Personal Blimp
Progress Reports











Project Update Mailing List

If you would like to receive occasional updates on our progress by email, please click HERE.

You can rest assured that this list is used only for news of the Personal Blimp project. We treat email addresses as private information and never reveal them to others. Updates are only sent when we have something significant to talk about. So don't be surprised if you don't hear from us for several months at a time. Rome wasn't built a in a day and all that.

February 2002
Preliminary feasibility analysis is completed.

March 2002
Preliminary computation fluid dynamics analysis is completed. The analysis is limited to prediction of dynamic pressures. No work on drag estimation is done as yet, as overall drag will be greatly influenced by the details of construction. Easily workable pressure values were found overall.

April 2002
Preliminary structural engineering analysis, including initial Finite Element Modeling, is completed. No "show stoppers" were found.

May 2002
Several 6-foot-long, non-flying, structural models of different shapes were built. The folding support structure operated very much as expected. However, some practical limits as to the obtainable shapes using the fundamental structural methodology were discovered. Two promising configurations were selected for further study.

June 2002
Selected an envelope shape from the two under study. Completed another 6-foot-long model and used it for preliminary structural load testing with excellent results. Completed construction of 12 and 24-foot-long models to confirm that the envelope design works as expected on a larger scale. Work now focuses on using the 24-foot-long model as the foundation of a 1/4-scale flying radio-controlled craft.

July 2002
Gone Fishing.

August 2002
Patent application filed for foldable airship hull . Continued work fabricating remote controlled model.

September 2002
Continued work on remote controlled model. Concentrated on design of nose cone, tail cone, tail fins and landing gear. Refined inflation techniques. Also did preliminary work on burner and propulsion systems.

October 2002
Redesigned and fabricated components to join model rib segments and the nose and tail cones.

November 2002
Began testing of model with hot air and test loads. Concentrated on design and testing of internal load carrying structures.

December 2002
Happy Holidays!

January 2003
Continued design refinements for model envelopes. Began work on a improved asymmetrically shaped hulls.

February 2003
Build first 6 foot models with asymmetrically shaped envelope. Continued development of tail fin structure.

March 2003
Continued work on asymmetrically shaped envelope and development of tail fin structure. Started to explore designs that use a structure on the nose similar to the tail fin structure to support the ship while on the ground. Adding a "nose gear" structure allows for the intriguing options of having a completely self-supporting and self-contained ship (i.e. no mast necessary) as well as amphibious operation.

April 2003
Continued work on asymmetrically shaped envelope model.

Started work on a "poor boy's wind tunnel" - i.e. a bracket that hooks on to a pickup truck and hold a large model out in front of the truck while driving along. (This is not an original idea. Quite a few aircraft models have been tested this way.) The plan is to use the device to collect data on the relative structural efficiency (support vs weight) of the various envelope designs that have evolved over the past few months.

May 2003
Made first "wind tunnel" tests. A model of the hull structure supported real aerodynamic loads even better than we expected. Details here.

June 2003
Built larger models (9 and 18 foot respectively) with fewer ribs (6 instead of the more typical 12 of earlier models). "Wind tunnel" testing of models is waiting for a suitably large vehicle to carry them (i.e. - The pickup truck has been in the shop for a few weeks being patched up after a great deal snow plowing from last year's particularly harsh New England winter.)

The 18 foot model, 1/5th scale, is particularly interesting in that it should provide an accurate structural representation of the full sized craft. In other words, if our structural stiffness calculations are correct, whatever airspeed the 18 foot model can support, the full sized (5 times larger) craft will be also able to support.

A picture of the 18 footer is now on the images page.

July 2003
Dan (chief cook and bottle washer) attended balloon flight school at Balloon Excelsior in Oakland, CA and earned his Commercial hot air balloon pilot's rating.

August 2003
Finished a conference paper describing the project. The paper will be presented at AIAA's 3rd Annual Aviation Technology, Integration, and Operations (ATIO) Technical Forum in Denver this November.

September 2003
Continued work on 18 foot model. The current focus of work has been on structural support and stability while on the ground.

October 2003
Fabricated a testing rig to mount the 18 foot model on the front of a pickup truck for aerodynamic testing. Details can be found here. Although some more staid, conventional aircraft design groups may claim that CFD stands for "computational fluid dynamics", our heroes, the folks at Scaled Composites, have discovered that CFD really stands for "Clever Ford Driving".

November-December 2003
Started work on a 1/2-scale model. This model will have 64 foot long ribs and an overall length (once the ribs are bent) of 50 feet.

January 2004
Continued work on the 1/2-scale model. Received word from the US Patent Office that our patent for the ribbed envelope should be published in the very near future.

February 2004
Focused on sewing the envelope for 1/2-scale model. Much of the work has focused on speeding the sewing process rather than the sewing itself. Now able to produce a flat-felled seam (the standard seam for hot air balloons) as quickly as experienced professionals with nearly unskilled labor. These techniques are scalable to full sized ships whereas the sewing techniques for previously built models were not.

Still fussing with the Patent Office about publication of our first patent. Our patent attorney says the issues are entirely limited to the Patent Office tripping over its own feet and that it is just a matter of time.

March 2004
Still sewing and harassing the Patent Office.

April 2004
Made significant progress with the Patent Office. I spent most of the month looking into making a bid on the WALRUS project. I hope to get back to sewing soon.

May 2004
Now back at the sewing machine. Things are going fine, if painfully slowly.

All of the 14 gores that make up the envelope are complete and have been so for some time. The snail's pace since then has been due to the fact that the first longitudinal seam to be sewn runs along the top ridge of the envelope. As it happens, this is by far the most complicated seam on the envelope because it incorporates the vent, a tail fin, and the load lines. So the design and construction of all those items as well as refining the baffle that separates the heated air from the end cones needs to be completed before this first longitudinal seam can be done.

Oh yes, and the Patent Office is still stumbling forward towards issuing the patent on the hull design. Undeterred by the suffering provided by the first application, we are preparing a second patent application covering some other very good stuff.

June 2004
June looked a lot an awful lot like May. Lots of sewing and patents.

The top 4 longitudinal panels of the envelope have been joined. The work related to the vent continues to consume a surprising amount of time. But progress continues, if only at a grinding pace.

No big news on the patent front. But the patent office folk keep saying "real soon now."

As the pile of fabric grows it is clear that a larger sewing space/workshop will become necessary. Started work on setting up a new (7X) larger space.

July 2004
July looked a lot an awful lot like May and June. Lots of sewing and patents. A majority of the longitudinal panels are now complete.

The first patent continues to lurch through the USPTO maze. The "second" patent has now grown into 3 separate patent applications.

August 2004
Finished principal sewing on the 50 foot model. Now at work on the other non-fabric elements of the envelope.

Wrapped up work on the second set of 3 patents which have now been handed off to the patent attorney.

September 2004
USPTO has finally published our first patent. It's US Patent #6,793,180.
You can check it out here on the USPTO web site.

Just so that the patent office won't be too lonely, we submitted an application for our second patent. The patent attorney continues work on the other 2 applications.

Work continues on the non-fabric elements of the 50 foot model.

October-December 2004
Finished fabrication, assembly and inflation of 50 foot model. Follow this link for details.

January 2005
Continued experiments with the 50 foot model. Focus of this work has been to refine the assembly and inflation/deflation process.
Moved into new larger sewing facility.
Started construction of our first full-sized aircraft.
Finished cutting fabric for the envelope and started sewing of the 14 main gore segments.

February 2005
Still sewing away on the first full-sized aircraft. Finished black half of the envelope gores.

March 2005
Resumed experiments on 50 foot model after some truly awful Winter weather. Focus now is on car design and attachment as well as further refinement of inflation/deflation procedure.

Work continues on components for the first full-sized aircraft. Finished sewing vents. Work has also begun on engine and prop.

April 2005
Completed experiments with th 50 foot model. We now turn exclusively to the first full-sized aircraft. Sewing of all gores has been completed. Next step is to join the gores into a closed envelope volume. Fabrication of the car and engine/prop unit continues as well.

May-June 2005
Fabrication of the full-sized aircraft continues. We also hosted the First Annual Amherst Experimental LTA Gathering A good time was had by all.

July-August 2005
All told, the envelope for the first full-sized ship has some 2.1 million stitches holding it together. So these months have been spent mostly sewing, and sewing, and sewing . . .

September 2005
Finished sewing the envelope -- at last. Basic structure of car is complete. Finished engine/prop unit. Fabricated larger ribs and endcones. Basically the remaining work is assembling the parts. Very exciting day indeed.

October 2005
October was a great month. With the sewing finally finished, we could start putting the ship together. We assembled most of the components, everything except the engine/prop and the fin struts. Along the way, we managed 4 test inflations. We would most likely have gotten even further except that this October had nearly non-stop torrential rains here in New England. All of the local rainfall records were easily surpassed. Quite something really. Houses floating away, etc. But compared to Katrina and Kashmir, we don't have much to complain about.

Nonetheless, we reached the point where we could reasonably load 3 people into the cabin and lift off on short tethered flights a few feet above the ground.

You can even check out some cool pictures.

November promises to be much less dramatic since Mike, the prime mechanic, is out of town for the entire month. We'll make some alterations and minor repairs (Hey, it ain't work if you don't break things once in a while.) while he's away and will be back in full swing come December (weather permitting of course.)

November 2005
Worked on alterations/repairs to the envelope.

Alas, Winter has come early and hard to New England. There won't be much chance of further flights before Spring. It looks like we'll be spending the next few months refining the components as well as trying out some design innovations on smaller scale models.

December 2005
Finished alterations/repairs to the envelope.

In addition to working on various refinements to the ship, during the month of January, we're lending the sewing part of our shop to a fellow who is building his first balloon.

There is a "blog" following his progress at the XLTA website.

January-March 2006
Continued refinements and improvement to the various systems on the ship.

We really can't wait for Spring to come.

April-May 2006
Well, Spring is here and so are the rains. It feels like a rerun of last October. There have been very few days when we've been able to get outside to assemble the ship. We keep making progress in the shop but we really want to be making progress in the field.

June 2006
The truly rotten weather persists. However, we were able to inflate the ship once. This time we had the motor in place on the tail. As expected, the structure readily handled the weight of the motor. This is a significant accomplishment. To our knowledge, no hot air balloon or airship has ever successfully carried such a load cantilevered on its tail.

We also had several people climb onboard to simulate a full payload. Once again, the structure carried the load well. This also proved out the availability of a good margin of "free lift".

If this rain ever stops, we'll be able to make progress quickly.

July 2006
The rains have indeed stopped and we're making progress in the field. We've had several more successful tethered flight tests. Most of the work at this point has been focused on tuning the longitudinal balance as well as refining the load suspension system (the wires that run from the cabin up to the top of the envelope.)

The fly-by-wire system works great. The engine/prop rig develops a hearty 100 lbs of thrust and can swivel a good 80 degrees left and right.

We'd hoped to bring the ship to the big Oshkosh airshow at the end of this month. But the rain delays have pushed the schedule back so far that we won't be ready for free flight in time (and it's also hard to imagine that the FAA would permit such a new and low-time design in the world's most crowded airspace.) So, we'll be leaving the ship at home this year. However, Dan will be giving a talk about the project at one of the airshow forums on Friday July 28.

August-September 2006
Finished construction of the ship. Numerous tethered flight tests made. Airworthiness inspection completed successfully. We expect the FAA to issue an experimental airworthiness certificate soon.

October 2006
FAA issued experimental airworthiness certificate on October 13. First free flight made on October 27.

November 2006
Completed the 10 hours of FAA required Phase I flight testing.

Forbes Magazine and the New York Times Magazine have let us know that they will be running stories on us in the near future. So we're prepping for the onslaught of attention that such press coverage will no doubt bring.

December 2006
Packed up the blimp for the Winter. We'll be working in the shop on some minor items. We should be flying again sometime in May.

As expected, both Forbes Magazine and the New York Times Magazine ran very nice stories. (The only significant fly-in-the-ointment was the glaring oversight of both of these articles in failing to mention Mike Kuehlmuss who is responsible for at least half of technical innovations found in Alberto.) We also received coverage from several other publications. A selection of press coverage that's run so far can be found at on our Press page. We had quite a few interviews with reporters for stories running in future publications. So we expect a fair number of additional stories to run in the coming months.

January-April 2007
The Winter and early Spring months have been spent making refinements to Alberto as well as making pitches to investors and giving interviews to the press. We've had pleasant results with both investors and the press. We still need to raise some more money to take our designs to the next step but we've made a good start. As for press coverage, you can take a look at our press page for details.

Given the expected rainy Spring weather and scheduling conflicts, we won't be flying again until sometime in May.

May-June 2007
Alberto returned to the skies on May 25. We made a set of four flights over the next week and a half culminating in our first semi-public demonstration flights at the 3rd Annual Amherst XLTA Gathering. The ship flew wonderfully and folks seemed genuinely impressed with its performance. For pictures of the event, see this page.

In the meantime, we are still waiting for the FAA to tell us if we can take passengers using a reasonable set of requirements rather than the currently inappropriate airship rating. They've told us that they've made a decision. However, the won't tell us what the decision is. They also won't tell us when they will tell us. So ... we wait.

Given the expected rainy Spring weather and scheduling conflicts, we won't be flying again until sometime in May.

July 2007
On July 20 the FAA granted our exemption request. So we can now take (unpaid) passengers. This is a good thing.

We continue to fly Alberto and make many improvements. However there are a growing number of the things we would like to do that are not practical with Alberto. So we've started planning our next aircraft. We expect to start construction of Ship #2 next month.

We also went to the big airshow at Oshkosh and gave a talk on our work.

August-September 2007
Flights continue in Alberto. We have been taking full advantage of our newly granted permission to bring passengers along. Our friends, family, and crew members have been most pleased to finally see for themselves what it is like float gently amongst the treetops.

We have also given several interviews to members of the media. So we expect more coverage to appear over the next few months.

We have also started building our second airship. The working name of this new aircraft is Hugo in homage to Hugo Eckener who was the most accomplished airship pilot in history and the driving force behind the Zeppelin company at its zenith in the 1920's and 1930's.

From a distance, Hugo will look essentially identical to Alberto. The differences will involve the construction techniques used, internal structure elements, and the use of a larger engine. Hugo will also have a snazzier cabin design (e.g. no more reused Toyota Camry seats.)

October 2007 - February 2008
We completed the 2007 flying season with a total of 50 flight hours in Alberto. The focus of technical development towards the end of the season was ground handling. We have now refined our techniques so as to greatly reduce the muscle-power required to manage the ship during deflation. Our ground crew is very pleased with these improvements.

Work on Hugo proceeds more slowly than planned (always the case it seems.) Winter came hard and early to New England this year. So Hugo will not be flying until the Spring. We do hope for at least one or two test inflations of the new envelope on relatively warm Winter days.

March-April 2008

The annual inspection of Alberto's envelope fabric yielded enough points of concern that we decided to retire it. Given the substantial abuse this envelope received as we climbed the learning curve, its retirement isn't entirely a surprise. It has served us well.

We've taken the envelope built for Hugo and given it to Alberto. Hugo will just have to wait his turn.

It is a bit disapoointing to have only one blimp rather than two at the beginning of the flying season this year. However, the technical advances incorporated into the construction of the new envelope will allow us to move forward at essentally the same rate as previously planned.

May-July 2008

We've had an extremely frustrating Spring and early Summer. Primarily due to uncooperative weather, we didn't get to make a single flight before a series of long-planned road trips for various team members interrupted our flying season.

Even though we haven't been flying, we have been taking the ship back and forth between shop and field. In fact, we've gone through the assembly/disassembly cycle three times. In the process, we have made great strides in simplifying and speeding things up. So we can now put the ship together with far less musclepower and time. (i.e. We have vastly reduced the amount of "blimp wrestling" required.) This work will serve us well when the time comes to take Alberto on the road.

Our current travel stint ends this year at EAA's Airventure airshow in Oshkosh, WI. We will be giving two forum talks there. We will also be giving hands-on balloon building demonstrations at the Balloon Federation of America tent. Please stop by and say hello.

At this point, Alberto is back in the shop for yet more modifications. That work has been perking along in spite of the lack of flight time. We'll have lots of new features to try out once we get back to the field. So we can reasonably expect to have a flight-filled and productive season starting in August -- assuming it ever stops raining here.

August-December 2008

It is clear that 2008 is not going to be a very productive year for us. The rains finally abated and we managed to get Alberto assembled and aloft ... exactly once. After the year's maiden flight, which focused primarily on Mike and Dan becoming reaquainted with the controls, we took some components to the shop for modification. The work in the shop took longer than expected and we didn't get back to the field for several weeks. When we returned, to our dismay we discovered that a family of mice had moved into the envelope fabric. Removing the mice wasn't a serious problem but the damage they did to the fabric was substantial.

So the ship is once again disassembled and being repaired. Winter is closing in fast here in New England. At the current rate of repair, it is unlikely that we will fly again this year.

January-August 2009

We have focused this year on bringing in new investment. This has led us to spend most of our time hunched over spreadsheets and word processors rather than working at the shop and field. The wheels of the fundraising process are turning, albeit at a glacial pace. Given the economic environment these days, nobody is in any hurry to pull out their checkbooks.

The good news is that the major repairs on Alberto are complete. The bad new is that even if we hadn't been stuck in the office, we probably wouldn't have had much flight time anyway. The weather has been truly unpleasant this year. So we can take some back-handed solace in that.

Stay tuned.

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