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22 May, 2012

Is This $15 Million Zeppelin the Future of Air Tourism? [HANDS ON]

Is This $15 Million Zeppelin the Future of Air Tourism? [HANDS ON]
23/05/2012 by Chris Taylor On Mashable

Give me that Old Time Zeppelin
The first time you see Eureka, it's hard not to think of the Hindenberg era. (Of course, they are powered by completely different gases -- helium, not hydrogen)

The Undercarriage
Note how small the twelve-berth carriage is compared to the helium-filled skeleton that lifts it.

Patriotic Ground Crew
The Zeppelin is guided in with a stars-and-stripes windsock.

Eureka Approaches
The crew guide her in.

Take the Stairs
Boarding the Zeppelin is about the most difficult part -- you're trying to tie a giant helium balloon down long enough to climb into its cabin up a set of moving stairs.

The crew throws in ballast to keep the balloon down.

Safety First
Of course, under FAA regulations, every air-going vessel must have a safety demonstration.

Strapped In
Ready for takeoff.

Launch reflection
Passengers prepare as the Zeppelin lifts off from Moffett.

The Google HQ is right next to Moffett field in Mountain View, the Eureka Zeppelin's first home.

Back View
Note that the Zeppelin's landing gear -- a single wheel -- stays down.

Downtown San Francisco
The Zeppelin flies over Mashable's SF offices.

What, you thought this thing flew itself?

Straight On Till Morning
The pilots will hear your requests. If your house is reasonably close to the route, they may fly over it.

Pilot Chat
There are two pilots on every Zeppelin flight. With little to do except monitor the slow-moving airship and steer with their pedals, they develop a healthy banter.

Pilot Explains
Airship Ventures actually encourages you to chat with the pilot.

Knobs Above
Sound studio recording deck or Zeppelin control panel?

A Zeppelin is significantly easier to operate than a plane.

Sunny Day
Some of the pictures you can get in the California sunlight look unreal.

in the Naval dockyards off Oakland.

Window on the World
This is what the view from every seat looks like.

Snap happy
Not surprisingly, most people who don't have cameras have their phones out for pretty much the whole flight.

Snapshot from the back
A special rounded glass wall at the back is great for panoramic shots.

Sunset Cruise
over the Golden Gate.

Pilot's View at Sunset
If this was the view from your office, you'd be smiling too.

Pilot's View
There are worse places to ferry people.

New Bay Bridge
A view of the new span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and its single tower, to be completed in 2013.

Oakland City Center
It looks so peaceful from up here.

Look Out
There's plenty of back and forth between windows once you're allowed to take your seatbelt off.

City Approaches
heading towards downtown San Francisco.

Note the GPS unit the pilots use to guide themselves, in the lower left corner.

Driver's seat

View from the Back

Another hidden landmark it's hard to see from any other form of transport.

Golden Gate Bridge
Yes, that's how low you fly.


Shadow of the Zeppelin
As the Eureka comes into land at Oakland, a hint at its tremendous size.

Open Window
Yes, you are allowed to stick your head out.

A Toast!
The interior may not look as opulent as the 1930s airships, but sipping champagne in the sky remains the same.

Cheers, Readers
Nothing better at the end of a hard day's airship flying than complimentary champagne.

Eureka in the Sun
Even when the airship is leaving, you can get some great shots.
If you live in the Bay Area, you’re likely already familiar with the Eureka. You can see its white and orange frame just about every morning and afternoon, hanging in the skies near San Francisco, casually drifting over the busy city a thousand feet up, like it has all the time in the world.

The casual observer may confuse the Eureka with a blimp. But you don’t have to be an expert to realize it isn’t. Blimps are pudgier, smaller, harder-to-maneuver balloons mostly used for sports coverage. The Eureka is long, thin and can turn on a dime, like a sleek sky shark. And it has only one purpose: air tourism.

Run by a company called Airship Ventures, the Eureka is one of only three functioning Zeppelins in the world — or, to be more precise, a $15 million Zeppelin NT (for New Technology). At 246 feet long, it is also the world’s largest airship, and slightly longer than a Boeing 747.

When I first hopped on the Eureka, in 2009, Airship Ventures was a struggling two month-old startup. After 2008, it seemed an odd moment to launch a helium-based tourism company — who in that economy could afford $950 for a two-hour sunset cruise in the twelve-berth cabin, or even the $199 for half an hour?

But that champagne-sipping, cheese-nibbling sunset cruise over the Golden Gate kept passengers coming from the Bay Area and beyond. Airship Ventures thrived, particularly with sponsorship from companies such as Farmer’s Insurance and Pixar (which used the Zeppelin to promote ‘Up’).

Initially based in NASA’s Moffet Field, near the Googleplex (and with a great view of it), Airship Ventures now also runs the Eureka out of the Oakland Airport. It takes regular flights, chartered and otherwise, down the coast to LA, the OC and San Diego. It has shown up on the Colbert Report. The company is mulling the purchase of another Zeppelin.

And perhaps the biggest compliment of all: Goodyear is retiring its famous blimp and ordering a fleet of three Zeppelins — doubling the world’s fleet. The Goodyear Zeppelins will also do air tours around America starting in January 2014.

So is this a flourishing business model? Airship Ventures is the first to admit that Zeppelin travel is not going to replace the airline industry in getting people from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. Quite the opposite. It’s about being unhurried, and floating above a beautiful city, chatting with the pilots and flying close enough to take fantastic snaps. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Check out our gallery, and let us know in the comments: would you pay to fly in a Zeppelin?

Source: Mashable
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