Around the World in an Airship

Bayer airship pilot Haimo Wendelstein reflects on one of the mellowest forms of flying.

(Courtesy Bayer AG)

The year 2013 has been the 150th birthday of Bayer (makers of aspirin and more), and to celebrate, the company has been sending a hot-air airship to tour the world and promote the brand. With a 65-horsepower Rotax two-stroke engine in the tail to provide forward and reverse thrust, the airship has a leisurely top speed of 25 mph. Senior associate editor Perry Turner talked with one of its pilots, Haimo Wendelstein of Germany, in September.

Air & Space: How did you get into flying lighter-than-air craft?

Wendelstein: That was in 1983, when I started to help the general manager of a children’s village in the south of Germany to do charity balloon flights all over the world. I was a crew member. He [the general manager] asked me several times to get the licence, but I always postponed it until 1992.

What qualities in your personality make you suited to flying hot-air airships?

Wow, that’s a difficult question to answer. Many people say about me that I always keep my calm and that I am very prudent. Also I was told that I have a “dry” humor. These capabilities keep me out of problems in the air.

What's the closest you've come to encountering a problem in an airship?

That happened some years ago in wintertime in the Alps. Weather sunny, forecast okay. After 20 minutes flying, a hard gust pushed the airship down, until it hits the ground. I deflated immediately.

What happened?

The wind in the upper region picked up quickly, and that causes the gusts in the valley. It was hard work to get the airship out of a field with two-meter-high snow.

Have you ever had a passenger have a bad reaction—fear of flying, airsickness, anything like that?

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