Goodyear Blimp Still Enthralls Public At Events Across the U.S.
Recognizable by its silhouette and unmistakable shape, its name linked with a romance in the world of aviation.
It's the airship known as the Goodyear Blimp, and it's got a certain ‘wow’ factor.
Goodyear Public Relations manager Ed Ogden says, "That wow factor goes a long way to explaining why it's so popular and why Goodyear has been doing this since 1917."
It's been on television since 1955.
You may have seen it in person, possibly overhead at Ohio Stadium.
Its first mission was a publicity stunt for the company, and to this day, it lifts off with the same purpose and effectiveness.
The blimp's story is rich in history. The government enlisted Goodyear to build blimps for the Navy. More than 250 of them protected ships by keeping watch from above.
Blimps served as lookouts for what was below. They acted as a radar, before radar was invented.
Although the modern day version has gone a bit more the way of Hollywood - aesthetically, it has changed very little.
Helium fills the huge envelope that gives the blimp its iconic shape, seemingly ready to burst.
But they don't pop. The pressure inside is only 1/100 the amount needed to fill an ordinary car tire.
“If you poked it with a pin or a pen, it would take us a week to know we had a hole and another week to find it because it's a big surface area,” says pilot Michael Dougherty.
“Big” is an understatement. It takes a dozen crew members to scramble and grab the mooring lines and wrestle it to the ground.
And the fascination with it is as real today as it was when people first flocked to see the big balloon barnstorming the U.S.
"When you travel around half the country with an airship, you tend to attract attention. You're not exactly sneaking in and out of town, said Ogden.
10TV didn't sneak onto it, either. 10TV was invited for a rare on-board ride, a tour of northern Ohio that was a 1,000 feet above the ground.
It’s high enough to be out of the way, but low enough to see people wave.
There are only three airships like it in the country, and the fleet is getting tired after more than a dozen years flying through extreme heat and cold.
The Spirit of Akron is headed to Florida to retire now, but there are big plans for the fleet's future.
In the huge Suffield, Ohio hangar sits the Goodyear NT, which stands for New Technology.
The first thing you notice is a frame. Non-existent in previous models, the carbon fiber structure is lightweight, but sturdy, and opens the door for endless options and upgrades over previous models.
This semi-rigid airship will allow for a larger car to carry more passengers than ever. The frame means three engines can be mounted instead of the previous two. The positioning of them will allow for greater maneuverability.
The new technology model is more than 50 feet longer, almost 20 feet wider and about 20 miles per hour faster, topping out at 73 MPH.
“In my mind, this is the biggest, really the biggest, change we've made since we took the cars that used to hang down from the envelopes by cables, and we pushed it up and attached it to the envelope, which is what people are familiar with today,” adds Ogden.
The experts say it is the next logical step in the company's blimp program.
The plan calls for construction of three new blimps with the new technology within the next six years.
The first one is expected to make its maiden voyage in the spring of 2014.