Looking for the perfect way to study the forest canopy of the Ecuadorian jungle? How about creeping along noiselessly at tree level? In an adventure that seems straight out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the longtime dream of two pilots in Amherst, Massachusetts, is finally becoming a reality.
A self-described “dot com computer geek” for more than 20 years, Dan Nachbar wanted a change of pace. So the veteran pilot and his engineering buddy Mike Kuehlmuss dedicated themselves to finding a way to combine the stunning views provided by small aircraft—without all the the noise. The result: The Personal Blimp, and, if all goes well with the FAA, you can have one too!
Currently, the FAA classifies Nachbar’s blimp as “experimental,” but the good news about this designation is that they’re pretty laissez-faire, he says. “You can basically build what you want to build and fly it.”
And he does, taking his wife, kids, and investors for rides in the two-seat, two ton, 102-foot craft.
Though Nachbar insists he and his co-builder are just the brains behind the operations, they have an eye toward marketing it as an eco-tourism tool. Countries need serious infrastructure for ground transportation, and helicopters are noisy and disruptive, says Nachbar. (Not to mention gas-guzzling, says IT.)
Hot air balloons are better, but you can’t steer them as well. The blimp has aluminum ribs (sort of like an umbrella) to make it stiff, and the engine, mounted on the tail, can turn 90 degrees in each direction (sort of like a motorboat), says Nachbar. “We can go places that no other aircraft of any kind can go.” Places like wetlands, and marshes, where the craft flies so low the ground crew jokingly calls it “mowin’ the grass.”
But the personal blimp isn’t completely without its faults: It uses 30 gallons of propane per hour to make the hot air. Nachbar says they’re working on reducing fuel consumption and there will be two more years of research and development. Then, they’ll start the process with the FAA. Translation? It will be at least four years before you can buy your very own $100,000 to $200,000 blimp.
- Nat Geo Expeditions