A storm front near the Cleveland area brought an unexpected visitor to the Dunkirk Airport Monday afternoon.
The Hangar One Vodka blimp made an unscheduled, but safe, landing due to weather concerns, according to its chief pilot, Bret Viets.
"We were looking at it from this morning just be-cause of the wea-ther situation," Viets explained. "We were needing to relocate toward Cleveland and getting around Buffalo was a big jump for us. And with the weather out there this just made a nice stop."
Hanger 1 Vodka blimp
The blimp is part of a nationwide promotional tour for Hangar One Vodka. The tour was in Buffalo over the past weekend and is scheduled to be in Cleveland on Thursday and Friday, with Columbus, Ohio, the next stop set for Sunday. The tour kicked off May 29 in Orlando and is scheduled to conclude in San Francisco in mid November. Viets explained that the vodka company is a client of the blimp's owner and his employer, The Lightship Group.
"We actually started in May. The blimp was inflated in Maine and then we initiated the tour down in Florida," Viets said. "It's a 30-city, six-month tour is what we're on. We've finished with the East Coast. We'll do a little spin around the Great Lakes and then on down to what I call the Midwest; the Plains States and then Texas and then on up to California."
Viets could also be in public relations as he explained about Hangar One Vodka.
The Hangar One Vodka airship makes its final approach en route to docking at its mast Monday at the Dunkirk Airport.
"The way it gets its name is it's distilled in an airplane hangar in the old Alameda Naval Air Station just outside of Oakland on Alameda Island," he stated. "They thought since the product is distilled in a hangar this would be a good way to start nation-wide advertising."
The blimp was awaited in Dunkirk by a crew of 10. Two pickup trucks, one van, two hauling-type trailers and a larger trailer were part of the entourage awaiting the blimp.
Viets said 200 to 300 miles is a good full day of traveling for the blimp, depending on conditions.
"Headwinds can affect us a great deal, 30-35 knots is our average cruise speed. Top speed is about 45 miles per hour, so if you end up with a 20-25 mile per hour wind you're not making a lot of headway over the ground," he explained. "You attack that on the other side of it as a tail wind, then we can make some good distances.
"I've been probably down here well over an hour in front of the crew. By the time they take the mast down, work through the cities and the traffic ... a lot of times I can be at the airport prior to their arrival."
Viets has been flying airships for over three years and was asked how he got into the job.
"I've flown for my own enjoyment for 27 years prior to this and decided I wanted to change up and start flying for a living and this is the direction I came," the Missouri native replied. "It just takes one pilot to operate the ship, once in a while we'll have two pilots on board. We have two pilots on the operation but usually we take turns."
The airship, an American Blimp corporation 60+ model, is 128 feet long and holds roughly 69,000 cubic feet of helium with a gondola that can seat up to five.
"Normally, our passenger load is three passengers plus the pilots," Viets said. "We also have the (180-foot) Direct TV airship, it's our largest ship we have flighted currently."
If you're looking to see the blimp in action, keep an eye to the skies and pay attention to weather reports for blimp-flying conditions.
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