Blimps are making a comeback

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 04:34 PM.

More than 60 years ago, Dad was stationed with the Air Wing at El Toro in California. His squadron flew transports, mostly R4Ds.

We lived in a rural area around Costa Mesa, Calif., where I went to fifth and sixth grades. Across the street from our home was a huge expanse of open grassland populated by tumbleweeds, an occasional pheasant and not a few jackrabbits.

In the far distance at the edge of this sea of brown grass sat a huge hangar, which was the LTA base. Those letters stand for "Lighter than Air," which meant and still means "blimps."

That big field was our playground where we hunted with BB guns, built forts, explored fault cracks in the land and where I learned to smoke like Humphrey Bogart. The blimp hangar was our "Area 51," a mysterious place where giant airships silently cruised into their berths.

Micro memories of those days still flash through my mind whenever I see Marine Corps or Navy squadron designations spelled out. They begin with the letter "V" which means "Heavier than Air," a throwback to those old days when blimps were quite common.

Hydrogen filled airships once ran intercontinental passenger service, but the explosion of the Hindenburg in 1937 pretty much derailed that German effort. They didn’t have access to large quantities of helium; therefore, all of their ships were bombs.

It’s amazing how much difference just adding one tiny neutron and electron to a hydrogen atom makes. However, helium production isn’t always benign. Some methods can make cities disappear. Remember the Cold War?



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