duck key

An Information Guide to Duck Key in the Florida Keys

























Fat Albert visable from Duck Key at Night

Image showing locations of Duck Key and Fat Albert


During daylight most residents of the Keys as well as visitors have viewed the blimp commonly called "Fat Albert" while travelling south on US 1 as they neared Cudjoe Key.


Airforce image of Aerostat

Cudjoe Key is 40 miles west of Duck Key and lately island residences have been able to see Fat Albert's lights at night high in the western sky blinking away. If it weren't for the blinking lights and the fact the there is no movement from night to night one might think they were looking at a star.

The tethered blimp also called an aerostat uses radar to detect aircraft and boat traffic. Additionally it monitors weather and is used to broadcast "TV Marti" toward an audience in Cuba. The blimp must fly at 10,000 feet to be able to send out a signal which can reach into the center of Havana. The signal is difficult for the Cuban Government to block. The TV Marti signal is beamed from the blimp on three channels, and the blimp moves about like a kite yet the antenna is able to lock its signal on Havana. A system of gyro compasses keeps the signal on track. The movement of the blimp from side to side and up and down together with its broadcasting on three channels makes it difficult for Cuban government to jam the signal.


Fat Albert together with its wire cable broke loose from its achor pad during a storm. The cable tether became entangled with vessels and had to be cut away. Fat Albert had to be shot down by a Navy plane. As a result of this occurrance
the Navy
developed portable flight control boxes that could guide the blimp down.

Some time later Fat Albert broke loose again. The blimp together with 10,000 plus feet of cable headed for the Everglades. Through the use of the control boxes and a chase helicopter the Navy was able to bleed the blimp's helium and set Fat Albert in the Everglades.



2007 - APRIL 20

A pilot of a Cesna 182 and two passengers lost their lives when their plane flying north at night from Key West flew into Fat Albert's restricted air zone, collided with the blimp's tether, broke the plane's wing and crashed to the ground.

it can watch traffic from Havana to Naples, FL to the NW Cay Sal Bank. Like any radar system

The radar in Fat Albert has incredible range and can see further than most people would believe - from as far north as Texas/Lousiana/Florida, and as far south as the northern coastline of South America. It can track over 300 "targets" and follow tham all the way from Columbia to Corpus Criste(sp?) Texas.

The $3 million blimps that hovered over the lower Florida Keys were torn apart July 9 in 46 mph winds during Hurricane Dennis, U.S. government officials confirmed.

That means TV Mart?’s 31 ? hours of weekly programming have been slashed to fewer than 10 hours broadcast by satellite and the U.S. military’s flying radio stations known as Commando Solo C-130s.


Few people watch the U.S.-government station’s programs because Cuba jams the signal. And critics say that the fact it took the U.S. media more than five weeks to notice the blimps were missing proves the station has no impact.

‘’If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound?’’ said Joe Garc?a, a member of the board of directors of the Cuban-American National Foundation. “Well if a TV Mart? balloon blew up but nobody watched it, does it really matter?’’

The two blimps stationed at Cudjoe Key—dubbed ‘’Fat Albert’’ after the Bill Cosby character—are more formally known as tethered aerostat systems. Twice the size of Goodyear blimps, they are enormous fabric balloons filled with helium.

Anchored by cables, they carry radars used to spot drug-smuggling airplanes and boats and the equipment that broadcast programs to Cuba, where the government controls virtually all the news media.


When there is time, the Air Force, which operates the blimps, deflates the aerostats before a big storm. But it takes at least three days and low winds to accomplish that, and Dennis didn’t offer either.

The storm passed through the Keys in the early hours of July 9, dumping six inches of rain and killing one person. The Air Force removed the equipment and docked the twin Alberts to their mooring towers to let them ride it out, said Air Force spokesman Maj. Vic Hines.

‘’My sense is that they were torn up,’’ Hines said.

The last time a storm destroyed one of the blimps was in 1998, when Hurricane Georges ripped through the Keys. Another blimp broke free in 1981 and was shot down by a fighter jet.

Air Force officials said the drug surveillance knocked out by Dennis was picked up by other radars, and a replacement aerostat is almost online. But there is no timetable for the one for TV Mart?, an $11.2 million-a-year program that offers a broad range of news and other programming with an anti-Castro twist.


A spokesman for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, the U.S. government entity that runs TV and Radio Mart?, said the television station is still broadcasting about eight hours a week: four hours by satellite, which requires a special dish for reception not widely available in Cuba, and another four broadcast Saturday evenings by the C130 airplane.

Radio Mart? has not been affected because its signal is broadcast from other locations.

The loss of the blimp ‘’is regrettable, because it’s one of the ways the TV signal gets to Cuba,’’ said Office of Cuba Broadcasting spokesman Joe O’Connell. “But on the other hand, it’s the one the Cubans jam.’’

Herald calls to the station’s Miami office were not returned.

The communist government has long jammed the TV and radio signals fairly successfully, particularly in Havana, which holds 2.2 million of Cuba’s 11 million people.

‘’You can’t really see the shows during the week,’’ Angel Pablo Polanco, an independent journalist in Havana, said in a telephone interview. “The signal we’re getting is the one that comes on Saturdays with the C-130. We’re getting that signal better than ever.’’

Polanco said Cubans enjoy the Saturday shows because they offer a sharply different view of the news. ‘’People love it,’’ Polanco said.


Since Radio Mart? went on the air 20 years ago, the U.S. government has spent about $100 million on the program, which has been blasted by people such as the Foundation’s Garc?a as a patronage mill and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The Senate is considering a proposal to set aside $37.6 million in funding for the broadcasts to Cuba, including $10 million for the purchase of a C-130 dedicated exclusively to Cuba broadcasts.

The current C-130 is operated by the U.S. military. The planes’ signals are difficult to jam because of its constantly shifting locations.

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