Science from the Sea, Public Awareness from Above

by Georgia Hirsty

May 21, 2013

Bering Sea Airship Flight In a verdant airfield just north of Seattle, our team stood huddled in the damp dawn obscured on every side by a thick fog. As the sun climbed into the morning sky, we waited, fingers crossed, for the fog to lift before the winds picked up. Just as the warmth of the sun began to burn off the mist, a helicopter appeared and circled above. It was the local news helicopter. They had come to see this thing called an airship There is no doubt that it is a peculiar craft. Somewhere between a blimp and a hot air balloon, Greenpeace's thermal airship, named A.E. Bates, is one of 4 vessels of it's kind in the United States and one of only 60 in the world. Back on the field, pilots Crispin Williams and Mike Johnson, take a final assessment of the weather and return to the hopeful team with the good news. We were going to fly. With the vessel's nose pointed into the wind, we begin to inflate. The airship envelope is first inflated with cold air from a high powered fan. Once it begins to take takes shape, the pilots use the flames from the aircraft's burners to heat the air inside the envelope. Two members of the crew stand at bow with fists clenched onto the bowline in order to keep the aircraft pointed into the wind. As the air inside grows hotter, the aircraft begins to stand up. With the start up of the 65 HP Rotax engine, the propeller blades spin into a blur and the A.E. Bates is ready for lift off. Watching the all 105,000 cubic feet of the airship inflate never stops seeming magical as the lifeless blanket of color slowly takes shape and rises off the ground. A larger than life sperm whale is breathed into existence calling for on lookers to protect the Bering Sea Canyons. The airship and whale swim through air raising awareness about the need to protect the Bering Sea Canyons. The campaign is calling on the fishery managers and the National Marine Fishery Service to identify and implement measures to protect the Bering Sea Canyons and ecosystem. Seattle and Washington have decision makers on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council who are meeting in just a couple weeks about this issue. Greenpeace is taking more than 80,000 petitions to the Council calling for Bering Sea protection. Add your voice nowto protect the Bering Sea! As the ship dreamily floats at 500 ft AGL (above ground level) and drifts over the road below, vehicles pull over watch in awe. Inside the plexiglass walls of the gondola, the pilots steer the craft using a system of cables that course all the way through the ship and back to the 40 ft inflated tail fin. The radio on the fight deck crackles with communications between pilots in nearby aircraft and the airfield below. After we landed, oceans campaigner Jackie Dragon gave a powerful interview to the news team that came to the airfield to see the ship. Jackie eloquently detailed the campaign and why the airship was flying. The story aired on the evening newsand discussed the importance and urgency of this issue as well as the airship and Greenpeace's current exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium. Each time I see the airship take to the skies, I can't help but think of its namesake, Mr. Bates. A man so dedicated to the movement that in his retirement donated over 25,000 hours of volunteer service to Greenpeace. It is Mr. Bates and all of the people like him that give flight and inspiration to our collective mission for a greener and more peaceful future Here's hoping for a flight-filled week ahead.

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