Friday, August 29, 2008

First Look: The Vegas Blimp

Are you ready to see this and its massive LED screen hovering over the Vegas Strip?

The M Resort-Spa-Casino, which is young Anthony Marnell III's $1 billion joint venture with MGM Mirage about 9 miles south of the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard, is unveiling next week the inaugural flight of its M-branded Lightship. (Marnell was discussed in my NYT piece on the young moguls of Vegas; his father is the city's uber-builder and original owner of the Rio.) I didn't really know what a lightship was, so I called up to ask and the PR folks graciously provided these images to share.

Basically, it's a massive blimp with a 70-by-30-foot LED screen on its side that will hover between 800 and 1,000 feet up. Here's what the screen looks like:

The manufacturer is Florida-based Lightships Group (not to be mistaken with the Light Group) and here's a shot of what one of these guys looks like in the air. Their site is here.

As I understand it, there are only two others out there with the LED screens on them; the company has been building blimps with internal illumination systems (they glow, thus they're "lightships") for many years and, in fact, the company website indicates that they even held a wedding over Vegas in the gondola of one a few years back. No word yet if such events will be offered by M.

M unleashes its lightship Sept. 3. It'll fly over the Strip advertising the hotel-casino for hours at a time, several times a week, as well as floating above feeder markets like Southern California from time to time. It's certainly an innovative marketing tactic. The resort is due to open in March, so at first it will advertise that they're hiring and also, one would think, work to gin up awareness of the brand.

Here's some of the factoids offered about the vessel:

• Length – 178 feet
• Height – 55 feet
• Width – 45 feet

• Volume – 170,000 cubic feet
• Length – 175 feet
• Diameter – 45 feet

• Length – 25 feet
• Width – 6 feet
• Cabin Length – 11 feet
• Cabin Height – 8 feet

• 8 – The number of hours it takes to fill the M Lightship with helium
• 12 – The number of months it took to complete the M Lightship
• 18 – The number of crew members for the M Lightship
• 30-35 – The miles per hour that the M Lightship cruises above Las Vegas
• 525 – The number of tiles that make up the M Lightship’s lightsign
• 800-1,000 – The number of feet the M Lightship flies above Las Vegas
• 7,705 – The number of pounds the M Lightship weighs
• 23,000 – The number of square feet of Tedlar material that compose the Lightship’s envelope
• 170,000 – The number of cubic feet of helium that the M Lightship needs to be fully-inflated
• 235,000 – The number of LED lights that make up the M Lightship’s lightsign

I'm still trying to get an estimate on the cost, but it's got to be expensive. According to the Lightships website, these babies require a crew of 16 to fly. Or at least I think I'm reading that correctly.



Anonymous said...

that looks really cool. thanks for sharing these pix!!!

Anonymous said...

Most blimps need a large ground crew to fill, launch and tether these things and 2 folks to pilot them. So it is likely 14 people on the ground and 2 in the air.

Oh and these things are pretty much grounded when a good wind kicks up. If memory serves it can get pretty windy in Las Vegas.

Troy in Las Vegas said...

I was trying to get hired on with the ground crew for these guys.
They are paying $10 per hour for a 40 hour week and "must be able to travel with the blimp" but we never got to the point of discussing how much travel was involved.
They told me they were also going to be giving tours in the blimp though they were not clear as to were those would take place.

Benzo Jones said...

Oh... the humanity.

Anonymous said...

are there faa issues here?

Troy in Las Vegas said...

In so much as the North Las Vegas airport is considered one of the most unsafe airports in the nation and the Strip area as well as the surrounding outskirts are strictly enforced by McCarren as well as having an airforce base in the north east part of the valley basin (I heard the blimp was to be stationed near there?) and much of the area north of the Las Vegas valley is military zone, yes, definately the FAA will be involved with this.
All those helicopters you see flying along the strip returning from Grand Canyon are controlled by McCarren. Mccarren will also control the blimp along the Strip. It will probably run up and down the strip on the back side of the hotels on the east side of the Strip ie: Sahara, Wynn, Paris, Flamingo, MGM.

Anonymous said...

I want to ride in the blimp!

Nevada Scandalmonger said...

I thought for a moment that this was going to be an article about soon-to-be former judge Lizzy Halverson.

Anonymous said...

For the FAA question, here's the real answer. The majority of the airspace over Vegas is 'controlled'. Around McCarran it's from the surface to 9,000'. To enter the airspace you have to have communication and approval from Air Traffic Control. Typically to operate there, either you are given vectors to fly, or for traffic separation operate in an FAA established flight corridor and at a given altitude. You can see this with the helicopter Strip tours departing McCarran flying north on Koval and paralleling LV Blvd to downtown, and returning southbound over the UPRR tracks - Industrial / Dean Martin. Same for the Canyon departures on Trop, returning on Charleston to Fremont and the same southbound return. When the Sanyo Lightship was in town it's Strip runs were on the far west side away from the helicopter corridor.

Winds are an issue with them, and another Lightship did 'crash'here, if you can call it that. The Saturn Lightship , registered to Light Group's parent American Blimp Corp., got away from it's handlers from a wind gust on takeoff at N. LV in 2004 and sort of beach-balled into some office buildings. No injuries / minor. [www_saturnfans_com]

No Hydrogen like he Hindenberg days, these puppies are filled with Helium. In the event of a 'crash', other than skid marks in your shorts, the worst that would probably happen would be an envelope puncture on collision and everyone in the immediate area may talk like chipmunks for a bit. :)

Gary said...

Caught a shot of it in San Bernardino, California today. Had no idea whose it was until I got home and searched online.

Anonymous said...

Whats the tail number?

Gary said...

None shown. Pics are here now.