Living the Dream: My Zeppelin Flight

I've had a lot of requests from folks to share pictures and info about when I flew on the Eureka zeppelin back in April, and since I don't have my facebook profile anymore, there's been no where for them to see the goods.  So, here comes a big repost about my great adventure.  I'm hiding the post behind a link because it is going to feature a whole bunch of pictures, so you probably don't want to expand this post if you're browsing on your phone.

The Eureka is flown by Airship Ventures, and flies around both the Bay area and Los Angeles.  It's a Zeppelin NT (New Technology), which means basically that you don't need to ask silly questions about Hydrogen and so forth.  I got to take a two hour tour of the L.A. area, taking off from Long Beach airport, then flying up through Downtown LA, and Hollywood, circling about a bit, then coming back down the coast.  This is a shot I took from the ground not long before boarding:

Zeppelin landing


Boarding is an interesting process.  Passengers stay lined up off in front of the nose of the airship, with ground crew directing them.  The zeppelin doesn't really "land", so much as it gets low enough that a portable staircase with wheels can be attached to the door of the gondola, and a ground crewman can hold the nose tether.   The zeppelin will then act essentially as a gigantic windsock, with the rear rolling arcs as the zeppelin shifts its facing in the wind.   Actually getting into the gondola requires stepping onto the staircase as it rolls along while the ship shifts.  This happens one passenger at a time, alternating while passengers of the previous trip disembark.  Since the ship is lighter than air, it is important to maintain a relatively stable load to keep its altitude stable during the boarding process.   The crew actually may pass weights on and off the ship between passengers to further stabilize things.  If I recall correctly, the gondola seats only twelve passengers.

The General Flying Experience

Passing over a town near Long BeachI would generally recommend people that suffer from sea sickness to medicate before flight.   The sensation of flight on a zeppelin is most similar to that of being on board a boat in relatively calm waters.  It sways.  There aren't any sharp bumps like those of a plane in turbulence, at least, I did not experience them on my flight.  The crew claimed that the company had never before had a passenger vomit from motion sickness, but to be honest, there were at least a few seconds when it was crossing my mind that I might be the first.  It was a distant concern, in the early moments of adjustment, and it soon passed.   Counter-intuitive advice:  Hang your head out the window if you feel a bit airsick.  Seriously.  The crew allows (encourages!) it, and it feels awesome.

The zeppelin never reached a very high altitude.  This shot looking down at the ship's shadow gives a decent sense of the heights the ship reached.  We never got so high that we couldn't make out an individual person on the ground.

I was a bit surprised by the speed we traveled though.   Several times on the tour, when I wanted to snap a picture of something, I needed to get the shot off rapidly, or I'd miss my chance.  When there isn't wind conditions slowing the airship down, it flies at almost 40 mph.

The Tour

Downtown LA as seen from a ZeppelinIt seemed like most of the people on the flight (ok, everyone else on the flight) was interested in it mostly from the perspective of getting an aerial tour of L.A.  At the outset, I didn't really care what we were going to be flying over, I just wanted to fly on a Zeppelin.   Besides, I'd lived in L.A. for quite some time earlier in my life, so I didn't really need a tour.

Well, it turns out the tour was actually kind of awesome.  Something about looking down into Dodger Stadium and the Hollywood Bowl as we flew over was just really cool.  Not as cool as if there had been a Dodger game going on at the time, of course, but still pretty cool.  Other highlights of the flight:

  • Flying right over Griffith Observatory; as we did, I yelled out the window to them "I'll give you something to observe!"  (not really)
  • Flying directly over my parents' house, and capturing a picture (not posted) of them waving up at us.
  • Seeing LAX Airport from the directly-overhead perspective was kind of a treat.   All of the times I've flown into or out of that airport (or any other, really), I've never really seen it like this.

Over the duration of the flight (aside from takeoff and landing), passengers were free to move about the gondola freely.  The crew encouraged it even, urging us to specific windows to get the best view of the currently featured landmark.  There's a  panoramic window at the rear, allowing a nice look back along the balloon... or down at the ground, you know, whatever.  The cockpit is not separated from the passenger area, which meant I spent a lot of time looking at the gauges and controls, because how often does a normal guy get to see that kind of thing in this day and age?  We were also free to chat with the pilot freely when she wasn't on the radio.  Her name is Katherine Board--she's the only female zeppelin pilot in the world!

Enough rambling, picture time:

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