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Blimp to be added to arsenal in fight against Gulf oil spill

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent

(CNN) -- Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Residents of the oil-spill-stricken Gulf coast might be asking themselves those questions soon when a large silver blimp begins floating over the region, the latest tool in the effort to track and clean up the slick.

At the request of the Coast Guard, the Navy is sending the MZ-3A airship to the Gulf coast, where it will fly slowly over the area to monitor where the oil is flowing and track where and how it's coming ashore.

The blimp is on its way from Arizona Thursday, according to Navy spokesman Lt. Tommy Buck.

The airship, which can carry a crew of up to 10, will be mainly used to direct oil skimming operations. Still being considered is whether the blimp will be fitted with additional sensors to help locate oil-impacted areas and quickly direct skimming operations to those sites.

The Navy says the advantage of the blimp over current helicopter surveillance operations is that it can stay aloft longer, with lower fuel costs, and can survey a wider area.