Monday, July 23, 2007

Dan Nachbar's and Michael Kuehlmuss Personal Blimp "Alberto"

We are continuing our hot-airship coverage with some news about Dan Nachbars Personal Blimp. The first good news is that Alberto got the allowance to transport passengers. So Dan and Mike, can take passengers with them. Here is what Dan posted on his mailing list:
Greeting all.

After nine months of waiting, the FAA has finally said "YES" to the request that Mike Kuehlmuss (my cobuilder) and I be allowed to take passengers in Alberto, the Personal Blimp! Getting rid of this stumbling block is a big step forward.

To be clear, we could have taken passengers in Alberto long ago if Mike and I were willing to go through the technically required but utterly pointless exercise of obtaining an "airship" pilot's rating. But before doing such a nonsensical thing, we decided to ask the FAA to do be reasonable. And now they have.


This entire exercise in bureaucratic fiddling about was necessary because the FAA lumps all aircraft into a one of several "classes" -- e.g. airplane, helicopter, balloon, and so forth. In order to take passengers, a pilot must have a rating that matches the class of the particular aircraft being flown. (Pilots are permitted to fly so-called "experimental" aircraft -- such as Alberto -- without a matching rating so long as nobody else is onboard. The FAA is reasonably open-minded about killing oneself but not others.)

Alberto falls into the class labeled "airships". Things classified as "airship" are distinct from those in the class "balloon" in that airships have a motor and can be steered. But, the fact is that Alberto behaves much more like a balloon than an airship. Unfortunately, the classification scheme is not terribly subtle. So Alberto has the bad luck of falling into the wrong classification box.

In particular, because almost all other airships have pressurized gas bags and use Helium rather than hot air, the training syllabus and testing rules for the "airship" rating are focused largely on pressurization and Helium. Perhaps if our technology becomes more prevalent someday, the FAA will change the airship rating. But, for the present, it is pretty irrelevant to Alberto.

We pointed out the disparity to the FAA. In particular, we pointed out that Mike and I both have hot air balloon ratings and ratings in powered aircraft. We showed why we think the combination of those two ratings is better preparation for flying Alberto than an airship rating. After mulling it over for nine months, the FAA agreed with us.


As luck would have it, we won't be able to take advantage of our newly granted status right away. Mike is already on the road to the gigantic airshow in Oshkosh, WI for the week. I'm heading out that way in a few days. (We are giving a talk on our project this Saturday at 2:30 if you happen to be attending the show.) When we get back around the end of the month, we'll start taking people for rides. What a treat!

In the meantime, we expect to have a bit more press coverage. In particular, The Boston Globe will be running a story on us in their Business section and on their news website in the next few days. Several other national news outlets are working on stories as well.

Dan Nachbar
So we will keep our eyes open for them, here is already the first story from the Boston Globe, talking about the project and it's fathers. Read the full Boston Globe article and watch the high quality Video which contains some great footage of the airship. Showing some of the inside of the envelope and the patented aluminum tubing giving Alberto it's structure to which the motor and the fins are attached.


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