OGDEN -- The city's planned crime-fighting blimp could begin patrolling Ogden's airspace in time for Christmas, the police chief says.
When first announced in January, officials were optimistic about an April launch for the envisioned 54-foot-long, 4-foot-diameter helium-filled dirigible.
But clearing hurdles with the Federal Aviation Administration has proven far move involved than anticipated.
"Nobody else in the nation is trying to do this, so the FAA has no regulations for it," said Police Chief Jon Greiner.
The FAA recently approved the first step of the blimp proposal, a 25-page administrative application.
But that's step one of five, Greiner said, although the first is the major step.
FAA officials will visit Ogden at some point to view the blimp in action, he said.
The blimp will be operated with a remote-control unit by pilots, Greiner said: police officers, like himself, who have a pilot's license.
The area it will patrol -- and whether that will include the foothills outside city limits to join in searches for lost hikers, or if it will be countywide -- is still up in the air, so to speak.
"Those are all bridges that will need to be crossed at a future time," Greiner said.
He anticipates his police department will begin training on the blimp by Oct. 1, and training is expected to take 60 days. Then the blimp would debut in December at the soonest, he said.
The blimp is currently undergoing trials, including flight time over a rural area of the county, by Weber State University's Utah Center for Aeronautical Innovation and Design.
UCAID has used federal grants to purchase a 54-foot blimp from Daniel Geery's Salt Lake City company, Hyperblimp, Greiner said.
At his last meeting with UCAID a month ago or so, Greiner said, he was shown video of the blimp being flown at an undisclosed rural area.
UCAID is in the process of fitting the dirigible with cameras, a battery-powered propeller, radar transponder and other things, he said, and the unit will weigh 20 to 30 pounds total.
"It will pan, tilt, zoom and joystick from here," Greiner has said, referring to the blimp's planned launch site, the patrol parking lot at the Ogden Public Safety Building, 2186 Lincoln Ave.
He has estimated the cost eventually to be well under the $40,000 cost of a patrol car fitted with all of the police extras, and possibly as low as $15,000.
After that, it's $100 a week to keep it in helium and charge its electric batteries, one for the propeller and one for the cameras.
The blimp caused a stir when it was first mentioned during a Jan. 11 city council meeting, making the news nationwide, including NPR's "Wait, Wait. Don't Tell Me" news quiz show and a Jay Leno monologue.
The blimp would stay up for five to seven hours at a time at a top speed of 40 mph, running a preprogrammed route, or be tasked for such things as following a single individual or vehicle, all from an elevation of 400 feet.