So if you hear the word “blimp”, and you think overhead shots at a game…
…well, that’s true. And for many years, that was the whole truth. Not anymore though. Blimps are now the new big thing. Literally.
But before we get all carried away about the blimps of tomorrow, let’s stop for some quick blimpology.
What IS a blimp? Basically, it’s a VERY big balloon. It doesn’t have a frame, so it gets and keeps its shape from the gas inside it. An engine and propellers move it through the air, and underneath the balloon, there’s a little (or big) gondola for people and cargo.
When was the first blimp? The name came later (see below), but the first “powered balloon” took to the air in 1852, in France.
Why is it called a blimp? Ah. Some say the name is a World War One marriage of its generic British nickname, “limp bag,” with the one of the blimps of that day, the Type B model (B-limp, and very modern that would be). Others say, that “blimp” is a made-up word, made up because it sounds like the sound of a finger scraping over the fabric of the balloon (if you ever get close enough to test that out yourself, let us know what you think).
Blimps: Past, Present and Next-Up. During the two World Wars, blimps were well used for various military missions (like submarine hunting). Since then blimps (like Goodyear’s) are mostly used for overhead shots at sporting events and publicity. Until now.
And what’s the good news about the return of the blimp? Turns out they can do things that no other form of transportation can. Blimps, and other types of “airships”, are extremely fuel-efficient, can stay in the air for days, and can pick up/deliver cargo almost anywhere.
They don’t need runways or any kind of airport. They can pick up something exactly where it is (a load of timber in the middle of a forest), and drop something precisely where it is needed (a wind turbine on the side of a mountain). It’s even been proposed, for example, that a blimp or blimps could fly in to be a “cellphone tower in the air” – for example, if a natural disaster like a hurricane knocked out towers on the ground. And of course, as you know if the Goodyear blimp has ever been in your town for a game – if it’s drifting about overhead, you just have to stop and look up.
So the blimp of tomorrow? Lockheed-Martin is working on one. It will be about the length of a football field, and can deliver about 20 tons of cargo. And being a blimp, it can make that delivery just about anywhere – since it just drops (gracefully) straight down, onto “air cushions”, which means it can land on rough terrain, or even on water. Here’s a look at an early version: