||[Feb. 18th, 2009|05:15 pm]
I got to go fly a Zeppelin today over Moffett field. It was a pretty cool experience.|
We had about 3 hours of ground school in the morning talking a bit about the physics of airships and the unique bits of the Zeppelin NT that Airship Ventures has in particular (the "unique" bits come from the fact that it has 3 vectored thrust engines, and is entirely fly-by-wire, which makes it much simpler than your typical blimp to fly).
Then, the 5 of us headed out to the ship and each got about 40m of flight time, including 2 takeoffs and landings. The first thing that you notice is that the fly-by-wire gives basically no control resistance/feedback like you might be used to in an airplane -- its much more like an old-style joystick on a computer before force feedback. The second thing you notice is that the airship takes any control input as... at best a rough suggestion of what it might think about doing sometime in the next 30-60 seconds. It is _very_ slow to respond to anything you tell it to do, and the wind and other forces have a surprisingly dominant influence over the flight.
Several pilots mentioned that they felt the need to stop down on the non-existent rudder pedals (since it was fly-by-wire the rudders all moved by computer control based on the stick input). And all of the students had a lot of trouble with the controllability -- including one 30,000+ hour ex-airline pilot who now flys airshows.
We also got to do some "aerobatic" maneuvers, such as a quick stop (a 180 turn from full speed to basically hovering at a standstill), hovering, and an engine-controlled rolling motion with the engines in the tilted-up position. We also had a bunch of fun because we were all so bad at overcontrolling that we were pitching the airship much more than they typically do during tours -- up to 15-17 degrees instead of the normal max of 5. Apparently one of the guests was in the toilet during a particularly steep climb/banked turn... which led to some amusement afterwards. (The person who was in the toilet later did a similar thing to the second pilot who was talking to the rest of us when we weren't flying-- so it was quite easy to do)
I've posted a link to the photos off my Facebook profile, so you can find it there.