Pictured are the 2012 Toyota, 2013 US Steel, and the 2012 Bottom Dollar Pig for
the 2012-2013 preseason practice. We fly the Toyota and US Steel airships for the
Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Bottom Dollar Foods Pig at events throughout western
Pennsylvania and Ohio.
It takes many batteries to feed the hungry blimps! An airship normally uses two 3s
4,000 mAh LiPo batteries, and some use four.
Photos by the author
is brought out into the cold air above the ice, it will rise until
it finds a temperature zone that allows it to achieve neutral
buoyancy, usually roughly 25 feet above the ice. It can remain in
that temperature layer for a few minutes, but the longer it sets,
the cooler it will get, eventually losing buoyancy and sinking
again. Luckily, we aren’t out there long. We slowly fly the airship
over the crowd, 10 to 40 feet above their heads.
Working the crowd from the front to the back of the stands,
the pilot flies the airship in a zigzag pattern, always maintaining
altitude and a safety margin, as we go higher toward the back of
the stands or lower toward the ice.
Periodically, the pilot will drop the prize envelopes to the
crowd below. There is no set pattern; we can drop whatever to
whomever we’d like. We usually aim for the most excited and
animated fans, but when we hit the drop switch, there’s no
predicting where they will land. I’ve had prize envelopes cross
the ice and half of the arena before some lucky person finally
catches it. We like it that way, it makes it challenging and fun for
us and for the fans.
When the time is right, the pilot brings the airship in for a
landing and puts it right into the capable hands of the ground
crew, never touching the ice.
Our arena airships have had great safety records throughout
the past few decades. The motors and propellers are usually
surrounded by an engine shroud, and even with the power to
the motors off, the aircraft are so well balanced that
they gently float down like giant soap bubbles.
In the event of an emergency landing, the
procedure is to make our way over the ice and
then hold position until the Zambonis are done.
There is a natural turning tendency built into the
airships, so if we lose the tail motor we drive the
airship back and forth until it points in the correct
direction—similar to steering the old RC cars that
could only travel in a “J.” If we lose one of the main
gondola drive motors, we can conservatively finish
the flight. It helps to have main motors that can go
in reverse for those occasional unique wind current
Between flights, the crew triple checks the
equipment, charges the batteries, and catches the
game. After the game, we go to our regular day jobs.
On weekends, some head out to the flying fields
and smile when someone boasts about his or her
65-inch wingspan aircraft.
The last thing I tell pilots new to flying this type
of airship is that flying will never be the same. After
you’ve flown a 24- x 8-foot beast that costs more
than your first car over a crowd of 18,000 people
on national television, it will change how you feel
The airships we use come from several
manufacturers. MobileAirships in Toronto, Canada,
made the Toyota car; MobileAirships and US Steel
built airships for the Pittsburgh Penguins; and
E-blimp from California made the flying pig for
Bottom Dollar Foods. The price range for these
types of blimps start at $4,000 and can cost more
For someone interested in a less-expensive blimp,
MobileAirships offers a personal airship through
its public website, RC Guys, priced at $346.50. It
is 5.5-feet long, and made from polyurethane. The
website is listed in the “Sources” section.
[Editor’s note: Flying an RC model directly over people is
prohibited by the AMA Safety Code. RC Airships flown at
the CONSOL Energy Center are covered for liability by the
Pittsburgh Penguins. Safety is a priority at the venue and each
pilot must successfully complete training before being allowed to fly
MicroFlight Inc. (eBlimp)
44 Model Aviation MARCH 2014