Blimps with Glenn Stensrud
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Gameops.com: Let's talk about a simple blimp configuration first. What are some of the first considerations when you fit a team with a blimp?

Glenn Stensrud: Actually, the best way to describe the blimp selection is 'fitting a blimp' to an arena, rather than a team. The size of the blimp is selected by the size of the arena. A smaller arena, like a 3,000-8,000 seat hockey area would use a smaller blimp, probably a 10 to 11 foot blimp. Larger arenas, like NHL and NBA arenas would use proportionally larger blimps from 13 to 20 foot models.

Another consideration is the arena location. The level above sea level is a factor in selecting a blimp. For example, a 10 foot blimp won't fly in a building that is above 1,800 feet above sea level, so that arena would need to have a larger blimp.

Next you need to factor in the weight of the envelope (industry term for the blimp bag), the flight equipment (radio transmitter, gondola, batteries), and any painting or ad banners.

If a blimp is a custom shape you also will have to address the additional weight of the envelope. For example we made a Coke Bottle blimp. After we determined how much fabric it would involve, we had to increase its length to about 19 feet.

Gameops.com: You mentioned painting and signage. What are the benefits of each?

Glenn Stensrud: Artwork is a very important part of the blimp, since most are used as sponsor inventory. Painting is usually the best looking artwork, airbrushing can create a very attractive design. However painting is permanent and usually you will have to purchase a new envelope if you change designs or sponsors. Typically you can not repaint due to the weight of the paint.

Banners are nice since they are more flexible. You can change banners (and sponsors) during the season or even between blimp flights, obviously reducing the cost of adding or changing sponsors.



Gameops.com: How long do blimps typically last?

Glenn Stensrud: That can vary on a few factors. Two of the key factors are having a good flight crew and storage. If your crew keeps running into the scoreboard that will take some of the life out of your blimp, so the better your crew, presumably the longer the blimp will last.

Storage is also key. Being able to store the blimp in an area with no access except for the flight crew is recommended.

On average an envelope will last 3 to 5 years, and the flight equipment will last much longer than that.

Gameops.com: What are the costs associated with getting a blimp and maintaining it for the year? (In US dollars)

Glenn Stensrud: A standard 11 foot blimp, what we call Ready to Fill, including everything you need to fly (envelope, banners, flight equipment, batteries, chargers, set-up tarp) will run about $5,000 US.

A custom envelope can increase the costs significantly. In fact for the envelope alone on most of the custom shapes the price is around $30,000. But the results are spectacular.

A blimp needs helium to fly, and a large T-tank will fill your blimp (10-11 foot size) once and have enough left to top-up your blimp for about a month. These T-tanks cost about $50 US.

Operator costs vary, but you can normally find an operator for about $50 a game.

Gameops.com: Have there been some new developments in blimps?

Glenn Stensrud: Most of the new breakthroughs have been in the addition of RF Video to blimps. The real challenge hasn't been getting video, but it's getting video that's good. We have been testing a project in Toronto and we are getting great results.

RF video technology is not cheap, and there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Every building is different, so we need to go in and invest some time in each building to achieve the best results. It is the same technology that is used in the NHL Netcams, but for your blimp it becomes a mobile system. For blimps, part of the challenge is that you don't have a stable base. We have a system that can pan and tilt and also has a horizontal correction.

The up-side is that once we get the system to work, it not only works on your blimp, but it works on anything in your building. So you can have creative uses like unique camera angles or strapping the camera onto your mascot...it's a really flexible system.

The costs can range from $20,000-$40,000 for the system, but that can provide a flexible system with broadcast quality video.

Gameops.com: So far we have talked exclusively about indoor blimps, are outdoor blimps for sports practical?

Glenn Stensrud
: We have done some work with a 20' outdoor blimp with some success. Wind is a major issue, as is fuel consumption. In this situation, the flight crew becomes vital. I wont let anyone with less than 10 years flight experience control an outdoor blimp.

Mauri Lovelace: Flight Brothers offers a 30 foot alcohol-fuel powered outdoor RC Blimp. This can fly in winds up to 15 mph. It has a volume of 900 cubic feet and a net lift of 7lbs at sea level.

For more questions on blimps you can contact:

Glenn Stensrud, Eye in the Sky

Special Thanks to Glenn Stensrud from Eye in the Sky, KJ Maus (blimp pilot extraordinaire), and Mauri Lovelace from Flight Brothers.

Additional Links

Definitions:

RC - Remote Control
RF - Radio Frequency
Envelope - The blimp bag
Flight Equipment - Radio transmitter and receiver, gondola, batteries, chargers

Facts:

  • It takes about 160 cubic feet of Helium to fill a 10 foot blimp.
  • Blimps lose about 1% of their Helium every day in storage.
  • The Goodyear Blimp has its home base in Carson, near the intersection of Main Street and the San Diego (405) Freeway. For more information than you will ever need on the Goodyear Blimp, visit Carson Online's Goodyear Blimp page.

Additional information was provided by Flight Brothers, Inc. Marketing Manager Mauri Lovelace.

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