The maintenance base’s silent tenant

So the former Northwest Airlines Maintenance base in Duluth has been empty since Cirrus moved out in 2009, right?

Not exactly.

In a cordoned off area in the middle of the cavernous hangar, an uninflated dirigible lies flat on the floor wrapped in a tarp.

It’s been there for a couple of years now. And it remains there even as AAR Aircraft of Illinois is deciding whether to move into the facility and set up another airplane maintenance base.

The owner of the dirigible, Information Systems Laboratories or ISL based in Alabama, is a developer of high tech unmanned dirigibles for military use. It’s paying about $1,500 a month to simply store its blimp there, more if they actually work on it.

The facility is big enough to accommodate the blimp fully inflated with helium  which is why ISL picked the site. They did inflate it inside the building at least once. Even at 100 feet long and five stories  high, the airship only fills one-fourth of the hangar.

ISL had planned to assemble the airship in Duluth for military use, probably in the Middle East. But those plans hit a snag so the dirigible has been lying flat on the floor of the hangar for two years. It only takes up about 20-feet-by-10-feet of floor space in the 189,000-square-foot facility.

But if AAR Aircraft decides to move in , the blimp will have to go.

By the way, others have approached the Duluth Economic Development Authority, which owns the facility, about storing other items in there. One was the City of Duluth which wanted to store voting machines in there. But DEDA officials have resisted all other requests except one from the Duluth Fire Department to store its decontamination unit in there. So when it’s not in use, that’s where it’s parked.