Harking back to a romanticized future of the past, the sepia-toned skies of today could be very well have been filled with massive airships transporting passengers from coast to coast and country to country. But while you shouldn’t expect to see a zeppelin mooring to the Empire State Building any time soon (yes, that’s right – the once tallest building in the world was indeed intended to be a docking station for zeppelins – see here for more information), you can find one today piloting the skies of California.
The largest of only three zeppelins operating in the world today, the Eureka was recently brought to the United States by privately owned Airship Ventures, offering customers a once-in-a-lifetime experience as they fly over California using a means of transportation that hasn’t been seen in this country in decades. In fact, Airship Ventures is the only airship company operating today that allows the public to enjoy its services.
So what’s the difference between a zeppelin and a blimp? The key element is structure. A zeppelin has a rigid framework that helps define its shape while a blimp’s shape is assumed from the pressure of the gas that fills it. The framework in a zeppelin also allows the engine to be located where it can operate most effectively and away from the passenger cabin, offering a smoother, quieter flight than that offered by a blimp. There is also middle-ground found in semi-rigid airships.
It could be argued that size also plays a determining factor in the differences between the two types of airships. Although it’s the largest currently in operation at a length of 246 feet, the Eureka’s size pales in comparison to the zeppelins of old such as the ill-fated Hindenburg which measured in at just over 800 feet. In contrast, the largest blimp in operation today is about fifty feet shorter in length than the Eureka, which in turn is also about 15 feet longer than a Boeing 747. On that note, unlike its giant predecessors, the Eureka is unable to carry enough fuel to manage a Transatlantic flight.
The Eureka is also the vehicle for a brilliant marketing campaign for Disney/Pixar’s UP which opens in theaters nationwide on May 29. Although the focus of the film involves a flying home accompanied by hundreds of helium-filled balloons, a zeppelin also prominently makes its on-screen appearance. The Eureka even provides some of the soundtrack for the zeppelin in the film. So it probably seemed like a match made in just-below-heaven when Disney’s publicity machine met this extremely large, mobile aero-billboard (or the equivalent of about 17 billboards to be more precise – the UP logo alone is nearly 80 feet tall).
There’s no question that Airship Ventures is proud of its asset. On its website, you can readily find information such as the itinerary so you can anticipate it flying over your head (if you live in California) and even a real-time map that logs the airship’s travels as it pings its location and other vital statistics every half hour. In addition, Airship Ventures maintains two blogs: Up Ship! is frequently updated and chronicles the company’s history and its daily life with the Eureka; and user-submitted photos of sightings at Zeppelin Sightings.
In this video provided by Airship Ventures, time-lapse photography illustrates the process of applying the decals promoting UP.
You can also follow @airshipventures on Twitter.