who's looking my way.

I could go wild and say that the flight was a test of some special system which they'd placed in the car under the blimp, except that it would have probably been classified, and I can't believe that they'd be running a flight with classified gear in the middle of Orlando where any fool with a camera could drive up and start taking pictures.

And consider all the passengers; I count at least seven (six plus the pilot). If this were a test flight of some type using a blimp, then there would be fewer passengers. No, I think this may have been a flight of VIPs to demonstrate the blimp, with the idea of using it in conjunction with another project.

Maneuvering
"Maneuvering"
Olympus E-3 with Zuiko Digital 50-200mm
1/1250s, f/5.6, ISO 200, +0.3 EV

And the reason they flagged me away from the blimp is this interesting shot. Although a blimp like this isn't anywhere as big as the old rigid airships, it's big enough. This one was larger than the DirecTV blimp, which did give me a moment to pause and consider its size.

I was watching the blimp swinging about rather interestingly, before the ground crew finally let her go and the blimp flew off. I've read a bit of rigid airship history, and there are documented cases of ground crew being injured and killed trying to handle them. For an historical example of control issues, there's this view of the USS Los Angeles at a nearly vertical angle. Today's blimps might look innocuous, but they can be dangerous to untrained people who aren't bright enough to pay attention and keep out of their way.

Flying off
"Flying Off"
Olympus E-3 with Zuiko Digital 50-200mm
1/1250s, f/6.3, ISO 200, +0.3 EV

The blimp finally took off and headed south of Executive. I got back in my car and headed home. I don't know what the flight plan was, but I basically paralleled the blimp as I headed south on I-4. I kept seeing it out of the corner of my left eye. When I finally got off near Universal, the blimp had seemingly stopped and was hovering. I hope everybody on board had a nice ride. Sometimes I wish I could ride one of the blimps. It'd make a great platform for photographing the city and surrounding areas.

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