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Homemade airship prang closes highway in Oklahoma

79-year-old unlicensed pilot-inventor grilled by feds

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A homemade airship went out of control above Oklahoma last week and came down on an interstate motorway, causing startled highway patrolmen to hurriedly close several lanes to traffic.

According to reports, the 79-year-old pilot and inventor of the craft was uninjured - but is now in trouble with the feds for not possessing either a pilot's licence or an airworthiness certificate for his craft.

KXII news in Ardmore, Oklahoma reports that local hotelier Marvin Polzein, 79, who built the rogue dirigible in his spare time, has been involved in previous blimp-related mishaps. The craft apparently crashed in the town suburbs last May following an engine failure.

Polzein was unhurt on that occasion as well, but having left his air yacht inadequately tied down for the night following the prang was embarrassed to find that it had broken loose and flown away. The errant machine was eventually recovered 110 miles away in the vicinity of the town of Decatur.

"Things just didn't go right," Polzein told KXII on that occasion. "It's going to work and I think I’m almost there. It's a learning experience," he added.

Polzein has been working on his homemade airship since the late '90s along with a couple of friends. Early models were discarded after being found to leak "like a sieve". The gondola design reportedly features a "plastic patio chair" for the pilot. Control is accomplished using a swivelling engine mounted at the tail, rather than the more usual rudders and tailplanes. Polzein has taught himself to fly the ship by a process of trial and error.

Apparently the swivelling steering engine is the ship's weak point: it was responsible for the May prang, and its mounting apparently failed again causing last week's disaster. According to Polzein he was forced to come down on the interstate to avoid an even more dangerous descent into trees.

"I discovered that my design is faulty, so it's back in the shed now and I'm just going to can it now until next summer," he says.

However the blimp-happy septuagenarian has apparently attracted the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who have enquired whether he holds a current pilot's licence, medical certificate or airworthiness documents for the airship. Reportedly Polzein possesses none of these.

The plucky aeronaut remains undaunted.

"I know myself. I'll get back on it again. I'll make the corrections, and we'll try it again," he tells KXII. ®

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