Craig Ulmer

Blimp Tracking Success

2018-06-02 rf planes

A little over a week ago a friend of mine that knows I track planes called me up to tell me he saw the Goodyear Blimp flying over Livermore. When I got home I went to my Pi-aware flight tracker to see if I could spot anything. Nope- nothing was on the current map and my logs didn't have any hits for the ICAO numbers Goodyear has registered with the FAA (their blimps have tail fins N1A to N7A). While I was disappointed, I wasn't too surprised- the one time I did see a blimp on the tracker it wasn't providing position info. I figured the one my friend saw had already landed, and that my logs weren't observing it because I only record planes with positions.

I had the following Friday off so I took some time to poke around a little more. I found someone had posted a video on youtube showing blimp N2A landing in Livermore earlier in the week. That helped me figure out which ICAO id to look for (N2A is A18D51). Amy called to let me know that she'd spotted it while she was driving to Dublin. I checked the tracker again and got a nice surprise- in addition to picking up its transmissions, there were enough pi-aware users in the area to determine its location via MLAT. So far the tracker always reports the blimp's altitude as being "on ground". Flight Aware says its somewhere between 1000 and 2000 feet. I've read that blimps are hard to track because the low altitude makes it difficult to get enough stations with line of sight to do the MLAT. I don't get much range with it- it disappears once it's out around Dublin.

I don't have a good idea of what it's doing out here. Usually the blimp comes out here for sporting events. The Warriors/Cavs championship games started this week, but they're in a closed coliseum. I guess the Giants and A's also have some home games this week. It's definitely been hanging around Livermore a lot though. On the way home from lunch today we stopped at the Livermore airport and watched it land, swap out people, and then take off again. From the tracks I captured it looks like they made a few trips out to Lake Del Valle and back. It was 90 today, so there were probably a lot of people out there cooling it off. It's funny having a giant blimp hanging out in our little town for so long. It's like a giant puppy wandering all over the place.