After noticing the controversy over the Google founders' jumbo jets last month, Los Gatos-based Airship Ventures is putting out feelers to see what Moffett neighbors would think of up to 1,000 Zeppelin flights a year out of the airfield. The company aims to provide tours of the San Francisco Bay Area for $500 a person in its 264-foot Zeppelin NT airship — which is slightly longer, but much quieter, than a Boeing 747.
The company hopes that a resolution from the City Council, requested last week, will help them sign a deal with NASA Ames by early next year.
"I don't think many know about the airship yet," said council member Tom Means. "I don't think there will be the noise issues, and the base is not the main location of use. They plan to operate mostly in the tourist areas."
Airship Ventures' deal with NASA would be similar to the one signed with the founders of Google in August. It would allow the company to keep its airship at Moffett and fly it for paid tours. The company would also earn revenue using the airship as a floating billboard.
In exchange, the company would pay for the lease and must contribute in some way to NASA's general mission. Like the Google jet, the airship could carry scientific equipment to collect data for NASA. Such an agreement also helps NASA keep the federal airfield open without allowing commercial flights.
Airship Ventures CEO Alexandra Hall said the craft could assist communications during disasters such as an earthquake, because the helium-filled ship can float for up to 24 hours at a time and help transmit radio signals without using much fuel. The Zeppelin's return to Moffett would also mark a "historic reuse" of Hangar Two that is in the spirit of NASA's plans, Hall said.
Hall said she wanted to make sure that any concerns from residents are addressed early. The hope is that the airship will be "adopted by the community" the way other Zeppelin NTs are in Tokyo and Friedrichshafen, Germany. The operation could bring as many as 35 new jobs to Moffett, she said.
The noise level of the Zeppelin NT is similar to that of a small airplane. Because it does not require engine power to keep it aloft, fuel efficiency is very high.
"It will probably be the quietist thing operating from Moffett," Hall said.
Daily operations of the airship would happen closer to San Francisco from a mooring mast on a truck. The company assumes that most customers will want to see San Francisco landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge. There will also be weekend excursions to the Napa Valley and the Los Angeles area.
But Hall is predicting that local high tech employees and airship enthusiasts will want rides out of Moffett. It will take an hour for the ship to fly from Moffett to San Francisco.
"It's the ultimate sky box," Hall said. "Given the preponderance of high tech companies, many will fly out of Moffett Field."
Neighbors will "see her at least once a week for maintenance," Hall said. "If the weather is awful they will see her once again."
At the very most, the company has predicted 1,000 flights a year out of Moffett. NASA Ames is allowed to have 25,000 total flights a year.
The modern Zeppelin NT has a perfect safety record in Japan and Germany, Hall said. It incorporates carbon fiber construction and computer controls. It can carry 12 passengers and will cost $12 million.
The USS Macon, a much larger airship for which Hangar One was built, crashed in stormy weather off the coast of Monterey, as did many other airships of the 1930s.
"The main difference now is we know what's coming in terms of the weather," Hall said.
Real-time satellite weather data will come in handy next year — the Zeppelin NT may be the first airship to cross the Atlantic Ocean in decades. Hall said its German manufacturer is studying whether to make the risky trip by air, which would "definitely be a media-worthy event."
If everything works out, the airship's arrival at Moffett in October 2008 would coincide with NASA's 50th anniversary, the 75th anniversary of the Macon's arrival at Moffett and Zeppelin's 100th anniversary.
More information can be found at www.airshipventures.com.