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The inflatable airship experience

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Airship Ventures in San Francisco, Calif., is giving tourism a boost on the West Coast, as the only company offering airship flights for fare-paying passengers. Its 246-foot German-made Zeppelin NT (the only one in America) takes up to 12 passengers on sightseeing tours from San Diego and along the coast as far north as Seattle. The airship flies above 4,000 feet, and as low as 1,000 feet, close enough to hear the roller coasters at Universal Studios, or go whale watching in the Pacific.


“It’s a real experience. The windows are open, offering 360-degree views. It’s quite incredible,” says Matthew Kilkerr, company engineer. “It is hugely successful. We have a waiting list of people to fly.”

The envelope, made by ILC Dover, is an inner layer of Kevlar® film and outer layer of polyester fabric with a polyurethane coating that has a strength ratio of 160 lbs. per square inch. It houses the control surfaces and engine, away from the gondola, for a quiet ride.

Airships can potentially fill a transportation gap between airplanes (fast but expensive) and blue water shipping (less expensive, but slower), which could open a market for shipping and cargo handling, says CEO Brian Hall. Airship Ventures is also experiencing growth in special missions for NASA, research for nonprofits and government agencies, and airship training for commercial and government groups.

Barb Ernster is a freelance writer based in Fridley, Minn.

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