Don Hartsell knows his idea could be considered crazy.
"I thought this project was so large, so ambitious, that no one would take me seriously," says the Texas resident and aircraft enthusiast. "In fact, I was concerned they would think I was insane."
Hartsell is talking about his World Sky Race, which as conceived would be a grand global spectacle. If all goes according to plan, a fleet of airships will take off from London in 2014 and race each other around the world, watched by millions of spectators, before finishing six months later just outside of Paris.
The event is planned as a series of 18 back-to-back races that will circumnavigate the globe. Although the route isn't finalized, the proposed path will take pilots over at least four continents and about 130 United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites -- among them the Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty and the Palace of Versailles.
Hartsell, founder of a group of blimp enthusiasts known as the World Air League, expects celebrations in each of the cities where the airships touch down, with wide-eyed children gathering to see the blimps float overhead. He estimates 140 million people around the world will witness the race -- a number that dwarfs the 5 million or so spectators for the London Olympic Games.