Friday, March 26, 2010

Amanda in the Sky with Guy Mans

The Met Life Snoopy One blimp came to Orlando to fly over the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament. Amanda Chadwick approached the folks who pilot the Met Life Blimp to see if she could go along for a ride, and believe it or not they said yes! She was told to invite two friends. She invited me to sketch the event and Brian Feldman to stream the flight live on TheDailyCity.com. The day prior to our flight, I saw the blimp while I was driving to work at Full Sail, so I decided to sketch it after work. The blimp was held in place by a strong red and white mooring mast and it would change positions like a weather vane every time the wind changed direction.
I was nervous and excited as the day approached. For Amanda, this was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Brian considered flying a remote control blimp inside the gondola, but that plan had been vetoed. The three of us decided to carpool to Orlando Executive Airport where the blimp was moored. She drove to the airport bundled with energy; playing a rap song on the radio which Brian then started making up blimp related lyrics to. She called her mom and explained where her will was, should that be needed, as Brian rolled his eyes. Since I had been to the launch site the day before, I navigated to the road which leads to the air traffic control tower. There were no security fences to worry about, we just drove right up to the blimp launch site. We were shocked, however, because upon arrival there was no blimp! We scanned the horizon in all directions, but it was nowhere in sight. Amanda drove right up to the trailers parked on the launch site and we piled out thinking our dreams of flying had been deflated. She asked a man who was resting in a trailer what the story was, and he explained that the pilot had taken the blimp for a spin and would be back in fifteen minutes. We let out a collective sigh.
While we waited, we wandered out to the mooring mast and checked out the portable air blowers which they must use to help keep the blimp inflated. There was also an assortment of Helium tanks strewn about near the airport fence. Then I saw it, a small bulbous shape on the horizon. I pointed and shouted, "Thar she blows!" The wind was fairly strong so the blimp's nose kept diving down and then pulling back up as it fought it's way up wind. A crew of about 8 men and women gathered on the field and grabbed the ropes hanging off the blimp when it landed on the grass with its nose in the wind. Small wheels were under the gondola and on the bottom tail fin. The handlers grabbed ropes which hung from the front of the blimp, and then they dragged the blimp over to its mooring mast keeping the nose facing into the wind the whole time. Within moments, Geoff, our pilot, got in and we loaded in. Amanda took the co-pilot seat, and Brian and I loaded in the back along with his marquee sign.
The moment the engines fired up and we began to move was exhilarating. The nose of the blimp pointed up and we were in the air. Each of us were given headphones with mics so we could talk to one another. My mic, however, didn't work. The pilot suggested I wiggle the jacks where it plugged into the gondola. Great, things were already going wrong. What had I gotten myself into!? The blimp flies much faster than I thought it would. The pilot said we were going 45 miles an hour, and soon we were flying over the buildings of downtown. It seemed like every time we went over a lake, the nose of the blimp would point sharply down and we would start a nose dive. I had to put my foot on the back of Amanda's chair and brace myself by grabbing the window latch. Brian pointed out that I was grabbing the emergency escape latch, so I grabbed the window frame instead! The pilot would pull back and make the correction and then the metal marquee sign would fall back and hit Brian and I in the knees. I was so worried I might not finish my sketch, that I lost track of our many close calls. I wiggled my headset jacks again and finally got a crackling signal. I could hear everybody in the cabin now but they didn't seem to hear me. Isn't that always the case? Brian said he saw a man running in a parking lot with a Batman cape on. He deduced it might be a crime taking place. We finally reached the golf tournament and could see all the cars parked on grass fields. It was a quiet green automotive oasis. We were a little too high up to see Tiger Woods, but I'm sure I found the street I live on.
When we finally made it back on solid ground, I was feeling a little queasy from all the movements of the blimp. Amanda and Brian both admitted that they got a bit motion sick as well. Amanda rested on the hood of her car talking to friends on her cell and Brian talked to the ground crew and drank plenty of water. We watched for an hour as the crew loaded a large TV camera in the blimp for shooting aerial footage of the golf tournament. As I sketched, members of the field crew came over to see what I was working on. We asked a crew member if he could take a photo of us to commemorate the day. As Amanda drove us back from the airport, she leaned back from the steering wheel and shouted, "I want more adventures!" Since she is looking, she is bound to find them.

6 comments:

travelingsuep said...

What a great story and fabulous illustrations.

Lou Belcher said...

I'm so glad you did more than one sketch of this. Great story and wonderful sketches.

Anonymous said...

As a MetLife employee who has been close to the blimp several times on the ground, I can tell you that thousands of us MetLifers would have loved to had the chance you did. Thanks for the write-up.

Thor said...

Thanks all.

Lynne Chapman said...

What a brilliant opportunity - well done for having the nerve to ask! Love the reflection in the cockpit mirror by the way...

Thor said...

Thanks Lynne. Amanda is the one with nerve.