Navy Blimp Returns to Skies Over NYC

The Navy is back in the blimp business.

By Brian Thompson
|  Thursday, Nov 10, 2011  |  Updated 8:48 AM EDT
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It may be a sign of things to come.

Brian Thompson

It may be a sign of things to come.

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The U.S. Navy sent its newly branded blimp over New York Harbor this week, 50 years after it got out of the airship business.

Since a farewell pass over Lakehurst Naval Air Station in 1962, the Navy has depended on helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to protect our coastline.

But with the MZ-3A -- its radio handle is Warlock 9 -- the Navy is back to flying blimps as it did in the runup to World War II and for the early years of the Cold War.

"These smaller airships are good for inshore type work," said Steve Huett, program director for the Naval Air Warfare Center (Aircraft Division) based in Patuxent River, Md.

Huett said most of the work right now is testing new technology for use in other airships -- both the Army and Air Force have their own blimps -- as well as fixed-wing aircraft.

But he noted Warlock 9 was called on to help spot oil slicks following BP's Gulf oil spill last year, and it is expected to play a role in a homeland security harbor training exercise in New York next summer.

Blimps can stay in the air longer and are cheaper to operate, according to their advocates.

"In this aircraft we have fuel we can stay up in the air probably 24 hours," pilot Mark Kynett told NBC New York in an exclusive fly-over around New York Harbor Wednesday.

But are they worth the money?

Huett said he's been told crime in Athens during the 2004 Olympics dropped when two different blimps were used for security purposes during those Summer Games.

And he said tethered blimps being used in Afghanistan are making a difference there as well.

Referring to Taliban fighters, Huett said "all they know is if they can see it, it can probably see them."

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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