Zeppelin Ride Above Long Beach (Trip Report)

Trip Reports

It’s safe to say that I never expected to be able to ride in a Zeppelin in my lifetime. Actually, I didn’t even know they still made Zeppelins until recently, but sure enough they do. There are three of them flying in the world, including one that’s been Fly by Wirebased at Moffett Field, south of San Francisco since late last year. It was that Zeppelin that came down to Long Beach for a week, and I had to chance to take a ride.

This is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) Zeppelin. Chances are that when you think of Zeppelins, you think of the spectacular fireball that engulfed the Hindenburg many years ago. Fortunately, today’s Zeppelin NT (for New Technology) has been designed to avoid that problem. Instead of highly flammable hydrogen, Zeppelins are now filled with inert helium. Smart move. They’re also filled with state-of-the-art equipment. It’s even fly-by-wire.

Today, Downtown Long Beach and MarinaZeppelins aren’t used for long haul transport either. The flight down from Moffett Field took 8 hours – longer than it would have taken to drive. So Airship Ventures, the company that spent $14m to bring this ship to the US, uses it primarily for flightseeing tours, and it’s a spectacular experience.

On our flight, the Zeppelin cruised at about 1,000 feet above the ground going a mere 35 to 40 mph, though it can go as fast as 77 mph and as high as 7,500 ft. As you can see at right, it provided some incredible views of Long Beach. The slow speed means that you can even stick your head outside one of the two windows during the flight. Here I am filming myself doing just that:

It’s also a pretty quiet ride, unlike in a blimp. See, there is one big difference between a Zeppelin and a blimp. A Full CabinToday’s Zeppelin has a semi-rigid structure whereas a blimp is just a balloon. So on a blimp, the engines have to be on the gondola and that makes for a very loud ride. But on the Zeppelin, the engines can be mounted on the structure, and that makes it much more pleasant.

As you can see, it’s not a huge cabin. You won’t find bunks for the long haul, but you will find comfortable seating with windows all the way around, including a fantastic bay window in the rear. (There’s a window in the lav as well.) There is room for 12 passengers onboard, and the front two seats are facing backwards. That’s where I was sitting when I took this shot.

The ride is mostly smooth, though you do feel some light buffeting Naples - Long Beach and Surrounding Areafrom the winds. It’s a pretty subtle feeling though – no big changes in altitude – just a little swaying.

It is truly an incredible way to see a city from above – I hope the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce got onboard to take some pictures. It is, however, not cheap to ride. Flights start at $375 per person for 60 to 90 minute flights and go up from there. Is it worth it? I’d say it’s worth doing once, even at that steep price. It’s such an incredibly unique perspective.

The other people onboard were clearly impressed as well. One couple asked if they could do a private tour with appetizers and drinks for friends within the next few days. (They were going to try to squeeze it in.) And Airship Ventures confirmed that most of their flights throughout the week they were here in Long Beach were full.

See my photos of the Zeppelin over Long Beach on Flickr
See my videos of flying in the Zeppelin on YouTube

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9 comments on “Zeppelin Ride Above Long Beach (Trip Report)

  1. Now if the cruise industry was smart, they would commission a few commercial zeppelins to operate 3, 4 and 5 day sailings out of West Palm Beach over the Caribbean Islands.

    Sailing TO St. Thomas is one thing. Sailing around Tortola is another. Sailing ABOVE the Grand Caymans? I smell money in the air.

    Or maybe they could just add an all day “shore excursion” to the laundry list of other money draining activities each cruise offers.

    Why the Caribbean? I’m guessing that outside of hurricane season (offer a repositioning flight like any of the regular ships) most passengers would want the calmest skies possible to convince them to stay on the thing longer than a few hours.

  2. That Zeppelin flys around the Bay Area and you are right unless you see it, you wouldn’t know it’s there compared to the louder blimps. It’s really big and you see those ads clearly since the letters are so big. I can remember what the last ad was when I saw it flying over my mothers neighborhood. It’s so big even she saw it and her eyesight isn’t that great anymore.

    We get the Metlife blimp a lot also, mostly at night. It glows blue with the white letters so at night you can see it real well, better then in the day time I would say.

  3. Amazed to see the artificial horizon as one of their flight instruments…I doubt that ever registers anything other than almost completely horizontal!

  4. Dude…you made my month cause im SO there ;-P lol.

    I’m with Optomist…I smell money to be made, but wonder if the Caribbean is too convective 9 months out of the year to support that kind of venture. Now Hawaii, the Cali coast or Med…hmmmmm. Any venture capitalists in here?

    Thanks for the heads up Cranky…valuable intel as always!

  5. David,
    Just remember that as big as the modern Zepplins are, their predecessors, the big rigid airships like the Hindenburg and the Macon (which was based at Moffett Field were four times bigger). The Zepplin Company liscensed their designs to Goodyear, so the Macon and it’s sister, the Akron, we technically Zepplins even though they were made in the US. The Macon was an airborne aircraft carrier and carried five biplane fighters inside its belly. They were launched and recovered with a trapeze device. The passenger accommodations on the Hindenburg were in the belly of the airship, but the Graf Zepllin and the USS Los Angeles (a passenger Zepplin provided to the US Navy as war reparations for WW 1) had accommodations in long gondolas.

    CF, the Zepplin Company had approached the US about using helium in the Hindenburg (at it was designed to accommodate helium) but the US refused to sell such a critical strategic resource to Nazi Germany. As a result, the Hindenburg flew with hydrogen instead.

  6. I had a chance to fly on one of Goodyear blimps (pre-update and consolidation of the fleet) 15 years ago. AMAZING experience. Nothing else is like this.

    Unlike the picture, this blimp had strictly manual controls. Pilots, 2 of them, had a big wheel inboard of their seats, pedals, and a wheel. Overhead were knobs. Pull a knob and it would hang by a control wire. I do not think the engines could vector thrust. I think they explained the controls purposes, but it has been too long ago for me to remember.

    Controls allowed the pilots to pitch the blimp with passengers looking directly at the ground. Hanging in complete silence looking at the ground. Not a typical airborne experience.

    Landing the beast in a slight breeze completed the show. A support team struggled with mooring lines and giant bag of helium. Almost comical except for the real danger of damaging a unique item of Americana. Kudos to Goodyear for keeping the fleet going.

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