A 'BizBlimp'...such a far out concept?

2:20 PM

O.K., right up front, I am really tempted to crack jokes about Aeroscraft's ML866 Blimp being touted as a "Flying Business Center" because it's really, really easy to crack jokes about blimps. They look funny, they fly too slow, and they are a handful in a crosswind.

But this product from Tarzana, California's Worldwide Aeros Corporation may deserve more respect then is usually offered to your everyday, run-of-the-mill blimp. Worldwide has made a name for themselves in the blimp industry with their FAA Type-Certified Aeros 40D Sky Dragon, a very versatile airship designed to carry different types of surveillance and monitoring equipment, TV broadcasting and infrared cameras. and is also an ideal aerial platform for advertising and tourism.

This story first caught my eye on Aero News Network, and I soon found myself pondering the concept of what a blimp could be if it were completely reinvented. From there, I raced over to Blimp Central and found this:

One of many possible Aeroscraft ML866 configurations is the Airborne Business Center. Equipped with the latest state-of-the-art technology suite, the ML866 can be configured to serve as a high-tech airborne conference center. Business amenities include the functionality of a Computerized Office; Video-Conferencing Capability; Communication Package; Conference Room; Transformable Interior; Personal State Room. Customized cabin space allows full amenities including possibilities of a gourmet galley, entertainment area and sleeping quarters with elegant washrooms and showers.
O.K., they have my attention. The reason this concept is hard to wrap a brain around at first is our pre-conceived notion of blimps plundering across our sky, with a few gawkers crammed into a tiny enclosed gondola. I have always stopped any time a blimp tries to land, because watching the ground crew rein one in with any kind of wind blowing is always entertaining.

So for the sake of discussion, what if? What if the Aeros Creative Team took a blank sheet of paper approach to blimp design? What you end up with is an airship with roughly the same floor space as a 747-400, one that delivers projected performance like this:
Maximum Speed: 138 mph
Cruise Speed: 0-115 mph
Operating Altitude: 0-12,000 ft
Maximum Range: 3,100 mi
Overall Length: 210 ft
Overall Width: 105 ft
Overall Height: 52.5 ft
Floor Area: 5,382 ft
So flat out – hopefully not against a headwind – the BizBlimp could make it coast to coast in about 24 hours. That kind of excursion beats the hell out of the train, and might bring to air travel the luxury that was commonplace back in the days when Pan Am's Clippers delivered high rollers to Hawaii.

But I see a different mission for the ML866 Blimp in "Airborne Business Center" configuration. I believe that FedEx/Kinkos and Gold's Gym should buy a fleet of these things and put them into service along the hundreds of congested commuter corridors in every large city in the land. Part of the cabin would be all business, with laptop workstations, copy center, the usual stuff you find at a Finkos. But in the back would be a Workout Center, with cardio equipment and maybe pneumatic machines replacing the weight of iron barbells.

Instead of being stuck on the train or sitting wasting your life away in traffic, these blimps would pick up a load of commuters at strategically-placed centers near downtown, and then aim their bulbous nose towards the 'burbs. Gliding along quietly over the jammed freeways below, the pax in back could answer a few emails, maybe down an imported beer, or get in a quick 30-minute set on the elliptical machine.

Downside? From an airspace perspective, about the last thing we need inside the class bravo surrounding all big cities is a bunch of blimps lumbering slowly across the airways. This will be a hurdle the blimp guys will have to cross some time, but if something safe can be worked out – maybe in a full ADS-B environment – who knows, maybe someday clean, efficient blimps will be the answer we desperately need to replace the ridiculous losing proposition we now call Amtrak.

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