What is white, in the sky and not a cloud?

The blimp as seen from the Overseas Highway

The blimp as seen from the Overseas Highway

When we arrived in continental U.S. paradise, there up in the sky… a balloon, an advertising balloon, a blimp??? After seeing this guy in the sky day after day, Russ finally did the Google thing and we learned (once again) more than our brains could hold. Yes folks, we have Keys Disease. 🙂

Blimpie, otherwise known as “Fat Albert” floats tethered above Cudjoe Key except for when he comes down for high winds, re-fueling or routine maintenance.

Fat Albert is a large white blimp that’s tethered to a truck at the blimp base on the backside of Cudjoe Key. It’s named for the cartoon character by the same name. It’s actually a Tethered Aerostat Radar System or TARS. Nine other TARS exist throughout the country. Their primary mission is to provide low-level radar surveillance along the southwest border of the United States and Mexico, the Straits of Florida and the Caribbean in support of federal agencies involved in the nation’s drug interdiction program.

A close-up photo of the blimp at rest

A close-up photo of the blimp at rest

The secondary mission is to provide North American Aerospace Defense Command with low-level surveillance coverage for air sovereignty in the Florida Straits. The aerostat radar data is available to NORAD and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Basically I think this means Big Daddy is watching!! As in monitoring suspected drug smuggling flights, fast boats smuggling Cubans, weather, any low flying plane and other potentially harmful activity. The cost to operate is more than $500 dollars per hour.

Fat Albert is helium filled. He can be raised to a maximum 15,000 feet, but stays at 10,000 feet tethered to the blimp base by  cables with a maximum breaking strength of 26,000 pounds. He measures 175 feet long, 58 feet across and the tail wing from tip-to-tip is 81 feet. It can lift a payload weighing 1,200 pounds.

Look closely, you can see the tethers

Look closely, you can see the tethers

We have a great view of this guy, being on Cudjoe Key and all. We’d seen him before, in our Nov 2007 trip to Key West. Looking through our bazillion photos we found a folder named “Key West Trip- Benj’s” and there was one of the blimp. 🙂

 

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