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The History of Blimps

Three main types of airships were developed in the 1800s — rigid, semi-rigid, and non-rigid. Rigid airships, or zeppelins, used a structural framework to maintain their shape (the lifting gas was contained in one or more cells within the airship). Semi-rigid airships relied on internal pressure to maintain their shape but also featured a metal support keel at the bottom. Non-rigid airships relied solely on internal pressure to maintain their shape and are what we commonly refer to as blimps. The first powered airship took flight in France in 1852. At first, airships were used mostly for military purposes and civilian travel, including both transcontinental and transatlantic travel. In 1925, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company began building non-rigid blimps that were used for advertising as well as for military purposes during World War II, including surveillance and anti-submarine warfare. The Hindenburg disaster of 1937, which involved the large German airship bursting into flames while landing in New Jersey and resulted in the deaths of 35 passengers and 1 ground crew member, marked the end of rigid airships being used for transportation. However, non-rigid blimps remained in use for advertising, tourism, some freight transportation, and research purposes, such as geological surveys. They also became popular as camera platforms for TV coverage of sporting events and were frequently emblazoned with advertisements while floating above these well-attended events. However, blimps began to disappear from the skies in the 21st century. Why? Blimps are very costly to build and run. The helium for a single trip can reportedly cost up to $100,000! Consequently, drones have largely replaced blimps as a cheaper way of capturing aerial views, and blimp advertising has largely gone away. There are reportedly fewer than 25 blimps left in existence and even fewer are still in use for advertising purposes today. While blimps are largely a thing of the past, rare sightings are still possible, and blimps may even be making a slight comeback. Notably, DICK’s Sporting Goods recently unveiled a DICK'S House of Sport blimp, which has taken part in several high-profile flights as recently as April 8, 2024, with more flights planned for the summer months. The blimp is a Skyship Services A170 Lightship that is being used to advertise the brand and is reportedly one of only 5 blimps currently in operation in the skies over the United States today.

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