A Utah city hopes a new airborne crimefighting tool will be ready to fly by Christmas: a 54-foot-long, camera-studded blimp capable of monitoring crime scenes or joining a search.
The project, first announced in January, ran into some problems with the Federal Aviation Administration, but recently passed the first step toward FAA approval, the Standard-Examiner newspaper reports.
"Nobody else in the nation is trying to do this, so the FAA has no regulations for it," Police Chief Jon Greiner told the newspaper.
The Ogden police department has already bought the aircraft with federal grants, and Greiner hopes to begin training by Oct. 1, the Standard-Examiner reported.
The 4-foot-diameter, helium-filled blimp will be operated by remote control and be outfitted with cameras, a radar transponder and other devices. Greiner says the overall cost to buy and rig the craft will be less than the $40,000 it costs to outfit the average patrol car — and about $100 a week for helium and battery charges. No word on the salary cost of the officers who will fly it.
The blimp should be able to stay aloft up to seven hours and travel as fast as 40 mph, the newspaper said.
Hyperblimp, a Salt Lake City company, built the aircraft. The airships shown on its website are slender and vaguely reminiscent of a cruise missile. The company touts them as useful for aerial photography for "real estate, search and rescue, education, live news, surveying remote locations, whale monitoring, or traffic control." It goes on to suggest a variety of possible future uses, such as carrying instruments to detect water, find meteorites, track down gas leaks and measure snowfall.
Weber State University is conducting flight trials in rural Weber County, the Standard-Examiner said.