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Esther Wojcicki

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The Return of the Zeppelin -- Airship Takes Off in San Francisco on First US Flight

Posted: 10/29/08 04:01 PM ET

The Zeppelin is back but it is not the band Led Zeppelin.

This new Zeppelin is a 246-foot helium-filled airship that made its historic maiden voyage in San Francisco Bay Area last Saturday with 12 passengers on board. The purpose of the new airship----sight seeing and airborne scientific experiments. It will make visiting San Francisco Bay Area even more special.

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Designed for Silicon Valley founders Alexandra and Brian Hall by Airship Ventures Zeppelin NT in Germany, the airship took off from Moffett Field in Mountain View and circled the Bay Area cruising up the coast and passing over the Golden Gate Bridge. The journey took two hours and was celebrated on board with champagne for all the passengers, but the typical flight will be one hour. The price isn't cheap--$500---but the experience is unparalleled.

About the same length as a Boeing 747, the Zeppelin is much quieter than a jet. and can travel slowly---even hovering---at about 1000 feet above the ground. This makes it easier to see the area from a completely new perspective in a quiet environment. It cruises at between 35-40 miles per hour and can go up to 77 miles per hour.

I was lucky enough to be one of the 12 passengers on the maiden voyage of the airship this past weekend and it was quite an experience. As I was sitting there waiting for the ship to take off it suddenly went straight up with almost no sound and little vibration. Within a couple of minutes we were airborne to about 1200 feet and it felt strange and exciting to be floating above all the buildings. It was a surprising feeling--- kind of like bobbing in an invisible lake. We started to move slowly over the Bay and I could see into the waters of the Bay in a way I never had before.

I had been over the area many times in airplanes but I was usually up too high and moving to quickly to actually notice any detail. That is the beauty of this Zeppelin ride---a sense of peace and tranquility as we floated slowly with an ability to see the geographic detail that I had never before seen. One of the amazing things I saw in the Bay waters was what looked like underground birch trees, but in fact they were multiple water channels in the Bay. (see photo)

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Another amazing aspect of the trip was that the windows of the airship can open, one in the front and one in the back. Can you image having open windows in an airplane? I was pretty excited when I could actually put my hand and even my head (if I were so inclined) outside and take pictures without the reflection of the glass. Everyone on the flight was crowding around the windows taking photos---pretty exciting. Also, in the back of the ship is a large bench seat with a huge window---the best seat in the ship---where you can stretch out and view the world below. Fortunately, I managed to sit there for part of the trip until everyone else discovered it.

As we traveled along the Pacific Ocean coast, I found many beach areas that I never even knew existed that are now on my target list to explore. Flying near the Sunset District of San Francisco along the coast was beautiful. It is impressive to see how neat and well organized the city looks from the air. Golden Gate Park is like a huge interruption of green in a sea of houses. We were so lucky to have a beautiful day and the downtown area of the city gleamed like a jewel. It was an inspirational ride.

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The last time a Zeppelin had come to the US was in 1937 when the ill-fated Hindenberg caught fire and exploded as it landed in New Jersey after a trans-Atlantic flight. That ship was much bigger (800 feet long), filled with an explosive gas, hydrogen, and carried a crew of 50 passengers and 50 crew members. The 2008 version of the Zeppelin cannot blow up or pop since it is full of inert helium gas under slight pressure. If there is a puncture, the gas exists slowly giving the pilots time to bring the ship down safely.

There are similar Zeppelin rides in the Alps and Tokyo.
The Halls are planning two more ships for the U.S., one in New York and the other in Florida.
The first daily sight seeing flights will start on November 1 from Moffett Field. Flights will also be available from North Oakland and Sonoma County airports. For tickets or further information contact www.airshipventures.com or call 650-969-8100.


 

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