Blog

What are those balloons in the sky?

May 6, 2013
Tanya Stern, DCOP

There have been some recent news stories and blog posts noting the sighting of tethered balloons over Arlington National Cemetery and the National Arboretum in the last couple of weeks.  

Illustration by Digital Design and Imaging Service, Base Photography by Flikr User A. Drauglis
Illustration by Digital Design and Imaging Service, Base Photography by
Flikr User A. Drauglis

People have wondered what they were for, who is doing this, and whether federal security permissions were obtained, given the strict restrictions over Washington, DC’s airspace. 

The answer is that the balloons were launched by Digital Design and Imaging Service Inc. (DDIS) to take aerial photos of the District’s skyline as part of the joint Height Master Plan the DC Office of Planning (DCOP) and the federal National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) are currently conducting. House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked the District of Columbia and NCPC to create a joint Height Master Plan that will explore the impact of strategic changes to the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1910 and determine the extent to which the Height Act continues to serve both the federal and District government interests.

DDIS is part of the consultant team, led by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP, working with DCOP on a Height Master Plan Modeling Analysis. DDIS specializes in aerial viewshed photography and uses tethered aerostat balloons, the only FAA-authorized aerial platform currently allowed in highly restricted flight zones in the United States. For more details on the consultant teams working on the Height Master Plan, please see this April 30, 2013 press release from Mayor Vincent C. Gray of the District of Columbia.

 

DC Office of Planning