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Up in a blimp

'Spirit of Europe' - Goodyear airship
The Goodyear airship "Spirit of Europe" at Turweston airfield 13 October 2001
On Friday 12 October 2001 I got a phone call from Florian Kuhn.  He was at Turweston airfield with the Goodyear airship.  He is the chief pilot of the airship and he wanted to know if I would like to go up in it.  Well it seemed like a jolly good idea - except that I have a fear of flying.  But I didnít tell him that.  It all seemed so simple as he shouted at me on his mobile from the gondola on the airship.  So I suggested I popped out now (about 5 p.m.) to see if I could find the airfield and Iíd be able to talk to him better and arrange something.  I eventually found the airfield; it wasnít easy.  I met up with Florian soon after he came in to land and he suggested that we go up now.  Well I wasnít about to turn down an opportunity like this, fear of flying or not.  So - up we went.
The gondola is quite small and comfortably seats four people.  James (a complicated story - but another pilot) was flying and we all had headphones on because of the noise of the motors.  It was quite bearable, no more noisy than my motorbike, but headphones made it easier to chat.  We sailed off (if thatís the right terminology) towards Banbury.  As we floated over the M40 towards the centre of Banbury it was getting dark and James suggested to Florian that they put the lights on.  Well I couldnít see what it looked like from inside the gondola but Florian explained that there were two huge lights inside the blimp which lit it up as a luminous floating advert.  He said the effect was quite impressive.  The sight of Banbury (indeed any centre of population) at night was impressive and we must have spent twenty minutes floating around.  The M40 was very packed and we did descend to get a closer look.  Then we went back to the airfield.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and had not suffered unduly from any irrational fear.  A little trepidation that I might, but that was all.  So Florian and I made an arrangement to go up with Eleonor and Marianne the next day and he would phone to let us know when.
What I hadnít previously understood is that part of their remit is to get a certain number of hours flying done as advertising.  So, when they are not booked for an event it is up to them to get the hours in.  This leaves Florian with latitude to make casual arrangements like that and we could go where we liked - so long as aviation protocol and weather permitted.  I phoned Marianne to let her know that I was on my way home and I wonít print what she said.  I set off home whilst Florian and James set off on another flight.  I was very impressed to see the airship all lit up over the A43.  It looks really good.  Apparently some old dear had mistaken it for a UFO and it took the police several hours to convince her otherwise.
Florian and Marianne in the gondola
Florian and Marianne in the gondola.
Vans parked on runway at Upper Heyford
Vans stored at Upper Heyford.
Then on Saturday we anxiously awaited Florianís call.  He phoned and we arranged a 2:30 flight.  So off we went with cameras and snacks.  The weather was excellent except there was some ground mist which reduced visibility a bit.  We headed towards Steeple Aston to see if we could find our house.  We travelled along following the A43.  Now the A43 is undergoing some improvement.  I canít give exact details but a huge proportion of it is being turned into a dual carriageway and it was very interesting to see it mapped out from the air.  The new road was clearly visible in a sandy brown colour and the current road snaked this way and that around it.  We flew over the Upper Heyford US air base that is no more.  They left about 4 or 5 years ago and it has been used as a car storage depot ever since.  I was quite astonished to see so many ďtoyĒ cars all lined up in row after row on the runways and taxiways.  There were all sorts of odd blocks in spaces that were available and lots of little circular arrangements where that was the best way to fit them in.
Our house and car on Southside from the air.
Our house and car on Southside.
Eventually we arrived over Steeple Aston and Florian descended as much as he dared without frightening the horses (this is a public relations exercise after all).  I reckon we were about 2 or 3 hundred feet and the motors were just ticking over.  We spent maybe half an hour floating around the village and Middle Aston.  We spotted all our friends houses and the church and the school etc etc..  And then we set of back to Turweston.  Eleonor had really enjoyed spotting places in Steeple Aston, she said she had no idea it would be so exciting.  On the way back she announced she was bored.  I love children because itís so simple.  It wasnít so much a complaint as a matter of fact.  As we arrived at the airfield Florian noted that there was a photographer on the ground so he would give him a show.  The airship is more agile than it would seem.  It felt like a 45-degree descent and Florian pulled out of it at the last minute and flew past the photographer and up.  As we climbed, various bags, cameras, snacks et al slid across the floor to the back of the gondola.  We reached the top of the climb and levelled out like some roller coaster ride, circled and did it again.  Everything skidded to the front as we dive-bombed the photographer and everything skidded to the back as we ascended.  Half way up a little voice came through the headphones; ďI donít like thisĒ.  But Eleonor, yet again, was not so much frightened as ďdidnít like itĒ.  Florian took it more gently the next time round and then we parked up - or should that be moored.
Charlotte's house with fish and chip van.
Charlotte's house with fish & chip van.
Marianna's house with birds.
Marianna's house with birds.
We all got certificates, postcards and baseball caps with Goodyear printed on them.  They do this for VIPís and the like.  Florian kindly accepted our offer of dinner and he came back with us to Steeple Aston.  We had a very nice meal and retired to the barn to chat over coffee.  I then drove Florian back the Green Man at Silverston where he was staying.  It was about 1:30 am and the fog was the thickest I have experienced in a long time.  We had to drive at 20 or 30 mph most of the way.  All in all a very satisfactory weekend.  It turned out that lots of people had seen the airship and Sue had even waved herself silly in her garden but I never saw her.
Marianne and Florian Kuhn (the pilot)
Marianne and Florian after the trip.
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© Nik Allday 2001