Adventure lovers with 100 ($154) to spare and an urge to have a bird's-eye view of London are taking advantage of the first regular airship passenger service since the Hindenburg disaster. The 1-hour journey aboard Skyship 500 takes you 1,000 feet above the British capital.
Travelers who have ridden the airship say the greatest thrill is following the line of the river Thames as it meanders through London. There is a waiting list of more than 1,000 for reservations. Those left on the ground can be less enthusiastic. British Caledonian, which now operates the service, has received complaints from citizens who say the airship's engines sound like a ``stricken dinosaur.''
Skyship 500 was produced by Airship Industries which began experimental flights five years ago. The company contends that the technical problems that led to the crash of the German dirigible Hindenburg in 1937, and of the British R-101 seven years earlier, have been overcome. Skyship 500 is filled with inert helium gas, not flammable hydrogen, and its construction is of lightweight, composite plastics, rather than the aluminum used on the prewar giants. Technically, it is a ``blimp'' with a nonrigid frame. It is 156 feet long and has a cabin for eight passengers.
But the companies associated with Skyship 500 and a stretched version -- Skyship 600 -- with cabin space for 18 passengers, are looking to the future. They say a Skyship service linking London with Paris is technically feasible. The French Navy already operates a surveillance unit above the English Channel.
The US Navy has shown interest in an even larger airship to travel with ships and help provide radar coverage.