Archive for Friday, September 15, 1995

S-EYE VIEW

September 15, 1995

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The blimp that provided aerial shots for ESPN's coverage of the KU-TCU game was also at the 1995 Super Bowl.

Flying a 69,000-cubit-foot helium blimp is difficult to describe, according to the chief pilot of the airship that visited Lawrence for Thursday's football game.

"It's a bit like an aerial boat," said the pilot, Steve Tomlin of Hertfordshire, England. "You have (controls of) side wheels for the pitch and pedals on the floor for rudder control."

Tomlin spent much of Thursday night turning wheels and pressing pedals as he guided the Blockbuster Video blimp around Memorial Stadium at a height of about 1,000 feet before and during the game.

A camera mounted on the blimp's side provided aerial shots for the ESPN broadcast.

Before the game, Tomlin and fellow pilot Terry Dillard described what it's like to pilot blimps at major sporting events. They said it was the first time such an airship had visited Lawrence.

"We basically circle around the stadium with the camera on all the time and when the (broadcast) director sees a shot he likes, he uses it," Tomlin said.

He piloted the same blimp at this year's Super Bowl.

It is 132 feet long and about 40 feet wide. Maximum speed is about 50 mph.

The ship is powered by two 80-horsepower Volkswagen engines, the same kind found in cars, Dillard said.

Electricity is provided by a 35 horsepower gasoline generator, which powers two 1,000-watt light bulbs that keep the ship lit at night.

It takes about 15 minutes for crews to prepare the blimp for takeoff.

After the motors and generator are filled with fuel and the pilot and camera operator climb inside, the blimp is rolled on the ground to a safe takeoff point. Crews hold the ship down with ropes until it is ready for takeoff.

The ropes are then tied to the ship, and the pilot accelerates the propellers, causing the ship to roll across the ground like a giant football with wheels, until it lifts off.

Tomlin said that although he's got a great seat for many events, he can't enjoy them.

"I'm usually listening to air traffic or the (broadcast) director," he said. "You're concerned with the job at hand."

Flying blimps has hazards as well.

"We've been shot at four times in the last two years" by people thinking they can down an airship with a gun, Dillard said.

The blimp is operated by The Lightship Group of Orlando, Fla., which contracts with Blockbuster and other companies. Lightship has nine blimps in the United States, Dillard said.

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