Human-Powered Mini-Blimp Races

In this day and age of contrived sporting events (basketball games with style points?) it’s time we turned our attention back to day when sports were sporting and athletes were athletic. For that reason the time has come to launch HPMBRL, the Human-Powered Mini-Blimp Racing League. It would be like the Tour de France in 3-D, with elements of the America’s Cup thrown in.

Best of all, it would be very photogenic, and there would be lots of surface area for sponsor’s logos.

To get off the ground the league would need star power. Who better than retired world-class cyclists? Would people pay to see Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault (probably spelled that wrong) go head to head once more? You bet they would.

So who would the likely sponsors be? It would be fun to see Boeing sponsor a team, and maybe Rutan’s company—the crew that build SpaceShipOne. Bicycle companies would be naturals, as many of their components would be used in the blimps’ drive trains. Fuji already has a blimp presence, and a photogenic sport would be a natural for a photography company. I could imagine GM or Ford sponsoring a team.

I haven’t figured out the actual rules for the race, but I can imagine a series of great big hoops suspended at various heights above the ground that the fliers must pass through, or perhaps simpler would be a simple requirement that they pass over a certain sopt on the ground. In the hoop scenario, there would be a great deal of emphasis on positioning and tactics as the flyers approached the hoop.

Wind, of course, would be a major factor. Courses would be designed with the prevailing wind of the area in mind. There would be legs of the race that featured long, hard climbs into the wind, and others that would allow the blimps to sweep down to where they are practically skimming the Earth as they are swept along with a tailwind, knocking the hats off the awe-struck spectators.

So there you have it. HPMBRL (probably need a better acronym) extends the careers of great athletes, pushes technology, looks cool, and would be a sponsor magnet. What could possibly go wrong?


16 thoughts on “Human-Powered Mini-Blimp Races

  1. There could be a few modifications for the X-Games generation. Nothing like a bit of violence or mortal danger to get the ratings up. Here are some modest proposals:

    Each blimp carries an extra crewman who can jump from the home blimp and either crash or take over an enemy blimp.

    Put Ben Hur-style spikes on the blimps.

    Fill the blimps with hydrogen and give each pilot flaming arrows. Careful with that Zippo, sparky!

  2. Also you could add a robot flying buzz-saw that cruises around the course at random (or if the blimps are filled with hydrogen, a mini-torch).

    Since blimps don’t move much faster than sailboats, work on the sort of color commentary that makes the America’s Cup races exciting to watch — and make sure the blimp pilots have “interesting” personal lives for the commentators to talk about. For today’s generation, that means sex and drugs; tabloid-worthiness would be one prerequisite to reach the upper echelons of the sport.

  3. I figure the acronym will especially catch the attention of viewers in the South, as it combines the two most-watched TV sports down there.

    Actually, I’ve been watching the Olympic sailing coverage on TV, and it’s been good. There’s been a lot of wind most days, and the boats used in Olympic sailing are the smaller sorts (Lasers, Ynglings, Mistrals, etc.), so the races are pretty exciting.

  4. There you go, how do you design a blimp that goes by sail? Sail bilmp races. Moderate on the violence, but better than baseball.

    The Intercontental Sail Blimp Association. ISBA, baby! Rock the ISBA!

  5. How about cross country racing. Place the hoops to fly through at several points on the course. Or a series of pylons to fly around. Add bullseyes on the ground for the pilots to toss bean bags at for extra points.

  6. The tricky part about sail blimps is the keel. There’s a reason kites fly better when the string is pulling them. Would a weight hanging below the blimp on a long pole provide the required torque? Some experimentation is in order.

    The beanbag idea is excellent. You could even replace the hoops with a drop contest, so pilots have to choose whether to keep altitude and risk missing the target or go down but then have to climb back up. Maybe one blimp could try to block the target from blimps above.

    In fact, you could have all sorts of skill contests along the way. Heck, why not really appeal to southerners and have racers shoot road signs as they sail by?

  7. Blimps are very expensive because of helium, even small ones. For 100kg (one person, envelope, stuff) you need about 100m3 of helium that costs about 5000$ (not sure but anyway, very much). And that also means an ellipse of 4m * 4m * 12m (pretty big, huh?). The whole machine would have a height of about 6-7m. I think blimps should use methane – don’t shoot me for this, please! – and the volume for one person, 100kg, should be double or even more (due to heavier envelope) so the ellipse should be about 5m * 5m * 15m.

    The biggest danger I see is not explosion but accidental negative buoyancy, valve blocking and reversed crash towards the sky.

  8. Serban, you have produced numbers where I had always feared to tread, and the results are much better than I had feared. When compared to the cost of putting a racecar on the track, or even putting a bike in the Tour de France, five large is nothing. That will be dwarfed by the cost of hiring a truly great athlete as the pilot.

    The size of the blimp I’m trying to put my brain around, but I think that’s actually smaller that what I imagined. And it’s all advertising space, baby.

    I hadn’t thought of the crash toward the sky problem. It seems in the end you could easily make a manually-operated valve that lets the buoyant gasses out. But still, a blimp skyrocketing out of control, shooting up to meet God, would certainly make good TV.

  9. No, no, no! Crashes must be in full view of the spectators. The sponsors will insist that a crash have a decent amount of TV time to allow the gawkers to absorb the advertising on the vehicle uninterrupted. Fading from sight would be right out.

    I suggest giving the pilot a pellet pistol, yet no parachute. You might think that this would be a turn off for obtaining pilots. Safety takes a back seat when you are suppposed to be a rough and tumble he-man.

  10. Fill the bags with methane and put altitude-controlled pyrotechnic devices inside. If your blimp goes too high, kaboom! That would prevent crashes into the sky, add some suspense, and appeal to the “I only watch the Indy 500 for the crashes” crowd.

  11. Apparently not. Latest I heard was that the French are claiming that his cancer was a big lie to cover up his doping experimentation.

    /I hate them damn frogs.

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