Real Blimps

I guess I should state up front that my goal is to pilot a remote-controlled airship with a still or video camera on it to get shots of the exterior of my house and land. I'm not sure why this is my goal, but it's good to have goals, right? I guess this would be about as close being in a real airship of my own that I can imagine.

But I've never done anything with remote controlled toys before, let alone R/C aircraft. I've also never done any aerial photography, nor any remote photography. Well, I guess I've used webcams before, but that doesn't feel like the same thing. Anyway, I clearly have a lot to learn. So I decided to start with an off-the-shelf kit to get some kind of success early on.

Stock Blimp Kit

Here's what I bought. You can get these from various places on the web. I bought mine on eBay in Aug 2007 for $35.45 including shipping.

[Photo of blimp kit parts]

What you're looking at here is the full blimp kit as it arrived:

  1. Gondola containing R/C receiver and motors
  2. R/C transmitter
  3. Tails fins to be taped to the blimp envelope
  4. Stack of plastic hooks to be used as ballast
  5. Envelope, blimp lingo for the balloon

[Balloon Time helium]

You also need helium and batteries. I got my helium at Wal-mart ($20), but didn't think that I might need odd batteries until later, so I ended up getting those at Walgreen's ($8).

There was plenty of helium in the tank to fill up the blimp envelope as well as a couple of regular latex balloons for the kids. I can't tell how much helium is still in there, but I don't think unreasonable to expect another whole blimp-full out of it.

Following the instructions was pretty easy, and I had the thing in the air the first evening. The instructions called for double-sided tape, but regular sticky tape was quite sufficient. For the first couple days, I had the gondola attached too far back and angled a little to the side. This made flying it straight a little harder, but it was still pretty forgiving.

[Photo of blimp floating in our kitchen]

The instructions are very clear about never letting this blimp outdoors. I ignored the instructions. I attached some 6 pound test fishing line to the gondola ($3 or so) and took it outside, where the blimp confronted wind for the first time. The wind won. And actually, it was more of a light breeze.

Taping the string securely to the nose of the blimp envelope helped quite a bit, and adding the fins (tiny though they are) helped a bit more.

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Music by Over the Rhine

So I thought that all went pretty well. I think I could have filled the envelope a bit more, but whether that would be enough to lift any kind of camera or not, I don't know. But if is going to be an outdoor blimp, it clearly needs some stronger propulsion and perhaps a sleeker envelope. A stock indoor blimp kit will not suffice.

More to come... (last updated Aug 21 2007)