Bringing Back The BlimpFuture Security And Commerce – QNS.com

Bringing Back The BlimpFuture Security And Commerce

Modern descendants of the giant airships of the 1920s hold great promise for filling important slots in the burgeoning homeland security infrastructure.
Lighter-than-air vehicles, whether manned or automated, can remain aloft and operational for weeks, according to William Armstrong, Jr., vice president of airship management Services in Greenwich, Conn.
Several agencies have shown interest in airships as surveillence platforms, most recently during the rash of shootings around the nations capital. A Science and Technology International Airship from a Honolulu-based image sensor company was quickly outfitted by the US Navy with a system for spotting gunfire, however the arrest of the shooters ended the project.
During Navy Fleet Week in New York last spring, local and federal law enforcement agents used a Fujifilm blimp to monitor crowd activity. During the Parade of ships into New York harbor, a camera operator on the blimp located and tracked a small private airplane that was flying toward the ships and not responding to air traffic controls. Live footage was beamed to the security command center on the ground while Navy and police helicopters were vectored in and turned the aircraft away. According to Naval Reserve Capt. Bill Armstrong such episodes speak to the range of potential applications for airships.
Experts agree that airships are far more robust than appearances might suggest. Most non-rigid airships, such as the Fujifilm Blimp, can operate at up to 10,000 feet and remain basically stationary in winds up to about 55 miles per hour. Icing is a minor worry, as the blimps flexing allows ice to fall off, and gunfire damage causes only very slow deflation.
"Blimp-borne surveillance could take the form of either a visible low-altitude presence or unseen patrols at higher altitudes to cover wide areas, said Cmdr. Alfred Elkins of the Navy Warfare Development Command.
"Basically an airship is at one two-thousandths the altitude of a satellite, and its a great antenna farm,"Elkins said. "At low altitude it sends a message–I anticipate what [terrorists] are doing, and I will take proactive action. Its a deterrent and a response."
Flushing resident Alan Gross believes in the blimp, but for commerce not security. For years he has been trying to interest the city in converting part of the Old Flushing Airport site in College Point into a blimp base that would provide one permanent and one transient blimp tether. Almost three years ago, Gross presented a plan to the citys Economic Development Corporation that included not only the blimp housing, but also an airship museum, a theme restaurant and an environmental center with walkways through the nearby wetland areas.
While blimps are used often in the metropolitan area for advertising and to cover sporting events, there are no local airship bases. Gross maintains that there is a real need for mooring facilities in New York, for practical purposes as well economic stimulation through tourism.
In February, Gross wrote to Councilmember John Liu and Tony Avella seeking their support on his plan, but received no real response. Current policy requires the EDC to review all proposals for development and then select the best choice based on revenue. Currently two developers are looking at putting stores on the old airport site. Skeptics and supporters of Gross plan note that the current system of roads nearby would not be able to handle shopping traffic, but the city calls his plan premature because part of the site is wetlands, and those sections have not been defined as usable.
Yet Alan Gross is not giving up hope. For him, the airship, considered by many to be a vehicle of the past, is the wave of the future.

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