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3-1 vote leads to
construction contract
for $2.5 million city hall

Hospital welcomes
Florida Cancer Affiliates;

Operating room to open;
Physical therapy to start;
Heart and spine doctors
also are eyeing Williston

RGH owner Jorge Perez speaks to a group Saturday night before the introduction of Dr. Rama Balaraman, who spoke on behalf of Florida Cancer Affiliates, which is part of the U.S. Oncology Network. Sitting at the table in this photo is RGH CEO Edith Mears.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 14, 2018 at 7:47 a.m.
Regional General Hospital (RGH) of Williston welcomed Florida Cancer Affiliates to its ranks Saturday evening (Jan. 13) during a dinner reception held in First United Methodist Church of Williston's Fellowship Hall.

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RGH Chief Operating Officer Tillman Mears opens the program, noting his deep appreciation for the work by the hospital staff and RGH owner Jorge Perez in bringing the hospital up to its current high standards of quality and wide range of services.

     About 30 people from RGH, FCA and the city government attended the event, which included a catered dinner by Olive Garden.
     RGH Chief Operating Officer Tillman Mears, the husband of RGH Chief Executive Officer Edith Mears, opened the program.
     Tillman Mears introduced RGH owner Jorge Perez.
     Perez shared a moving bit of information Saturday night.
     For the hospital owner, Jan. 13 marks what would have been the 78th birthday for his mother who passed away in 1985, after succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 45.
     And so 33 years later, for him as the owner of the hospital to be welcoming a team of doctors and others involved with oncology to provide services at RGH, the evening had even more significance than fact that these services are about two weeks away now from starting at the hospital in Williston.
     Perez said his family has been involved with the health profession all of his life. He spoke about one oncologist who built a 70-doctor team over a 20-year period as part of his family's company.
     When Perez bought RGH a couple of years ago, it was in a relatively distressed state. Since then, the hospital has improved and gained from all four corners and from top to bottom. The oncological services set to start are among the relatively big improvements that are on the immediate horizon.

Dr. Hersell Lindo, one of the doctors practicing medicine at RGH, was among the many esteemed visitors of the night. He specializes in obstretrics and gynocology.

     Dr. Hersell Lindo, a doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, and practicing medicine at RGH, was present for the event as well. Dr. Lindo is among the significant people who are helping this rural hospital serve patients.
     Dr. Lindo drove from Tampa that evening just to attend the dinner and announcement of the new services at RGH. He was called away to Ocala, though, during the program.
     Hospital owner Perez is continuing to add to the methods people can be helped at RGH.
     "I also have a team of cardiovascular surgeons who are working with my other hospitals," Perez said, "and they are in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma."
     Those heart doctors are anxious to join the team in Florida, especially to enjoy the temperatures in the 70-degree Fahrenheit ranger rather than the below zero temperatures in the winter there.
     "They wanted me to go there last week and it was negative-12," Perez said. "So I said nothing that is negative can be that good. I'll stay down here where it's 75."
     Perez expressed his gratitude to the community leaders and city officials for helping to support the hospital.
     Tillman Mears shared with listeners that spine specialists are visiting RGH in the coming week.
     The chief operating officer also said the swing bed program is on the brink of stating at RHG.
     Sometimes referred to as skilled nursing, this is a special program reserved for rural hospitals with fewer than 100 beds. The swing bed program allows patients to recover from an accident, illness or surgery in a close-to-home facility.
     Mears said on Saturday night that the hospital will have inpatient and outpatient physical therapy services within the next three weeks.

Williston Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat speaks to the people on Saturday night. He mentioned his plan to retire from his mayoral duties after this current term, noting that he plans to still show up at some City Council meetings to comment. At the most recent special Williston City Council meeting, former City Councilman Jack Screws went to the podium a few times to ask questions of the city’s leaders.

     Williston Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat, who has a long history with Munroe Hospital in Ocala, the laboratory at Williston Hospital (now RGH) in the 1960s, Alachua General Hospital and Shands Hospital and is now retired from that welcomed the oncology group to Williston and to the hospital in Williston.
     The mayor said he knows that RGH can become as busy as it was in the 1960s with surgery and more.
     Among the other people present at the event were City Council Vice President Nancy Wininger and her husband Larry, and City Councilwoman Marguerite Robinson and her husband Jerry.

Dr. Rama Balaraman tells about the advantages of rural hospitals, whether in Tasmania, Australia, or Williston, Florida.

     Dr. Rama Balaraman spoke on behalf of Florida Cancer Affiliates, which is part of the U.S. Oncology Network.
     Dr. Balaraman is a medical doctor whom completed college at Thanjavur Medical College, Thanjavur, India. She performed her internship in Sydney, Australia, and her residency at St. Mary's Health Center Affiliated with St. Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri.
     She earned board certification through the American Board of Hematology and the American Board of Medical Oncology.
     She has hospital privileges at Ocala Regional Medical Center, Munroe Regional Medical Center and West Marion Hospital (Active). Among the other Florida Cancer Affiliates medical doctors at the event were Dr. Ketan Doshi and Dr. Michael Poisesz.
     Dr. Balaraman said she had a patient who brought her peanuts from Williston, and she has been eating them for a decade now.
     Florida Cancer Affiliates is an independent practice out of Ocala, with another practice in The Villages and one in an area known as Timber Ridge.
     A senior partner in the group Dr. Cartwright used to come to Williston General Hospital, Dr. Balaraman said. The now-retired doctor always would speak fondly of the hospital, she said.
     Dr. Balaraman said there are staff members at Florida Cancer Affiliates who reside in the Williston area and would like to work as partners with RGH.
     While she was born in India, Dr. Balaraman is Australian. She practiced in metropolitan areas of the country, but then served in the rural part of the country in Tasmania.
     Tasmania is an island state of Australia.
     The hospitals in the smaller towns of Tasmania are “quite able to do everything,” she said.
     She was an oncologist in Launceston, Tasmania, for five years.
     “A lot of times,” Dr. Balaraman said, “these rural communities will have physicians who are extremely smart. They will diagnose and manage their patients very well. The majority of things can be done in the community.”
     She sees one goal of Florida Cancer Affiliates to be treating patients at RGH. Saving people from having to drive to and from Ocala and Gainesville is one advantage to using the hospital in Williston.
     Among the treatment and services available through Florida Cancer Affiliates are medical oncology; hematology; diagnostic imaging; clinical trials; genetic testing; and laboratory services.
     In this part of Florida, Florida Cancer Affiliates is six physicians, however in Florida, the group is about 50 physicians, Dr. Balaraman said.
     There are 55 staff members working in the Ocala office, she said.
     While the cancer specialists coming to the hospital in Williston are a significant step, so is opening of the operating room for surgery; inpatient and outpatient physical therapy; the swing bed program; as well as cardiologists and spine doctors.
     The emergency room at RGH continues serving people with those immediate medical needs as well. And there are hospital rooms, where patients receive care from RGH staff that includes more than 100 full-time and part-time employees.

Passion-driven author
wins another award;

Book and educational tools help children
understand the need for conservation

Jane Veltkamp is seen relaxing in Cedar Key, where she arrived a few days ago. That is a replica beak she is holding in her right hand - this is just like the one created in 2008 by a 3-D printer as the first-ever prosthetic beak for an American Bald Eagle.

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 12, 2018 at 11:27 a.m.
     CEDAR KEY --
A 62-year-old Idaho woman who reenergizes with her husband the winter at Cedar Key was announced on Friday (Jan. 12) at 11 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time) to be a winner of a very prestigious award for her book Beauty and the Beak.
     Birds of Prey Northwest director and raptor biologist Janie Veltkamp and award-winning children’s author Deborah Lee Rose are sharing in the American Association in the Advancement of Science/Subaru (AAAS/Subaru) Award as co-authors.
     The book venture from Veltkamp’s perspective took place under the umbrella of Birds of Prey Northwest, a non-profit group that provides medical care to eagles, hawks, owls, ospreys and falcons from the wild who are in need of medical attention.
     Veltkamp is the founding director of Birds of Prey Northwest since 1993. The woman said she will never stop in her effort to help young people learn the role of raptors in ecology. Bald eagles and osprey were once critically endangered from the previous use of the now-banned DDT.
     Birds of Prey Northwest returns those animals to the wild when possible. Birds of Prey Northwest uses 20 teaching birds that are unable to return to the wild – including Beauty. These creatures include eagles, falcons, red-tailed hawks and other species of birds of prey. Those birds travel and are used to teach children about conservation.
     The AAAS/Subaru Award is a peer award presented by scientists, scientific writers and others who are sharp critics of science and the advancement of this field of study.
     The American Association for the Advancement of Science was created on Sept. 20, 1848 at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. It was a reformation of the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists.
     Subaru is providing the $3,000 award, which Rose and Veltkamp are sharing equally as co-authors. Rose had 15 other children’s books published before Beauty and the Beak.
     Rose and Veltkamp are being transported by jet to Austin, Tex., in February for the ceremony to accept the cash prize and to be recognized for their work.
     The first award for Beauty and the Beak was from California Reads – A Recommended Title – from the California Teachers’ Association.
     The second award to recognize this book came from the Junior Library Guild.
     This is Veltkamp’s first venture into the world of being a children’s book author, and she mentioned there is a potential for a second book. The book is in its second printing now, having sold at least 5,000 so far.
     Now having been named as an AAAS/Subaru Award winner, as well as accepting the other two significant awards, and with the book going into its second printing, Veltkamp said this is all she could hope for -- with this being her first children’s book.
     Jane and Don Veltkamp of Idaho are among the condo owners on the island that is in western Levy County. They go there to relax, although she is active in the island’s Audubon group as a charter member; she has spoken to children at Cedar Key School as a visiting author; and she is active in other community groups on Cedar Key.
     The couple met some years ago back when she was in South Dakota, where she worked for three years to introduce baby osprey to that state – from whence they had become extinct due to DDT use.
     “People down here (Cedar Key) think ‘There’s another osprey’,’” she said. “Well there are some states that are still completely devoid of osprey because they have not recovered still from 50 years ago when DDT was used.”
     Every third through fifth grade student at Cedar Key School was given a copy of the $18 book in the fall of 2017, soon after it was first published. Those children were the first in the United States to read the story.
     The book that was first published in August of 2017 has earned a number of awards, with this most recent announcement being the current pinnacle.
     It was published by Persnickety Press. Persnickety Press is the sister imprint of the Cornell Lab Publishing Group, which is connected with the ornithological studies at Cornell University, as well as other aspects of Cornell.
     Persnickety publishes a broad range of books for children and young adults, both fiction and non-fiction from picture books through teen titles.
     Beauty and the Beak, while focusing on an audience of children in the third through sixth grades, is a story that tells about how the American Bald Eagle who became named Beauty lost part of her beak from a gunshot wound.
     This is not just a feel-good children’s book. Beyond the story, this book includes several tools for elementary science teachers to engage their students in learning.
     This rescue and procedure to add a three-dimensional beak on the raptor happened in 2008, when the 3-D printers of today were in their infancy. The stunning photos in the book were captured at the time of the surgery.
     The mechanical engineer and the team that Veltkamp created as a biologist were the first in the world to create a prosthetic beak.
     The 25-page story ends with Beauty the bald eagle, drinking water with her new beak attached. Since the first prosthetic beak was created and attached to the rescued eagle, her natural beak has grown out a bit and she no longer wears the prosthetic beak, however she will remain as a captive bird that has been and will be used to help children and adults know more about America's national symbol.
     After the first 25-page story, there is another 25-page section of background material to aid the students in learning about bald eagles. That story shows how the national symbol is an animal that can face dilemmas in the modern world.
     Among the obstacles the eagle and other birds of prey face are those that originate from humans. Death by gunshot is one daunting factor.
     Veltkamp said she was delighted to hear children at Cedar Key say that among the things they learned was to never shoot an eagle. This was profound for her.
     She wrote the book “to tell one eagle’s story to conserve many.”
     Lead poisoning from ingesting big game animals that have lead shot in them is another toxic danger taking the lives of eagles, she said.
     “Am I going to stop the man or woman who shot Beauty in Alaska?” she asked. “No. But you give us an hour with his or her third through sixth grade student and they will grow up to be conservationists.”
     Other causes of death for bald eagles include being hit by cars, trains and planes. Wind turbines that create electricity present a fatal obstacle. Eagles eating animals that have been euthanized and placed at landfills also leads to the death of these birds, she said, because they overdose on the remnant of the drug used to kill those cats and dogs.
     The back part of the book shows students how eagles function with their feathers to fly, and their beaks to eat, drink, preen, communicate and the like.
     Another reason the book has earned multiple awards is the additional instruction guide designed for teachers. That is free to download by clicking HERE.
      In the back of the book, too are STEM-related exercises and information. STEM is the acronym for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics. Some teachers have added Art to create the acronym STEAM.
     “This book is winning awards,” Veltkamp said, “because teachers, particularly science teachers, are hungry for these kinds of lessons that are applicable to STEM standards.”
     There is a page in the back that shows common core standards, by grade and by subject to enable teachers in their efforts to educate children about bald eagles.
     Veltkamp said there are replicas of the actual working model of the beak that was first placed on the bird in 2008 after it was created by a 3-D printer.
     She is available for being a visiting author in classrooms, even though she and her husband Don are in Cedar Key to reenergize before returning to Birds of Prey Northwest.
     “Some people have a job,” she said. “Some people have a career. Some people have a passion. I am just passionate about raptor conservation; and particularly pointing out modern perils for these birds which need a large space of vertical environment to survive.”
     Any teacher who would like to invite Veltkamp to speak to students is invited to contact her at

Williston City Council sets
emergency meeting for Jan. 12

Four Williston City Council members and the mayor discuss matters Tuesday night (Jan. 9). They are (from left) City Councilwoman Marguerite Robinson, Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat, City Council President Charles Goodman, City Council Vice President Nancy Wininger and City Councilman Elihu Ross. City Councilman Kori Lamb was absent.

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 10, 2018 at 3:47 p.m.
Updated Jan. 13, 2018 at 7:27 a.m.
As a result of Williston City Manager Scott Lippmann being so ill that he was unable to attend the regular Williston City Council meeting on Tuesday night (Jan. 9), combined with the four City Council members present wanting to move quickly toward starting work to build a new City Hall, those four leaders chose to call an emergency meeting of the Williston City Council to be held Friday (Jan. 12) at 3:30 p.m. in the City Council Meeting Room.

     The two matters upon which discussion and action exclusively may occur at the meeting are the approval or rejection of a deal with the Levy County School Board for the city to use a multi-use building on the campus of the former Williston High School while the new Williston City Hall is being built; and the approval or rejection of a contract with Oelrich Construction of Jonesville to build the future City Hall.
     The four City Council members who attended and voted at the Tuesday night meeting were City Council President Charles Goodman, City Council Vice President Nancy Wininger, and City Council members Elihu Ross and Marguerite Robinson. City Councilman Kori Lamb was absent.
     There was a 2-2 vote in regard to approving the agreement for the city to use the School Board property from January through Dec. 31 of this year.
     Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat was called upon, per the City Charter, to break that tie vote.
     Wininger and Robinson voted for approval of the deal with the School Board. Goodman and Ross voted against it.
     Goodman and Ross said the agreement was unclear on the cost of an "electric generator" the city was to purchase for the recently constructed Williston Middle High School campus, in consideration of the School Board letting the City Council use a building of the old WHS – which is on the market for sale.
     The cost of a generator to power the entire campus of the new WMHS campus would be astronomical, in contrast with some hundreds or thousands of dollars for a smaller generator. The resolution written for the agreement between the two entities was unclear about what constitutes this particular generator as part of the deal.
     As noted in the City Charter, Mayor Hethcoat broke the tie. He voted in favor of tabling the decision on approving that resolution -- at that point in that meeting -- for another two weeks, until the next regular meeting of the City Council.
     The leaders were unable to obtain more information about the type or cost of the electric generator being considered in this agreement, because City Manager Lippmann was absent.
     President Goodman for several months has used 10 minutes of each meeting in his attempt to improve communications between staff and the City Council.
     With City Manager Lippmann’s absence not being planned soon enough for the city manager to contact the City Council president, that appeared to have touched a sore spot with Goodman. Goodman repeatedly let all listeners know that he was unhappy that Lippmann did not telephone him to say he was too ill to attend the meeting.
     City Clerk Fran Taylor did tell the City Council that the city manager had told her earlier in the day that he was not feeling well.
     The next resolution that was stalled was the agreement for Oelrich Construction to begin the work on the future City Hall.
     President Goodman asked for the exact financing method for the $2 million project.
     City Clerk Taylor said City Finance Director Stephen Bloom was creating a package that would include a mix of financing as well as Bloom planning to approach banks for financing. The finance director previously has told the City Council that he felt confident the city could pay for the new City Hall over a period of time.
     Since neither Bloom nor Lippmann was present Tuesday night, Goodman expressed his dismay and discontentment regarding his inability to have the answers he sought. He appeared to believe his attempt for better communications did not carry through enough, because he did not know the city manager would not be present that night.
     However, it may not have been until just before Lippmann was going to the meeting that he realized he was too ill to be showing up.
     Given that the construction company was to "begin mobilization" on Jan. 28 (a Sunday) of this project, and the fact that start requires a signed contract beforehand, Goodman said he was unhappy -- because the people with answers he wanted before he would vote on approval of the contract were not present.
     He apologized to the representatives of the construction company for the city being unable to give them enough advance notice so that they did not have to be at the meeting. Their presence, however, did turn out to be relatively good -- because they confirmed their ability to plan to be at the emergency meeting now scheduled for Friday.
     To help the construction company stay on the projected starting date for the timeline of the project, both resolutions -- one for the agreement with the School Board and one for the contract with Oelrich Construction -- currently are scheduled to be ruled upon on Friday.
     Interestingly, the mayor’s tie-breaking vote in regard to the generator showed that matter being moved to Friday rather than two weeks later, because it is part of the whole plan for the city to build its future City Hall, and for employees to have a place to serve the public during the construction phase.
     That open public meeting is set for 3:30 p.m. on Friday (Jan. 12).
     City Attorney Frederick L. Koberlein Jr. said that he saw 72 hours’ notice as being the minimum mandatory amount of time for this emergency meeting to occur after the regular Tuesday night meeting, given there was not a flood or other natural disaster requiring even less public notice for the emergency meeting.
     People who live or visit in Florida enjoy what is known an Open Government, where many meetings where elected and appointed ruling and advisory bodies vote on matters must be noticed so that people can attend them. One idea leading to the creation of the law is that the people should have a right to see how their elected representatives reach decisions, and to do that the people need to be able to watch the leaders discuss matters in the open.

Blimp moored in Williston;
Helium history is made

Crew member Dwight Fella adds 93 octane gasoline to the fuel tank that feeds the two Rotax aviation engines that power the propellers to move the airship. This is high test gasoline available from most retail outlets. It is not aviation gasoline or jet fuel, which are the types of fuel for airplanes and jets respectively. He is standing in front of the area where air goes over an engine toward the props which force the air toward the back of the blimp, moving it like an airboat's propeller moves an airboat.

Story, Photos and Video
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 8, 2018 at 8:07 p.m.
(Except One Nighttime Photo By Justin Maynard)
Sunday and Monday (Jan. 7 and 8) were historic days in Williston as a blimp used for advertising moored, and then launched from Williston Municipal Airport.

     As best as can be determined so far, this was the first time ever that a helium blimp moored at this airport.
     The 2000 American Blimp Corp. A60R Lightship used to be owned by Van Wagner Airships America LLC of Orlando, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
     Now this blimp is part of AirSign Aerial Advertising.
     AirSign’s Airship Division is the largest operator of blimps in the world. The only other blimp operator in America is Goodyear, and it has two blimps.

In this video, Chief Pilot Terry Dillard starts telling the general public about the company being the largest airship company in the world.
Video By Jeff M. Hardison
© Jan. 8, 2018

Chief Pilot Terry Dillard sits where he can guide the blimp. He is holding a paper map showing circles with five-mile radius where there are airports. Dillard said he needs to not go above 1,000 feet above the ground for two reasons. First, people cannot read the banner ads. Second, the Federal Aviation Administration mandates the blimp to be in a certain airspace. In the five miles around an airport, that can be considered a glide path for him to land at that airport. Unmanned Aerial System pilots (drone pilots) are not allowed to fly within five miles of an airport, and they are not allowed to fly higher than 500 feet off of the ground. The odds of drones and blimps running into each other, therefore is reduced as long as pilots follow the FAA mandates. Notice the potential future young pilot on the ground to the left of the pilot.

This is a view from the pilot's seat while the blimp is moored at Williston Municipal Airport on Monday morning. A close-up if the mirror is in the photos below this one.

Here is a reflection of Jeff M. Hardison, publisher, taking a picture of himself and Chief Pilot Terry Dillard. The two engines are visible in this mirror (white cylinders on either side) as are the four life jackets (on the roof and yellow-colored). The FAA requires life jackets for all possible passengers in the event of a downed flight into a body of water.

Chief Pilot Terry Dillard takes a break in the background after giving a fine presentation. In the foreground, AirSign Chief Executive Officer Patrick Walsh welcomes everyone and provides more information to people.

This blimp shows people at the International Builders Show in Orlando might want to visit Booth W7643 for free samples of the new Post-It Extreme Notes.

Williston City Manager Scott Lippmann (left) and Williston Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat are among the many visitors to the event Monday morning. City Council President Charles Goodman went to the presentation as well.

     This A60 blimp, first built in the year 2000, is part of the fleet of 12 advertising blimps owned by AirSign Aerial Advertising. This is the smallest of the bunch. It is said to be “the workhorse” of the various blimps right now.
     This blimp can carry 1,000 pounds of human cargo, although it only takes one pilot to operate it. There is a seat next to where the pilot operates the machine, but there are no controls there for a copilot.
     The left and right foot pedals move the rudder for turning. There are wheels, like on an old sailing ship on either side of the pilot’s seat. That makes the pilot’s seat look a little bit like a wheelchair.
     Those wheels point the nose up or down.
     Beyond the 1,000-pound weight limit, there is the space limit in the cockpit of the A60. This blimp was not built so much for people to take rides in, as it was designed to be a flying billboard.
     Patrick Walsh is the chief executive officer of AirSign Aerial Advertising. Before acquiring these advertising blimps, his company used airplanes to pull banners or to skywrite in the air.
     Other top members of AirSign Aerial Advertising, beyond CEO Walsh -- especially including its airship division -- are President Trevor Thompson, Chief Operating Officer Chris Marcic, Chief Creative Officer Justin Maynard, Chief Pilot Terry Dillard, Line Pilot Cesar Mendez, Ground Crew Chief Nick Hussey, Assistant Crew Chief Cory Yglesias and Chief Mechanic Keegan Martin.
     Chief Pilot Dillard provided visitors with insight about the blimp during a public viewing of the machine. The general public was introduced to the airship on Monday in Williston because of the likelihood of people seeing more of these blimps mooring at this airport in the future.
     AirSign owns 12 airships, Dillard said, although they are not all currently inflated.
     Any of the blimps can be transported anywhere in the world for advertising. The blimps will not go where there is ice and snow because that weather issue presents flight issues, and Dillard said, the blimps will not go to countries where governments oppose them.
     The blimps can be used for filming sporting events – such as NASCAR races, the Annual Naples Swamp Buggy Race, football games or other events, as well as for being a place to post banner ads.
     AirSign's Airships Division was formed with the acquisition of the Van Wagner Airship Group.
     This particular blimp lights up from inside, to make the advertising even more visible at night.

In this photograph taken and provided by AirSign Chief Creative Officer Justin Maynard of the blimp when it was over Williston on Sunday night shows how it looks in the air at night lit up.
Photo by Justin Maynard

     This particular blimp has an envelope volume of 68,000 cubic feet. The envelope is the covering that holds the helium in one ballast and common air in the remainder of the space.
     The blimp is 132 feet long. It is 26 feet wide and 44 feet tall.
     Long ago, hydrogen was the gas used for blimps. Hydrogen is explosively combustible. Helium is an inert gas. It will not ignite and explode.
     The worst hydrogen-filled blimp accident was the Hindenburg disaster, which occurred on May 6, 1937.
     As for the A60 in Williston on Monday, the cabin, which is attached to the bottom of the blimp, is almost nine feet long, five feet wide and just over six feet tall. Some official specs show a maximum of one pilot and four other occupants, however, the combined weight of those five individuals could not exceed 1,000 pounds.
      The cruising speed is listed at 32 m.p.h., but 38 m.p.h. is a possible maximum speed. That air speed is to be counted as an air speed, because if it is flying into a 12 m.p.h. headwind at 32 m.p.h., then it will have a ground speed of 20 m.p.h.
     Likewise if there is a 10 mph tailwind for a 38 m.p.h. cruising speed, then the ground speed of the blimp could be as high as 48 m.p.h.
     It has a 72-gallon gasoline tank. It uses between three- to nine-gallons-per-hour, depending on the revolutions per minute of the two Rotax engines.
     The 13-member crew is comprised of two pilots, two crew chiefs and nine crew members.
     Chief Pilot Dillard explained that he cannot launch or land without the help of the crew. The blimp lands by becoming moored to a post that is tethered to many stakes. Each stake is placed four feet into the ground. A person climbs up the mooring post and fastens the blimp to it when it lands, and a person must climb the post to unhook it for a launch.
     The crew uses a mechanical auger to drill into the ground to make the holes for the powerful, thick metal stakes, he said.
     That mooring post, Dillard said, can hold the blimp in winds up to 70 mph.
     When the airship is attached to the mooring post, it faces the post. It can turn 360 degrees, though, moving just as a windsock to face into the wind. The airship can turn in a complete circle if the wind changes to move it like that.
     Banners are attached to the blimp to advertise. If an advertiser wanted to pay for a complete wrap that would be for a long-term advertising and that ad would weigh more than 100 pounds extra – reducing the weight of possible human cargo.
     Post It Extreme Notes was the product scheduled for advertising in Orlando at the International Builders Show in Orlando Jan. 9-11.
     That was the banner attached when the blimp launched from Williston at about 11 a.m. on Monday.
     It was estimated to be about a 4.5-hour blimp flight going against the southerly wind as Dillard flew from Williston to Orlando. It takes the crew about 45 minutes to an hour to break down the mooring pole and about 45 minutes to an hour to set it up.
     Given the vehicle drive time from Williston to Orlando, Dillard said he may be flying over Orlando for a bit before he can set down there. He remains in communication with the ground crew up to a range of 30 miles, he said.
     To move the people and equipment, there are two trucks and a 16-passenger van utilized, Dillard said.
     There is security on the blimp at all times, he said.
     This is because, he said, there may be some number of people in Williston (or anywhere it is moored) who think they are blimp pilots. The security chief would help being a would-be lay pilot become aware about the laws they violated if they tried something on Sunday night while the airship was moored at Williston Municipal Airport.
     This blimp holds about $80,000 worth of helium, Dillard said. That is why neither he nor other members of the team use “the D word” or the “V word.” Those words are “deflate” or “vent” or “valve.”
     Helium is a relatively expensive gas, and there is no sense in adding costs to operations.
     There is some loss of the gas, as its atomic structure allows it to slip through the pores of the envelope. Just as a helium-filled balloon at a party loses the gas and starts dropping, so too the blimp experiences some helium loss through osmosis.
     The canisters of helium lost each week are replaced once-a-week. That is not among the daily operations, although gauges show air and helium compartments’ pressures.
    The price of helium depends on how far from Amarillo, Texas, the buyer is situated.
     In general, Dillard said, the closer to that Texas city that a buyer is, the lower the cost of helium will be to that buyer.
     This blimp is always at its proper inflation, he said. The company cannot afford to inflate and then deflate a blimp – which is different than what happens with a hot air balloon.
     No one wants a limp blimp, Dillard added, because then it is just a garbage bag with helium in it.
     Dillard flew hot air balloons starting in 1974, including over Disney World in Orlando.
     In 1990, he switched to flying airships. He prefers blimps, he said, because a hot air balloon must go where the wind takes it. A blimp has engines and can go against the wind, if that is where the pilot wants to go.
     This pilot has in excess of 18,000 hours in the air. That’s when he stopped counting, and he has been flying for 42 years altogether with 28 years in blimps.
     Some companies are at a Fixed Base of Operations. These FBOs are like Williston Municipal Airport. As for the AirSign Airships Division, it travels every week, although in the next couple of years there is a potential for it to build a structure to house the uninflated blimps that are stored in Tennessee now.
     The Goodyear blimps are at FBOs.
     Every piece of equipment goes with this blimp now, though. Dillard said if a person wants to send him a card, they can mail it to Williston and it will be forwarded to whatever city he is in at the time.
     This is a worldwide operation. In the past couple of years, the group has been to Japan, Brazil, Australia and elsewhere.
     Among the many Florida cities where it has gone are Williston, Ocala, Orlando, Naples and Miami.
     Dillard said that after the blimp leaves an airport, no one will be able to tell it was a particular airport. In fact, the crew members have even left a landing-launching (mooring) zone cleaner than when they arrived.
     This polite and considerate method of operations, he said, is because they want airport managers to welcome their return.
     He does not want someone to say “Those blimp people” are litterbugs and the like.
     All that he needs for the blimp to be moored is a space of ground and a fence to keep the general public away from the airship, he said.


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97th Jingle Performer

Reggie Stacy of Levy County sings the jingle again. His first two versions of the jingle were sang and published in August of 2012. Stacy is a renowned award-winning karaoke singer. Seen here, the man is singing in front of The Children’s Table on State Road 24 in the Town of Bronson on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. He is wearing a Bronson High School Eagles jacket. Each performer or set of performers brings his or her, or their (when it is two or more performers) own special something to the jingle. If you see Jeff Hardison and you want to sing the jingle, just let him know or send an email to He asks people to sing it, too, and some of them agree to sing it. (Thanks people!)

Published Dec. 18, 2017 at 9:47 p.m.
© Video by Jeff M. Hardison, All Rights Reserved

Your weather just got better.

TUESDAY   Jan. 16   8:37 a.m.
Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties

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