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Friday, November 09, 2007

City Floats Blimp Proposal to Take Aerial Photographs
By Thomas Michalski

PINELLAS PARK – City officials are looking at the possibility of purchasing a miniature blimp with a remote camera to take aerial photographs and even sell banner advertising to help offset its costs.

So serious is the plan that Tim Caddell, city media director; Randy Linchicum, MIS director, and Dan Speaker, MIS administrator, traveled last week to Southern Balloon Works and Remote Control Blimps in Deland to see the tiny dirigibles in operation.

Besides that, City Manager Michael Gustafson said, some officials even thought about purchasing one or more radio controlled and camera-equipped miniature planes.

There was even a lofty tongue-in-cheek idea about launching a satellite from Town Square Plaza Park to orbit between Lealman and Largo, Gustafson said laughing.

Not all officials are thrilled about the city creating its own Air Force.

“The radio-controlled plane thing was a good idea,” Gustafson said, “but there is the question of liability.”

Like what if the aircraft crashed into someone’s home, car or head?

And what if the blimp camera went the way of the Hindenberg?

The idea was launched, so to speak, a few months ago after officials received numerous complaints from citizens about the pictures of city properties that are presented at City Council meetings. Zoning officials use actual satellite photos during the presentations, but most are outdated.

“People think satellite photos are current, but that’s not always the case,” Gustafson said. “Some of those pictures are one to two years old.”

Gustafson figured with today’s technology there had to be an inexpensive way of creating current aerial photographs. He threw the idea out to his management team.

Then someone heard about the baby blimps. The cost starts at about $5,000 for a 9-foot model. The 12-foot blimp is capable of carrying banners and other forms of advertising.

Some believe that the city could sell banner advertising to local businesses to help offset the cost of the initial investment.

Caddell, meanwhile, said he was impressed by the miniature dirigible. He said the craft is controlled by a wire that is attached to the operator on the ground. The operator wears a special harness to control the airship and remotely use the onboard camera.

When not in use the baby blimp is deflated and stored away. It costs about $75 to fill it with helium.

Gustafson, meanwhile, said privacy issues may arise if the blimp is used to photograph events such as Country in the Park.

“The larger models can actually handle live videos,” Gustafson said.

No one is willing to predict the outcome of the blimp idea, but officials continue to look at the possibilities before making a formal proposal to the City Council.

It ultimately will be up to Mayor Bill Mischler and the council to make a final decision about spending money on a blimp in these times of tight budgets.

So for now everything is up in the air, so to speak.

Pinellas Park Beacon
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