A Goodyear Blimp is any one of a fleet of blimps operated by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for advertising purposes and for use as a television camera platform for aerial views of sporting events. Goodyear began producing airship envelopes in 1911 and introduced its own blimp, The Pilgrim, in 1925.
Today there are three blimps in the fleet in the United States:
- Spirit of Goodyear, based in Suffield Township, Ohio near Akron
- Spirit of America, based in Carson, California
- Spirit of Innovation, based in Pompano Beach, Florida
All three craft are outfitted with LED sign technology Goodyear calls "Eaglevision." This allows the aircraft to display bright, multi-colored, animated words and images. Goodyear also has blimps operating in other parts of the world. These airships are built and operated by Van Wagner of Orlando, Florida, In May 2011 Goodyear announced it will be replacing its fleet of blimps with three semi-rigid airships built by Zeppelin NT.
The blimps are filled with helium. The helium is maintained under low pressure, so small punctures do not pose serious consequences for the blimp. One inspection element of the blimps is to look into the envelope for pinpoints of light which are indicative of small holes.
The Goodyear blimps are non-rigid (meaning their shape is not maintained by a rigid internal structure) dirigibles (directable/steerable airships). Inside their exterior envelope, the Goodyear blimps are fitted with air–filled ballonets. As the blimp ascends or descends, the internal ballonets expand or contract to compensate for density changes and to maintain uniform pressure in the envelope.
The three modern types of Goodyear blimps, since the 1960s, are: GZ-19, GZ-20 and GZ-22.
The GZ stands for Goodyear-Zeppelin, stemming from the partnership Goodyear had with the German company when both were building airships together. However these three classes came many years after this partnership had dissolved during the start of World War II. The GZ-1 was the USS Akron (ZRS-4), the U.S. Navy's fourth rigid airship used for several tests including as a flying "aircraft carrier".
- GZ-19: Introduced in 1963 and discontinued in 1978 after the loss of Mayflower (N38A). The design for this class resembles the U.S. Navy's L class blimp.
- GZ-20: This class is what the current American fleet is composed of. Introduced in 1969, with America (N10A) and Columbia (N3A) being the first two. This class is slightly longer than GZ-19. However, in 2013 Goodyear will be retiring the GZ-20 and replacing with the Zeppelin NT.
- GZ-22: The only airship in this class was the Spirit of Akron (N4A). Originally built in 1987 to show the U.S. Department of Defense that airships were still militarily viable, it was the largest and most technically advanced ship Goodyear ever had in its public relations fleet, featuring fly-by-wire technology. However, Spirit of Akron was lost in 1999 and the company has not built one since, most likely because of the large expense to build and operate one due to its size and advanced technology.
- Zeppelin NT: Goodyear confirmed on 3 May 2011, that they will reinstate their long lost partnership with Zeppelin. Goodyear has ordered three Zeppelin NT LZ N07-101 models with plans to commence operation in January 2014. The Zeppelin NT will be the successor to the current GZ-20 in Goodyear airship advertising.
- C-5 (blimp) 1918–1919 – hydrogen variant of C class
- D class blimp 1920–1924
- F class blimp/Type FB 1918–1923
- Goodyear Type AD 1925–1931
- G class blimp 1935-19?
- H class blimp 1921–1923
- J class blimp 1922–1940
- K class blimp 1938–1959, WWII anti-submarine, post-war tests
- K-1 (airship) 1938–1940, pre-war experimental
- L class blimp 1930s–1945, WWII
- M class blimp 1944–1956
- N class blimp 1950s–1962
- Goodyear Duck GA-1/GA-22 seaplane 1944–?
- Goodyear ZWG 1950s
- Goodyear Type FD 1919
- Goodyear Type TZ 1928–?
- Goodyear Type GZ-19 1963–1978
According to the Goodyear website, the three active GZ-20 blimps are 192 feet (58 meters) long, 59.5 feet (18 meters) tall, and 50 feet (15 meters) wide. For comparison, the largest airships ever built, the Zeppelin company's Hindenburg, LZ-129, and the Graf Zeppelin II, LZ-130, were 804 feet (245 meters) long and 135 feet (41 meters) in diameter. That is, over four times as long and over twice as wide as the current Goodyear blimps. The largest blimp ever made by Goodyear was the U.S. Navy's ZPG-3, at 403 feet (121 meters) in length.
Since 1928, Goodyear had named its blimps after the U.S. winners of the America's Cup yacht race. This naming method is attributed to then-Goodyear CEO Paul W. Litchfield, who viewed the airships as being like yachts in the sky. Although that practice deviated with the introduction of the Spirit of Akron in 1987, the Florida-based Stars & Stripes would be the last to carry this honor, ending in 2005.
Foreign based blimps have been operated by The Lightship Group since the 1990s: Europa, Spirit of Europe, Spirit of the South Pacific, Spirit of the Americas, Spirit of Safety, Ventura, Ling Hang Zhe (Navigator).
The only passengers that Goodyear will allow on the blimps are corporate guests of the company and members of the press; it has been Goodyear's long-standing policy that no public rides are offered. However, for over 50 years, it had to offer limited public rides at its Miami, Florida, winter base on Watson Island as part of its land-lease deal with the city in order to operate from the island. That practice ended in 1979 when the base was moved to Opa-Locka, Florida.
Sometimes Goodyear has a contest with the dealers of its tires. If a customer buys four new Goodyear tires, he or she is entered into a contest to go up in the blimp. The winner must go to the nearest blimp base to take his or her flight.
For years, Goodyear has fitted its blimps with a night sign. From neon tubes, to incandescent lamps to LEDs, these signs have helped the company advertise its products and also deliver public service messages from various organizations such as local governments.
- Neon-O-Gram Originally called NeonGoodyear, was first fitted on Defender back in the 1930s. Neon tubes on the sides of the blimp which usually just spelled out Goodyear.
- 10 Panel Incandescent Bulbs
- Skytacular: In the mid-1960s, the GZ-19 Mayflower (N4A) was fitted with over 3,000 incandescent lamps of red, yellow, blue and green on both sides that for the first time featured animation. Usually moving stick figures, ticker messages or colorful patterns. A small jet engine had to be attached to the blimp's car in order to power the Skytacular night sign.
- Super Skytacular: Same technology as Skytacular, but with more than 7,000 lamps on both sides. Super Skytacular was fitted on the new longer GZ-20 blimps in 1969.
- Wingfoot Air Express, while transporting passengers from Chicago's Grant Park to the White City Amusement Park, caught fire then crashed through the skylight of the Illinois Trust & Savings Bank on 21 July 1919, killing one crewman, two passengers, and ten bank employees.
- Eagle, tail number N10A, suffered a deflationary incident in May 1995, when the blimp struck the ground near the Carson, California, mooring site while unmanned. This blimp was repaired and rechristened as the Eagle N2A. No injuries were reported.
- Spirit of Akron, tail number N4A, crashed on 28 October 1999, in Suffield, Ohio, when it suddenly entered an uncontrolled left turn and began descending. The pilot and technician on board received only minor injuries when the blimp impacted with trees. The National Transportation Safety Board report identified that improperly hardened metal splines on the control actuators sheared, causing loss of control.
- Stars and Stripes, tail number N1A, crashed on 16 June 2005, in Coral Springs, Florida, when it was caught in a strong thunderstorm that eventually pushed the aircraft into trees and powerlines. There were no injuries in the crash, although the pilot and passenger were trapped for a number of hours until the powerlines could be de-energized. The National Transportation Safety Board accident report claims the cause of the accident to be the pilot's "inadequate in-flight planning/decision which resulted in an in-flight encounter with weather (thunderstorm outflow), and downdrafts..."
- Spirit of Safety I, (built by American Blimp Corporation) registered as G-TLEL and owned and operated by Lightship Europe Limited, (but operating in Goodyear livery), caught fire while on landing approach to the Reichelsheim Airport (ICAO code EDFB) and crashed on 12 June 2011, near Reichelsheim, Hesse, Germany. The pilot, Michael Nerandzic, flew the airship low enough that passengers could jump to the ground, and all three did indeed leap to safety. Nerandzic then, while still able to maintain some control on the burning blimp, climbed away so that fire or wreckage would not hit the escapees; soon after, Nerandzic died in the blimp's fiery wreck.
In 1976, Goodyear allowed use of its blimps for the filming of Black Sunday, based on the novel by Thomas Harris, about a distressed former P.O.W. blimp pilot who helps Middle Eastern terrorists attack the Super Bowl with a lethal device attached to the airship's car. Two blimps were used for the conclusion. The base scenes were shot in Carson, California, using the Columbia. The Super Bowl scenes were shot in Miami, Florida, using Mayflower, which was smaller than Columbia.
In 1983, the city of Redondo Beach, California, near the blimp base airport in Carson, California adopted resolution number 6242 recognizing the Goodyear Airship Columbia as the "Official Bird of Redondo Beach."
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