Blimp-o-Copter: Town Passes New Helicopter Noise Law

Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

East Hampton, which owns East Hampton Airport, passed laws regulating noisy helicopters arriving at this airport last spring. There are hours when helicopters are not allowed to land. But now the Town, urged on by citizens still angry at the helicopter noise during the daylight hours when it is still allowed, has passed a new law for this summer.

No helicopters of any kind will be allowed to land on their own at East Hampton at any time and under any circumstances. But they WILL be able to land and take off from the new Blimp-o-Copter service that the town is inaugurating beginning July 1.

On that date, all helicopters bringing passengers to the Hamptons will have to fly up to the huge Blimp-o-Copter blimp that will, beginning at 8 a.m. on that date, appear 500 feet up over the main departure point for East Hampton Airport, which is the helicopter pad on the Manhattan side of the East River at 35th Street.

“Helicopters from all over bearing people who wish to come out to the Hamptons will fly up to the blimp there, the big aluminum door on the side of the blimp will open and all the helicopters will be required to fly in one at a time and hover in the vast interior,” said Clarence McKensie, who is in charge of the Blimp-o-Copter service for East Hampton. “The blimp will make the trip out to East Hampton with the noisy helicopters inside at three-hour intervals. First trip will leave at 9 a.m. every day. There will be further departures from the city at noon and then again at three and six.”

When the Blimp-o-Copter arrives at East Hampton airport—silently and at 3,000 feet—it will descend slowly down to 500 feet over the terminal, the aluminum doors will reopen and the helicopters inside will fly out in the opposite order that they came in, descend the rest of the way to the runway—noisily, to be sure, but at least just a short distance and with the noise confined entirely to just over the airport where it belongs. The chopper passengers will then disembark, and then the chopper will take on new passengers to fly back up again to the blimp, to hover inside for the one-hour trip back to the city. The Blimp-o-Copter will make four round trips a day between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., taking people in and out this way, almost soundlessly, with just the slightest purr of the small electric motors that are on each side.

There will be a second Blimp-o-Copter on hand if there is a problem with the first one, but it will not arrive at East Hampton Airport until July 31. The town will rely on the one Blimp-o-Copter until then. They don’t expect any problems. And after that, the second can always come to the rescue.

McKensie told us that, since the announcement of the law, there has been a flood of reservations for the service, so prospective customers should make their reservations early, something you do by calling your regular helicopter service and reserving a seat. All helicopter services have already made their arrangements with the Town for the use of the Blimp-o-Copter. You need do nothing else.

Here are the answers to some questions we posed to Mr. McKenzie.

“Is there an extra charge for using the Blimp-o-Copter?

“No. The service is free of charge. The Town of East Hampton is footing the bill. They’re the ones who want the quiet service. So the Town is paying for it.”

“Where do the Blimp-o-Copters live at night?”

“The blimps are housed in the brand new hangar we have just built at the airport. It is large enough to hold four Blimp-o-Copters if that becomes necessary. Servicing whatever is necessary is also done there during the night.”

“Tell us about the electric motors that turn the propellers to steer the Blimp-o-Copter.”

“There are two of them, one on each side of the blimp, for balance, and in case one fails, there’s the other. Two pilots steer the Blimp-o-Copter, one on each side under the motor in glass-enclosed cockpits that give 360-degree visibility. The blimp motors get plugged into an electric outlet to recharge every night. The motors are from two Toyota Priuses adapted for the blimp by workers from our Town Highway Department.”

“Do you use helium?”

“Yes. The helium is pumped into the main structure from tanks just above the electric motors on each side to make the blimp rise. The helium is then pumped in reverse back into the tanks to cause the Blimp-o-Copter to descend. The two pilots are in constant contact by cell phone while operating the Blimp-o-Copter to coordinate the whole thing.”

“If the helium is in there with the helicopters, does it have any effect on the passengers?”

“Helicopter pilots are instructed to keep the chopper cockpit windows closed while they hover in there. If a window is accidentally left open, you will know. People talking will begin to sound like Donald Duck. It happens. Not much we can do about that.”

Where is the Blimp-o-Copter made?

“Fort McHenry, Canada, by the Akron & Bombardier Blimp and Fireworks Company LLC.”

“Is it sound proof?”

“Pretty much.”

“Does Blimp-o-Copter stop along the way to pick up other helicopters?”

“No. It is a non-stop service. The customers expect nothing less. Other helicopters must come early to 32nd Street to join up.”

“Can Blimp-o-Copter handle oversize helicopters?”

“Any helicopter that can fit through our aluminum door can be accommodated. The door, when opened, creates an opening 50 yards wide. That is more than adequate for any helicopter currently made.”

“What’s the capacity of the Blimp-o-Copter?”

“The maximum number of helicopters that can be accommodated per trip is 86. That’s the rule laid down by the FAA. Above that, you have to wait for the return of the Blimp-o-Copter for the next trip.”

“Is there any help from your staff with the loading and unloading?”

“Of course. We have eight trained flagmen inside the Blimp-o-Copter whose job is to locate a safe spot for an arriving helicopter to hover for the duration. The training includes instruction on spatial relationships.”

“And the pilots? They are trained?”

“Of course.”

“What if a bird flies in?”

“The flagmen have nets. But if the bird is still in there at departure time, then the bird disembarks at East Hampton.”

“Anything else?”

“Well, I think that flying inside the Blimp-o-Copter is going to take a little getting used to. But in the end, we think it will all work out. People like to say they choppered out to the Hamptons. You can’t blame them for that. They’ll just leave out that they choppered out inside a blimp.”

This summer, the Blimp-o-Copter will be a friendly addition to our skies, keeping all quiet down below.

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