News - May 22, 2012

Zeppelin avoids Binnenveld due to flight ban

All of Wageningen saw the zeppelin. All of Wageningen? No, a small group of brave scientists in the Binnenveld nature area was standing in the wrong place.

A group of Wageningen scientists have been standing in the Binnenveld for more than an hour, staring up at the sky. It should be coming into view there, to the north, between Ede and Veenendaal. Laurens Ganzeveld (Earth System Science) has just explained to the press invited to witness the event that it should be appearing any moment. The zeppelin has just been spotted above Ermelo. 'It can reach speeds of up to 120 km/h with the wind behind it. It will be here in twenty minutes.
Hot dog
'Look, there it is', shouts someone. The zeppelin suddenly rises above the trees, much further to the east than expected. A 75 metre long hot dog filled with helium. It is undoubtedly very impressive when seen from close by on the ground but rather less so when floating a couple of hundred metres up in the sky. There is a cabin on the underside of the sausage with room for precisely two people. The rest is filled with equipment. 700 kilos of sophisticated technology for measuring air quality.
The Pegasos (Pan-European Gas-AeroSOls climate-interaction Study) is in the Netherlands for two weeks to carry out air measurements. The aim of the measurements is to give a better understanding of the relationship between air quality and climatic change. The idea is that the zeppelin will spiral above Wageningen's weather station on Veensteeg for half an hour. It is an opportunity to get a profile for the column of air directly above the equipment on the ground.
Flight ban
But things don't work out that way. The German pilot in the zeppelin sets a direct course for the town and circles above it for more than half an hour. A mistake? It does not take long for some silly jokes about Germans and Hotel De Wereld. Then a phone call by Ganzeveld to the car following the zeppelin reveals the true story. 'Apparently the Ministry of Defence has imposed a temporary flight ban. He's not allowed to fly above the Binnenveld', announces Ganzeveld, somewhat crestfallen.
Not a disaster
A little later Ganzeveld says that apparently flight restrictions due to military movements are not uncommon. Colleagues who regularly go up in the WUR plane to take CO2 measurements have the same experience. And a rumbling Chinook does indeed go by while the Pegasos is circling above Wageningen. Ganzeveld says it is 'not a major disaster' from a scientific point of view that the zeppelin was not able to fly over the monitoring station. The composition of the air above the town is unlikely to differ much from the composition above the Binnenveld.