Up, Up and Away

by francine Hardaway on October 29, 2011

There are a few opportunities that come up once in a lifetime, so when I was invited on a zeppelin flight out of Moffett Field in San Jose, I put aside the momentary thought that I lived in Phoenix and just made a plane reservation to go with my friends for a ride..

And what a joy! First of all, I bet you don’t even know the difference between a zeppelin and a blimp. Now I do. A zeppelin is a helium-propelled, lighter-than-air flying machine that has a skeletal framework. By contrast, a blimp is a pile of air contained in an unstructured shell. The zeppelin.we flew in has a cabin below it that seats twelve people.

A zeppelin flies at about 1000 feet above ground, meaning the windows can open and you can stick your head out, and if you look down you can see the details of the landscape in Mountain View, Palo Alto, and all the surrounding hillsides and salt flats. There was the Stanford campus, and Sergey Brin’s house. There were the Rainbow Flats and the Campanile. Since we didn’t have seat belts on, we could wander around the cabin and see the view from all sides.

This particular zeppelin, one of two in the US, belongs to a unique business called Airship Ventures (we suggested they change the name to Airship Airlines so people could know they could make reservations), a company funded by Brian Hall and his brother, and Esther Dyson. I think there are other “silent” investors. The business, a little older than a startup, is headquartered at Moffett Field, next door to another of my favorites, Singularity University.

The airship, made in Germany, was brought to the US by the investors because they wanted to revive its use for both entertainment (take dad for a ride on his birthday) and commercial uses (reach remote Alaskan islands where there are no bridges or roads). At the moment, it is sponsored by Farmer’s Insurance company, and that’s what Silicon Valley residents see when they look up at the ship in its “every day” incarnation. But it has also appeared in movies, where they photoshop out the Farmer’s logos:-)

Our day was a real special event. We got a tour of the largest wood framed hangar in existence, a talk about the dirigible’s history (yes, the Hindenburg was a dirigible, but it was filled with flammable hydrogen, not helium, which does not burn), topped off by a silent, beautiful float above the Bay Area

during the rush hour.

There is a special way to load and unload passengers from a zeppelin, because if you let go of it, it will fly away. While it is being held down by two guys, two passengers at a time get on, and then two get off. This helps keep the airship on the ground when it is supposed to be on the ground. It’s like keeping a frisky puppy on a leash. When all the previous passengers are off and all the new passengers are on, the guys with the ropes let go.

I mean, it is amazing! I would urge you to book a ride on the Farmers Airship if you are going to propose to your sweetheart, honor your grandfather, celebrate an anniversary, or take your team on a unique offsite. The entire experience is pretty incredible. It’s one of those gifts for the person who has everything, and while I won’t quote price, it is not out of the ball park. Personally, I think it belongs in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogue, although it’s not there (yet).

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