Oh the humanity! Navy Airship soars above historic Floyd Bennett Field

No, we were not under attack: A U.S. Navy airship — otherwise known as a dirigible — conducted routine exercises at Floyd Bennett Field on Wednesday, giving skywatchers a look back in time.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Aviation history was re-made at Floyd Bennett Field in Mill Basin on Wednesday as the U.S. Navy tested one of its new, old-school, lighter-than-air airships.

Aviation aficionados flocked to the historic FlatbU.S.h Avenue airstrip to watch the U.S. Navy MZ-3A Airship lift off, fly out to New York Harbor and come back, slowly floating by at altitudes of 1,000 feet and below.

The 178-foot-long, propeller driven blimp, which is filled with helium, not the more flammable hydrogen made infamous by the Hindenberg disaster, can hold a crew of 10 and reach the lightening speed of 30 miles an hour. The Navy has been flying blimps since 2006, using them as floating research laboratories to test new technologies destined for new, state-of-the-art aircraft, explained Steve Huett, program director for the Naval Air Warfare Center.

But that doesn’t mean that the slow-moving ships that fell out of favor with the military when it became clear that they were susceptible to even the most rudimentary anti-aircraft defenses like, say, rocks, haven’t made appearances in forward areas.

Similar Navy blimps have been used on reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan. The blimps also came in handy when the government needed to measure the damage caused by last year’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, when the off-shore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, Navy officials said.

Reach reporter Thomas Tracy at ttracy@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2525.

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