When you first see it, you might not believe your eyes; a blimp flying over Ocean County.  

Blimp at the Joint Base (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media NJ)

The MZ-3A is the Navy's airship that spends part of its life in Lakehurst and acts as "flying laboratory" for the Department of Defense and other governmental agencies.

The blimp, which comes to the Naval Air Station at Joint Base Lakehurst for repairs as well as certain test missions, is considered an ideal aircraft for C-5ISR- which stands for "Command and Control, Communications, Computers, Combat, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance".  These tests are vital in thoroughly testing various sensors and equipment before installing them into their intended aircrafts.|

"It's a very affordable and efficient platform for doing that because we're not in a rush to test the equipment, we have time to project specialists on board and really ring out the system to make sure it's working well. Before we package it off and send it off to whatever that destination platform might be." Says Herbert "Bert" Race, Project Manager and Government Flight Rep for the Airship, adding "It's not just about airships, it's about all kinds of aircraft that may have an aerial equipment need. We just do a thorough testing of it before we field it."

Herbert "Bert" Race, Project Manager and Government Flight Rep (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquar Media NJ)

Race notes what makes airships so viable and desirable is their ability to test a multitude of sensors and other various intelligence systems using a cost efficient, slow moving, and vibration free platform.

"There's three things that airships we know do well. Stays in the air a long time, lifts a lot of weight, and sips very little fuel. So there's a figure of merit there that warrants us keeping it on our scope or monitoring its technology developments."

The airship might not seem like a speed demon; however the 178 ft blimp can do 45 knots (83 km/h) all while carrying up to 9 passengers. All that while needing barely any fuel. According to several airship experts the amount of fuel most planes require just for takeoff could fuel the MZ-3A for an extended period of time. Race notes, that fuel is only three percent of his operational costs.

According to Race the Navy has a rich history with airships throughout history, and having the MZ-3A under its auspices maintains that tradition. The MZ-3A might not be large comparatively to other airships that are out there, nor when compared to airships throughout history, however all of the things that make airships useful are still there.

After the closure of Fort Monmouth last year, the fear of base closure and realignment has come to the forefront.  As the Department of Defense analyses more military instillations than ever to see where costs can be cut, lighter-than-air projects at the Joint Base (which the Army also has a project currently in the testing phase) give the location much more added value.

"This is one of the few places remaining in the country that has hangars on the scale that we need to support airships and we do need to come here once a year to do our annual maintenance. .. These have become somewhat of national assets in the sense that if the DoD does pursue future airship programs then they're going to need a place to hangar them to perform their routine maintenance. " says Race.