The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and the Navy's sole Science & Technology research squadron, Scientific Development Squadron ONE (VXS-1), will operate the MZ-3A lighter-than-air blimp in the regions surrounding Washington, D.C. beginning Sept. 21.
Operating under the special approval of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Navy MZ-3A will conduct aerial mapping operations within the Washington D.C. Flight Restriction Zone (DCA-FRZ) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, (USDA-ARS) Beltsville, Md., and at U.S. Army Fort Belvoir located in Fairfax, Va.
In addition, the MZ-3A will conduct mapping operations within the DCA-Special Flight Restrictions Area (DCA-SFRA) and at times will traverse the region to the north to Frederick Municipal Airport (FDK) in Maryland and to the southwest near Culpepper, Va., (CJR) before ending operations Oct. 5 and departing to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Lakehurst, N.J.
During special flight operations, the FAA will issue pertinent Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) information regarding visual and instrument (VFR/IFR) flight plans to the region and at all times will maintain radio communication and flight following as required or requested on designated and approved Air Traffic Control (ATC) radio frequencies.
The MZ-3A is government-owned and contractor-operated. The contractor, Integrated Systems Solutions, Inc., (ISSI) employs highly qualified commercial blimp pilots whom the Navy has approved to command the airship. ISSI airship pilots have completed Special Awareness Training for the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area and have previously operated within the DCA SFRA/FRZ.
Built by American Blimp Corporation, the MZ-3A is propeller-driven by two 180 horsepower Lycoming engines producing a top speed just under 50 knots with an operational payload capability of up to 2,500 pounds. The manned 178-foot LTA craft can remain aloft and nearly stationary for more than twelve hours, performing various missions in support of technology development for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) concepts.