Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Interview with Terry Dillard, Chief Pilot

Terry Dillard has been a pilot at Van Wagner Airship Group (formerly known as The Lightship Group) for over 20 years. He has spent over 13,000 hours in airships and flown over events including the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, NASCAR, Indy 500, the World Series and the Olympic games in Atlanta in 1996.

Dillard previously worked with clients including McDonald’s, Blockbuster, Sanyo, Saturn, DIRECTV, Budweiser, Horizon, BCBSNJ, Universal Pictures, Despicablimp and Conan O’Brien for TBS. 

So, tell me about the job. Is this a full-time job, or are you a pilot for other aircraft?

“The airship job is a full-time job for me. This is my 24th year in flying airships.” Terry explained that this particular contract is about the TV relationship and NESN. “I fly airships about ten-and-a-half months out of the year, then I take about a month-and-a-half off and get my batteries recharged and then get back out and do it again.”

How do people respond when you tell them what you do for a living? 

“Well, you know, it’s kind of a novelty thing, considering there are only about 54 people who do what I do. Flying the blimp is only about 6% of what I do. The other 94% is giving interviews.” Terry discussed how the blimp is really about community and about public relations. “It’s kind of in my blood, talking to people. It’s kind of hard to leave everything at the airport and go live a normal life.” He described getting off of the blimp in the evening and encountering crowds of people, usually with children, wanting to talk to him and see the blimp. He mentioned that even after an eight- or ten-hour day, he usually stays behind and talks to people while his crew heads back to the hotel. The blimp flies to other communities for events and exposure in addition to just covering Red Sox games, so the blimp might be at different airports in small communities where it really is a novelty to see it. “It’s all about the PR, and it’s all about connecting with the local people. It’s not every day that you get a blimp parked in your backyard. I enjoy that part of the job.”

Several readers are interested in knowing what you do if you have to go to the bathroom. Well?

“We take care of those needs prior to going up.” Red Sox games are about five hours -- one hour from the airport to Boston, about three hours in the air, then one hour back. The airship has two pilots available at any time, because one might not feel well or feel comfortable being in the air that long. “If you’re up at the field and you step in a gopher hole and twist your ankle, the show still has to go on.”

What type of weather conditions would require special precautions or a change of plans? Have you ever run into a really scary situation while piloting the blimp?

“Unfortunately the weather dictates our life. If the weather is good, we are a hero. We can do no wrong, we walk on water. If the weather is great, we can do our job. When the weather is bad, we can’t do our job. The general public really doesn’t understand weather. We have to be very careful with the airships. I’m preparing for the weather several days in advance. If there’s thunderstorm activity, we keep the airship on the ground. I have been humbled many, many times, and yes, I have been caught out there, and it’s been a very humbling experience, but no, I’ve never broken an airship. Every time I fly, the odds are against me. I go into work every day with a little side of caution. Mechanically, we very very rarely have issues. Weather is our biggest nemesis.”

So, I guess the most pertinent question of all from our readers: Do you secretly wish you were the blimp guy for the Yankees?

“(Laughs) No, no no no!” Terry described how when he flew the airship up into Boston, he had to cross in to New Jersey and New York, and recognized he was in somewhat unwelcome territory, and considered what the reaction might be if a Yankees blimp were to fly through the Boston area. As a Florida native, he appreciates the Boston area -- “It’s a really beautiful area, it’s very scenic, I like the accent, the history, the people are very friendly. The traffic is bad, but I don’t have any stoplights to worry about! I’m quite honored and proud to be the chief pilot with Hood, so my final answer will be that I’m happy with the Red Sox!”

Do you have anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

“I’d like to make sure they know about the photo contest sweepstakes.” He described how he’s quite eager to take locals on a ride, and explained that the only way to get onto any of the airships is either as an employee or by winning a contest. He explained that people will approach the airship groups trying to purchase rides on blimps, but that the industry has thus far not opened this possibility. “You cannot buy a blimp ride. If you cannot buy it, what is it worth?”

Thank you to Terry and to Hood and their marketing team for making the interview possible!

A few more blimpy fun facts to tide you over until Pilot Terry floats on in

Yesterday, in preparation for our interview with the pilot this afternoon, I asked for questions from the Hood Blimp fans. The fans did not disappoint, and I received a number of great questions in blog comments and via e-mail, as well as some rather odd questions that are probably best left as rhetorical questions. Terry and I have selected some questions that he will answer personally, but I thought I would also cover some of the basic information people have requested about the Hood Blimp and blimps in general:

  • The Hood Blimp is 36 feet wide, 44 feet high and 128 feet long.
  • The Blimp is filled with 68,000 cubic ft. of helium and “topped off” daily.
  • The Blimp’s maximum speed is about 35 - 40 miles per hour.
  • It normally flies at 1,300 feet above earth but can fly as high as 10,000 feet above the ground if needed.
  • The Blimp can hold up to three passengers plus the pilot during non-camera events and fly for up to 6 hours in most cases. On camera events, the pilot, camera operator and camera equipment fly on the blimp.
  • The Hood Blimp uses less fuel in two weeks than a 747 jumbo jet uses just to taxi to the end of the runway.
  • Airship pilots train by first learning to fly other aircraft, such as airplanes or helicopters, then accruing their airship hours on the job with the airship operator, since there are no independent flight schools that specifically train airship pilots.
  • Blimps are non-rigid airships, meaning they differ from zeppelins in that they have no internal skeleton and keep their shape entirely from the helium pressure.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Post your questions for the blimp pilot

I have an appointment with the blimp pilot tomorrow. What would you, dear fans, like me to ask?

(I may have waved to him just now when I went out to shoot a current picture. Don't judge me.)

Hood kicks off Red Sox Foundation donation campaign, blimp is honored guest

(rear) Hood Blimp (front, left to right) Tim Wakefield, Michael Egan
Hood has officially announced a $1 donation to the Red Sox Foundation for every carton of Hood Red Sox “Champions” Ice Cream sold between now and the end of this year’s baseball season. The donation was revealed Sunday by Hood and Tim Wakefield, Red Sox Foundation Honorary Chairman and former Red Sox pitcher, at a private event with the Hood Blimp in Beverly to celebrate Hood’s long-standing relationship with the Boston Red Sox.

“Together with Hood, the Red Sox Foundation is committed to making a difference in the lives of local youth,” said Mike Egan, board member for the Red Sox Foundation. “This donation from Hood Red Sox Ice Cream will enable our organization to further its mission to serve the health, education, recreation and social service needs of children and families in need across New England.”

The official team charity of the Boston Red Sox, the Red Sox Foundation has distributed over $68 million to support programs serving children and families across New England. The Foundation’s efforts are primarily focused on five cornerstone programs: the Red Sox Scholars Program, which provides tutoring, mentoring, enrichment programs and a college scholarship to academically talented but economically disadvantaged Boston public school students; the Red Sox Foundation's RBI and Rookie League youth baseball and softball programs serving more than 2,000 inner city teens each summer; the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat stress and traumatic brain injury; The Dimock Center in Roxbury, serving more than 40,000 low-income families in Boston’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods; and The Jimmy Fund, supporting breakthrough cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

(rear) Hood Blimp (front, left to right) Tim Wakefield, Lynne Bohan, Michael Egan
“We are always looking for ways to give back to the community, and this special donation allows New Englanders to contribute with us,” said Lynne Bohan, vice president of communications and government affairs at Hood. “We are thrilled to take our long-standing partnership with the Red Sox to the next level by supporting this worthy cause.”

A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Red Sox Foundation raises funds through special events, corporate sponsorships, and grants. Founded and initially funded by Red Sox Principal Owner John Henry, Chairman Tom Werner, President/CEO Larry Lucchino and their partners, the Red Sox Foundation has won numerous awards for the impact of its innovative programs. In 2010, the Foundation’s Red Sox Scholars program was recognized by Major League Baseball with the first-ever “MLB Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence.” In 2009, the Red Sox Foundation was honored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Sports Philanthropy Project with the Patterson Award as the nation’s “Best Team Charity in Sports.” For more information about the foundation, visit

Exclusive close-up photos of the blimp's new outfit

Is that snazzy or what?

And the other side, with the usual logo.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Win a ride in the blimp!

Submit your best photo of the Hood Blimp at this link to be entered into a weekly prize drawing, as well as a Grand Prize for a ride in the Hood Blimp and one year's worth of ice cream.

2014 blimp season is underway

The Hood Blimp is up in the sky and blimpier than ever this year. Be on the lookout for the blimp at 22 Red Sox home games as well as other events in Boston and other cities in the region. More schedule details will be posted as they arrive.

Hood Blimp over Roxbury last week

Quick facts:
  • The main pilot this year is Terry Dillard. Stay tuned for a biography and hopefully an interview.
  • The blimp holds up to three passengers plus the pilot during non-camera events and fly for up to 6 hours in most cases. On camera events, the pilot, camera operator and camera equipment fly on the blimp.
  • Don't get any ideas about messing with the blimp, because the ground crew provide 24/7 security and also perform helium pressure watches every few hours.
  • The blimp has the same owner, but The Lightship Group is now called Van Wagner Airship.
Let the world know where you've seen the blimp by using official hashtag #HoodBlimp on social media!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Blimp schedule, week of July 27 to Aug 2

July 27 VIP flight event
July 29 MLB on NESN Blue J @ Red Sox 7:10pm
July 30 MLB on NESN Blue J @ Red Sox 7:10pm
Aug 1 MLB on NESN Yanks @ Red Sox 7:10pm, Katie Perry TD
Aug 2 MLB on NESN Yanks @ Red Sox 4:05pm