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Oil-Spotting Blimp Arrives In the Gulf 109

GAMP writes "A Navy blimp to assist oil skimming operations will be arriving to the Gulf Coast Wednesday evening, according to the Unified Command Joint Information Center. 'The airship will operate relatively close to shore, primarily supporting skimmers to maximize their effectiveness,' said US Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Sareault."
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Oil-Spotting Blimp Arrives In the Gulf

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  • Mmkay (Score:3, Funny)

    by digitalunity ( 19107 ) <digitalunity AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @10:36PM (#32834876) Homepage

    That's nice, but will reporters be allowed on board?

    • I'm going to say probably not but simply because it's a blimp so they probably launched it when the spill happened and it's just getting there now lol. They wouldn't have the food and other supplies necessary to carry a reporter. I'm glad to see they're dedicated to using the latest and greatest in modern technology to help clean up the oil spill though.
      • by caerwyn ( 38056 )

        You've got some fairly simplistic views of airships. While they're not exactly *fast*, they're not as slow as you seem to be indicating. They're also phenomenally efficient for this sort of task. In spotting and monitoring activities the speed of a plane is actually a detriment.

        Airships are still under quite active development. There are a lot of tasks for which "go really fast" is not a requirement, and "stay in the air a long time without consuming more fuel than the oil spill" *is*.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Vintermann ( 400722 )

          For sensor equipment, a stable platform is also usually an advantage. Airships are exceptionally stable.

          The Zeppelin company had an airship in South Africa a couple of years ago, with sensors to detect gravitational anomalies related to kimberlite pipes - kimberlite is where you find diamonds, of course. Geological survey from an airship, how cool is that?

          • Yeah, they need sensitive equipement to find the oil spill. More like, look out the window and you can see the water covered in oil for as far as the eye can see...unless you're near the coast of Texas, in which case the oil is from some undetermined natural source and not from the gulf oil spill...

  • A blimp? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @10:42PM (#32834916)
    Why does this seem like something that would appear in the plot of a Simpsons or South Park episode?
    • Maybe, if Gerry Ford was still alive to pilot it....'doh!'
    • Remediation Theatre (Score:5, Informative)

      by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Thursday July 08, 2010 @12:58AM (#32835746) Homepage Journal

      Why does this seem like something that would appear in the plot of a Simpsons or South Park episode?

      Because they're not really trying to clean up the oil leak.

      They've rejected [] the best available technology for cleaning up the oil because the water it returns, in situ, isn't quite pure enough for EPA regulations.

      Instead, they're attempting to pump the Gulf of Mexico into ships and cart it to land, for storage and later processing.

      It's so absurd it can't be due to ignorance.

      • by phantomcircuit ( 938963 ) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:05AM (#32836040) Homepage

        And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

        Can we please dissolve the unions now?

      • by nido ( 102070 ) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .65odin.> on Thursday July 08, 2010 @02:06AM (#32836042) Homepage

        As someone stated the other day in my thread [], most of the cleanup efforts are little more than a Public Relations campaign. Skimming has, so far, collected a astonishingly small amount of oil.

        Gulf recovery effort falls short of BP's promises: [] Skimming operations have removed average of less than 900 barrels daily

        ... In a March report that was not questioned by federal officials, BP said it had the capacity to skim and remove 491,721 barrels of oil each day in the event of a major spill.

        As of Monday, with about 2 million barrels released into the gulf, the skimming operations that were touted as key to preventing environmental disaster have averaged less than 900 barrels a day.

        Skimming has captured only 67,143 barrels, and BP has relied on burning to remove 238,095 barrels. Most of the oil recovered -- about 632,410 barrels -- was captured directly at the site of the leaking well.

        This is obviously due to the huge disparity between the size of a fishing boat and the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico.

        I'm going to pimp my proposal again: Send the Enterprise [], use the nuclear reactors to power air compressors that will pump air (oxygen) into the oil plumes in the depths of the ocean. The oxygen feeds the bacteria that eat crude oil.

        The Enterprise would be stationed in the vicinity of the Macondo Prospect site (where the Deepwater Horizon went down). Bubble fences would circle the wellhead at, say, 1 mile and 2 miles, or would be concentrated in whichever direction the oily currents tend to flow.

        And I was just thinking today: coastal communities could experiment with running bubble fences some distance from their beaches. These compressors could be powered by the grid. Booms seem to be a big joke - look what happened when that little storm blew threw.

        All the cleanup efforts are experimental, so the President ought to order at least one aircraft carrier to the Gulf. If it helps, send the rest of the nuclear navy. :)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Xest ( 935314 )

          What do you do about the excess bacteria afterwards? Does the bacteria just magically vanish afterwards taking whatever product they convert the oil into with them?

          This solution sounds like Australia's use of the cane toad to protect cane crops, only to end up with a major cane toad problem instead that's killing off the native wildlife.

          • It bears pointing out that the cane toad was imported from outside the Australian ecosystem, whereupon it became a runaway success as an invasive species. Meanwhile, the bacteria mentioned here are already present as a natural part of the Gulf ecosystem, and they thus present zero risk of invasiveness.

            Mind you, I'm not saying that guarantees there'll be no problems -- I certainly don't know enough to say one way or the other. But we can be reasonably sure that the oil-munching bacteria in the Gulf are s

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Xest ( 935314 )

              "It bears pointing out that the cane toad was imported from outside the Australian ecosystem, whereupon it became a runaway success as an invasive species. Meanwhile, the bacteria mentioned here are already present as a natural part of the Gulf ecosystem, and they thus present zero risk of invasiveness."

              Absolutely, but that wasn't really my fundamental point with the comparison- my point was that if you alter an ecosystem in any way whatsoever it can result in just causing a whole new set of problems.

              The ot

              • by nido ( 102070 )

                Perhaps a better comparison would be with the algal blooms...

                Many of the problems associated with algal blooms also trace back to an oxygen deficiency:

                When phosphates are introduced into water systems, higher concentrations cause increased growth of algae and plants. Algae tend to grow very quickly under high nutrient availability, but each alga is short-lived, and the result is a high concentration of dead organic matter which starts to decay. The decay process consumes dissolved oxygen in the water, resulting in hypoxic conditions. Without sufficient dissolved oxyg

              • Much clearer, thank you.

                I'm not up on oil-eating bacteria, so I'm unsure of the mechanics at work. If they're big and heavy enough (at least, after eating), they might well sink when dead, especially if they (or at least their waste products) contain the heavy metals mentioned by nido here [] in some bound form.

                One of the ways I've read about that some folks hope to use to remove carbon from the atmosphere is to encourage phytoplankton blooms, which, when dead, sink, taking their carbonaceous skeletons to t

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by priegog ( 1291820 )

            ...Except by not actually introducing any new species, it is nothing like Autralia's toad problem. When the oxygen stops being pumped, the bacteria return to normal population levels.
            Having said that, I somehow very much doubt that even if you shoveled tons of bateria down there and made oxygen readily available, they'd be able to metabolize the millions and millions of gallons of oil that are being released each day. A nice way to speed up ecological recovery once the well has been plugged? Sure. A real so

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

            What do you do about the excess bacteria afterwards?

            That's easy, you just send in oil-eating bacteria-eating bacteria.

            Then after that's done, you send in oil-eating bacteria-eating bacteria-eating bacteria.

            By the time we get up to needing cats all the mice will have drowned.

        • by gtall ( 79522 )

          Nice proposal. Now, as an administrator in charge of Oil Naughtiness, could you please submit your studies showing the efficacy of your scheme. Also include your published, peer reviewed papers as well. We'd like a thorough understanding before we make any decision involving billions of dollars in taxpayer money and possibly adverse lawyer scum induced lawsuits in case of unexpected consequences. You'll be putting your home up for collateral, of course. We must be sure you have skin in the game, or where we

        • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

          Send the Enterprise []

          Hrm. While I suppose the Federation's flagship probably has more important things to do, I do have to admit that a few photon torpedoes would get the well closed up pretty quickly.

      • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @04:12AM (#32836546)

        It doesn't sound suprising. After Hurricane Katrina countries like Cuba offered to help the US too being experts in Hurricane releif seeing as they get them and get hit hardest by them more so than pretty much any other country in the world.

        Of course, the US turned the offer of support down.

        It's presumably either pride, or political, the saying "Cutting your nose off to spite your face" seems to sum it up best.

        • by zooblethorpe ( 686757 ) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @04:31AM (#32836640)

          That saying works so well to describe American politics in large part because the nose being cut off generally belongs to someone else.

          • Financial crisis: someone else's money -- check.
          • Gulf crisis: someone else's real estate / livelihood / etc. -- check.
          • Middle-east wars: someone else's money / country / population -- check.

          This list could go on and on, but the basic idea is that, so long as the ones making the decisions aren't actually accountable and aren't themselves directly inconvenienced, they couldn't really give a rat's ass how messy or slipshod their proposed solution might be. So long as it keeps the gravy train running, it's all good, as far as they're concerned.


      • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @04:37AM (#32836674) Journal

        A dutch marine vessel was not allowed to help during the Kathrine/New Orleans disaster.

        The US government is very scared of allowing any foreign aid. The US survives on its people believing that they are the best. Seeing other countries flags displayed dealing with stuff the US itself can't dealwith could upset that.

        It might get people to question whether they voted for the right guy or even worse, the right economic policiy. Nothing scares BOTH US parties more then the idea that some Americans might start think Socialism might not be totally evil.

        Part of it is also the American attitude of "can do". It works when things are fine but fails when the shit hits the fan. That requires a more EU lookout "life is bleak and we are going to die horribly". Why do ALL EU countries have superior disaster equipment? Because we know we are doomed. The dutch dikes are better then the New Orleans ones because no dutch person believes god has blessed this country (From the weather he seems to be pissing on us most of the time).

        What is odd that while the US goverment is always very reluctant to receive aid, they hand it out readily. When the dutch dikes did break in 1953, US helicopters were quick to arrive and start helping people.

        US, learn to accept that accepting help is NOT a sign of weakness. Your children won't start smoking pot because some dutch engineers are walking your shores and thinking gay marriage is peoples own affair.

        • I know accepting help isn't a sign of weakness but perhaps the false "it's a sign of weakness" could be used as an advantage. Let's say we accept help and people start thinking "We're so weak because we couldn't do this for ourselves", perhaps that would give people and companies the incentive to invest in science, technology and local manufacturing capabilities instead of outsourcing everything to other countries.

          Come to think of it, why isn't saying "We can't provide XYZ here at a cost competitive with I

        • US, learn to accept that accepting help is NOT a sign of weakness. Your children won't start smoking pot because some dutch engineers are walking your shores and thinking gay marriage is peoples own affair.

          No shit. There are no children left in the USA not smoking pot, so that's fucking impossible.

        • I really think it's precisely because we are so used to being the ones helping and not the ones being helped. For a long time America was the country that could do anything, make anything possible, build anything that could be built. Of course that has always been more myth then reality, but every culture has it's own conceits. Somewhere along the way our political system morphed from the "great experiment" to a system were everyone is afraid of anything that might imply America right now is the greatest

        • Maybe if that Dutch Ship carried delicious tacos and burritos like the Mexican Military Convoy we allowed in we would have considered it.

          In all seriousness though, we allowed flagged and uniformed Mexican military units [] in to help, so I doubt some Dutch flagged ship was turned down due to pride rather than logistics vs worth, I'm pretty sure needing help from Mexico Military would be a bigger hit to your theory of American Pride than needing help from a single dutch flagged ship.

      • Maybe you shouldn't take everything you read by Lawrence Solomon [] at face value.

  • Wonderful (Score:1, Interesting)

    But is this really an effective use of taxpayer money?
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Better there than Afghanistan.

    • Re:Wonderful (Score:5, Informative)

      by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @10:49PM (#32834954)

      Blimps are cheaper to operate then helicopters or fixed wing airplanes. At least manned ones. Not sure if they are cheaper than drones.

      • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

        by LoRdTAW ( 99712 )

        An unfortunate waste of Helium though.

        • ....because the helium from the blimp can't be drained at a later point, or reused in any fashion whatsoever?
        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Blimps don't HAVE to use Helium at all. Hydrogen is cheaper and less dense!

      • Sats up there can do an even better job than the blimp, especially NASA and NSA ones we don't even know about. Blimp is publicity only...jeff
        • by caerwyn ( 38056 )

          Err, no, they can't, actually. Sats have much worse imaging capability and have interference from weather, not to mention only periodic imaging capabilities. (Either you're talking about something in geo, in which case it's quite far away, or leo, in which case it's only going to pass over the site for picture taking every so often.)

          Airships are actually quite good for this sort of task.

    • But is this really an effective use of taxpayer money?

      Blimps and airships are pretty cheap to operate for most things. The Navy has a long history with LTA (lighter than air) craft, using them more prominently than perhaps even Imperial Germany, who really popularized the Zeppelin. The Navy had something of a golden age with their airships, with 4 of their Zeppelin-class airships being commissioned as ships of the line, the same as surface warships. Two of them ... the USS Akron and the USS Macon were actually Zeppelin aircraft carriers. They both carried a sq

  • Heck, the spill has been going on for over seventy days! What is wrong with the 'mighty' USA?

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      It is important to develop a sense of proportion and the differences between apples and oranges.

  • Blimp details (Score:5, Informative)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @10:55PM (#32834988)

    The article doesn't mention that this is the MZ-3 []. It is currently assigned to Scientific Development Squadron ONE (VXS-1), based out of NAS Patuxent River, MD. It was being tested in Yuma, AZ until its recent assignment to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleanup efforts. Its crew are contractors from Integrated Systems Solutions, Inc. -- they have a website, but it's too crappy to bother linking here. The crew includes Commanding Officer Cmdr. Chris Janke, Burt Race, a retired Navy pilot, Chief Pilot Peter Buckley, second pilot Russell Mills, and up to five other positions available.

    For those of you wondering if reporters are going to be on this blimp -- probably not. It is not a civilian vessel, and space for personnel is at a premium. As well, as a fully vetted and operating Navy aircraft, it also contains military communications equipment. Very little in the way of surveillance equipment has been fitted on the airframe; Weight is a major concern for such a craft.

  • I mean, spotting the oil is nice, but burning it away with lasers would be way cooler.

  • Well hey I feel a lot safer now, doesn't every one else?
  • by c0lo ( 1497653 )
    From TFA:

    The airship is more economical and can stay in the air for 12 hours, longer than helicopters or airplanes already in use,

    so the Also,

    The airship is more economical and can stay in the air for 12 hours

    What?!? What's preventing it to stay longer?

    • by mmcxii ( 1707574 )
      The airship is still going to need fuel to observe the hot spots. It's not just a matter of keeping it up in the sky, it needs to be over certain areas to do whatever observations it needs to do or it's useless to the researchers.

      Hell, the researchers and engineers can keep a blimp afloat over my house for the next three months but it's not going to further their understanding of the Gulf spill.
    • The fuel gets close to running out after 12 hours. It's really bad news to run out of fuel. Without engine power you have no steerageway on the airship and she is out of control vertically and horizontally. Also there is then no way to control the envelope pressure, which has to be kept between delicate limits. Little things like that. There is no real provision for crew rest, meals, and such like. This is a really tiny airship. It is only about 1/40 the size of the Hindenburg.

      The largest airships of

      • Wouldn't this be a excellent test / PR for those high-endurance UAVs they're always trying to sell to the military?
        Hell, /.'s had stories about unmanned blimps or "stratellites" in the recent past.

        Oh, I see, there's no money for environmental monitoring, just for blowing up the brown peeples. Economic stimulus my ass.
  • so looking (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @12:54AM (#32835718) Homepage
    at this doesnt really exude confidence []

    why aren't we sending these? [] with much more advanced optics and sensor systems, and the ability to operate autonomously
    • Ummm. efficiency? The drone may be advanced, but it would take all the oil currently laying in the gulf, processed into fuel to keep it in the air. Comparatively the blimp simply floats and uses a bit of energy to move around. Jets are incredibly fuel hungry so I'd hate to think one would be dedicated to continuously flying over the gulf for the next few years just to take pictures of some oil.

      It would be like watching someone boot up a computer just to type a quick equation into the windows calculator a
    • by tokul ( 682258 )

      why aren't we sending these?

      Blimps can stay in area longer, don't carry air to surface missiles and IMHO they cost less than 5 mln USD.

    • Because one of these [] is already being used, and is more than sufficient for tracking slicks at a reasonable cost.

      The introduction of this blimp is probably to [ test out new equipment | reduce cost slightly (or at least keep them within the US) | generate PR for the navy / US Gov.] (pick the one that best suits your level of cynicism)
  • What if the blimp get flamed up and crash to the oil spill? Disaster!

  • BP plc hasn't stood for British Petroleum since at least 1998 when it merged with Amoco. In fact, there's nearly as many shares in the US as there is in the UK (39% vs 40%).

  • High powered visual software powered by geosynchronous satellites--CHECK Nuclear powered battle group that can stay at say almost indefinitely---CHECK Vertical Take-off and Landing Stealth fighter jets---------CHECK hot air balloon technology from the 19th century, wait what?!
    • i just cant type or think this week. say--sea powered by should have said "fed by" no more posting before 8am.
  • Well, the author of the article failed to mention that all pictures, videos and any information gathered won't be released to the public until there are hundreds of requests via FOIA, which they will fight and maybe not ever release for years, if ever, anyway! Don underestimate this "spill", it could be of apocalypse scale and severity. This one could end a lot more than we think, and the media is not exactly making a huge deal out of it. [] Check out this sea flig

  • Hey cool! They’ve got a blimp!

  • Quick thinking there slick. Maybe in another couple months you can start sending some equipment to stop the leak.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein