MAXTON — For the duration of the U.S. Open, the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport will host a new tenant — one that weighs 13,000 pounds and reaches a top speed of only 50 mph.
The blue-and yellow Goodyear blimp touched down around noon on Tuesday to prepare for overhead entry at the kickoff to the men’s tournament that begins today in Pinehurst. The blimp will provide a bird’s-eye-view of the event for media companies who have contracted with the tire company.
The blimp will set off for the course each morning and return to the airport each night for fuel provided by Scotland Areo Services Inc. Randy Hoffman, co-owner of the fuel company, said Goodyear had initially planned to moor the airship at Camp Mackall but had requested his services — and space at the airport.
“Camp Mackall didn’t have fuel so they called me at the last minute and we provided them with space and fuel,” he said.
Despite its massive 192-foot length, the blimp is only capable of seating six passengers, with 202,700 cubic feet taken up with helium gas. In preparation for the U.S. Open, much of its cabin is occupied with video equipment. A camera man points a lens with knobs and buttons.
Footage obtained via the blimp can be streamed live by transmitting it to the ground by microwave, where a dish antenna and receiver pick it up and feed it to a network. Video can also be taped for future use.
Steve Gill, chief airship rigger, said that despite its low speed and hefty controls, the blimp is “set up like an airplane.”
In the 12 days the blimp will dock at the airbase, or 24 round-trip voyages, Hoffman estimates about 2,000 gallons of fuel could be needed, at a price tag of about $15,000.
“That’s a ballpark figure,” said Hoffman. “It could be less or it could be more. Depends on how much fuel they’re burning during the coverage.”
One thing is for sure — the blimp will get its share of attention. On Wednesday, several drivers had either slowed down or come to a stop on Airbase Road to take a little video footage of their own.