“I started thinking, what can carry more weight and needs less power?” he said. “The answer is a blimp.”
Nachbar’s solution could be seen soaring high above a field on a cloudless morning last month: a 102-foot blimp designed with co inventor Michael Kuehlmuss to resemble a bee. It’s nickname is Alberto.
Blimps may not be new, but even the smallest blimps available today carry sky-high price tags that start at $2 million. Nachbar and Kuehlmuss hope to market Alberto as an agile and nearly silent aircraft that will sell for between $100,000 and $200,000 — the flight enthusiast’s version of a day sailor’s yacht.
Inventor Soars with Experimental Blimp — An NPR story about Dan Nachbar’s personal blimp.
At daybreak on a recent morning, a strange-looking aircraft is joining the birds in flight.
Dan Nachbar is piloting a 100-foot experimental blimp.
The yellow and black striped blimp has a playful look to it — like the Yellow Submarine fused with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But why invent a new kind of blimp?
The pilot is strapped into an old Toyota Camry seat bolted to a slab of wood. This “cabin” is suspended by steel cables beneath the blimp.
“There are no walls, there’s no windshield, so you’re very much out in the open,” Nachbar says. “We wanted flying in this aircraft to feel unlike any other aircraft.”
And it does, according to Mike Kuehlmuss, an airplane mechanic who built the blimp with Nachbar.
Kuehlmuss says most blimps steer like a big cruise ship — in a lumbering kind of way. But the motor mounted on the tail pivots this blimp just like the motor on the back of a small boat.
And unlike many blimps, this one isn’t filled with helium but with hot air. Helium is a lot more costly.
But what’s really different is the blimp’s structure. Long, flexible, aluminum tubes run the length of the ship, and open and fold like an umbrella. Tents use the same technology.
“We didn’t invent the tension membrane structure, but we are the first ones to use it on a blimp,” Nachbar says.
Since that first airship 30 year ago, Walden has refined and built several full-scale models. He currently favors the more aerodynamic `flying saucer shape’. He also founded his own company – LTAS ( Lighter than Air Solar Corporation of Nevada)- and patented a system to make airships more stable at different altitudes.
His most ambitious project was a full size saucer that he created with friend and partner Mario Sanchez Roldan. With over five million dollars from a Mexican potato chip company that was keenly interested in the airship as an advertising tool, they created a huge airship called the MLA-32-B. It was a staggering 32 metres in diameter and four storeys high.
It was destroyed in a freak accident seven years ago, explained Walden. Engine problems forced an emergency landing in a remote Mexican village. When local villagers saw the gigantic flying saucer glide to its silent landing they feared they were aliens onboard and attacked the ship with knives, guns and sticks.
“They completely destroyed it. You have to think of a 105 foot [32 metres] flying saucer, not making any noise, landing in your village and a guy twice your size gets out in a silver flight suit and jacket.well you can image what they thought,” he said.
Note: I’ve not found much else about this craft online, so take this story with a grain of salt.