There are fewer dirigible and zeppelin pilots in the US (and the world) than there are astronauts. Only seven or eight airships actively chart the skies stateside, and just a handful more globally. It’s a near-lost form of travel, yielding a sensation somewhere between a funicular and a sailboat of the winds. And fortunately, we just got to experience a flight in a blimp—one that’s been decorated as a giant cucumber, no less. This X-111 Flying Cucumber Airship, operated by Van Wagner and piloted by the tenured Charlie Smith, is under the watch of Hendrick’s Gin. On the brand’s quest to deliver unusual voyages, they have truly upped the ante with this helium-driven four-seater.
This particular airship maxes out around 35 miles per hour, though with a strong tailwind can approach 40 or so. Cruising altitude—a delightful 1,000 feet up—is achieved in under three minutes. There, with windows open, it smoothly sails, wobbling only for a strong gust of wind. With the flight instruments appearing as a relic of the past, and the steering wheels actually falling at either side of the pilot’s chair (and supported by two foot pedals) it’s a distinct, timeless experience.
The Hendrick’s airship has made its way across the US, starting in California before heading on an 11-day journey to Texas, then over to Florida before making its way north. While flights aboard are limited and invitation-only, for the next few days, anyone who spies the blimp, photographs it and tags it, can potentially score a ride from Farmingdale, New York’s Republic Airport.
Images by David Graver