The term Goodyear Blimp has traditionally referred to any one of a fleet of airships operated by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, used mainly for advertising and capturing aerial views of live sporting events on television. The term blimp itself is defined as a non-rigid airship – without any internal structure, the pressure of lifting gas contained within the airship envelope maintains the vessel's shape.
Since the launch of the Pilgrim in 1925, Goodyear has generally owned and operated non-rigid airships in its global public relations fleet. However, Goodyear is currently in the process of replacing its three U.S. non-rigid airships (blimps) with three new semi-rigid airships, each of which will have a rigid internal frame. Although technically incorrect, Goodyear plans to use "blimp" in reference to these new semi-rigid models. Wingfoot One, the first such model in Goodyear's U.S. fleet, was christened on August 23, 2014, near the company's world headquarters in Akron, Ohio.
- Spirit of Innovation (N4A), a blimp/non-rigid airship (model GZ-20A), based in Carson, California
- Wingfoot One (N1A), a semi-rigid airship (model LZ N07-101), based in Pompano Beach, Florida
- Wingfoot Two (N2A), a semi-rigid airship (model LZ N07-101), based in Suffield Township, Ohio
Columbia was based in Carson, California and America in Spring, north of Houston, Texas from 1969–1991. Goodyear relocated America to Akron for cost cutting measures. The Houston blimps wintered in Houston and spent the summer traveling North America.
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 Luftschiffbau Zeppelin.
The new airships are 246 feet long, 52 feet longer than Goodyear's old model, the GZ-20. The Zeppelin NT model is also slimmer, has a top speed of 70 miles per hour (versus 50 for the blimp), and has a passenger gondola that seats 12 (compared to seven in the blimp). The gondola even has a bathroom.
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 were 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 latest craft, a Zeppelin NT is a departure from this tradition, as it is a Semi-rigid airship that makes use of a structural truss inside the envelope to provide some of its structural strength.
"GZ" stands for Goodyear-Zeppelin, stemming from the partnership Goodyear had with the German company when both were building airships together. However these models 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 Mayflower (N38A) was destroyed by a tornado. The design for this class resembles the U.S. Navy's L class blimp.
- GZ-20: This class was introduced in 1969, with America (N10A) and Columbia (N3A) being the first two. The Europa (N2A) followed in 1972 and was based in Italy, the first Goodyear blimp operated outside of the United States. These blimps are slightly longer than the GZ-19. Beginning in 2014, Goodyear began retiring the GZ-20 and replacing them with the Zeppelin NT. On February 23, 2014, Spirit of Goodyear was retired in Pompano Beach after the 2014 Daytona 500. On August 10, 2015, the California-based GZ-20, the Spirit of America, was decommissioned. The Spirit of Innovation took over California operations in September 2015. In 2017, Goodyear's second Zeppelin NT will replace Spirit of Innovation in California.
- 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.
- LZ N07-101: In May 2011, Goodyear announced that it would be replacing its aging fleet of GZ-20 blimps (non-rigid airships) with brand new, state-of-the-art Zeppelin NT airships. Construction began in 2012 on the first of three new semi-rigid airships; completed in March 2014, Wingfoot One was christened on August 23, 2014, by Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts. Wingfoot Two, the name of Goodyear's second semi-rigid airship, was unveiled in April 2016.
- C class blimp 1918–1919
- 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 ZWG 1950s
According to the Goodyear website, the two 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.
In 2006, Goodyear started having the public participate in the naming of their blimps, they dubbed this the "Name the Blimp" contest. Spirit of Innovation was the first airship to be named by the public.
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 take a flight in the blimp. The winner must go to the nearest blimp base to take his or her flight.
During the period in which Goodyear supplied tires for Indy cars, it was a tradition that the pole position winner at the Indianapolis 500 would get a ride in the blimp in the days leading up to the race.
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 gas turbine 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.
- Columbia, tail number N10A, was buzzed repeatedly by a radio-controlled model airplane when the blimp flew over a field used for R/C model flying; the R/C pilot then intentionally rammed his model airplane into the blimp, tearing a three-foot hole through the envelope. The blimp made a "hard landing" at a nearby airport. The R/C pilot, John William Moyer, was identified by other flyers at the field. The incident occurred on September 30, 1990.
- 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 struck 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 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 prisoner of war 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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The Spirit of Innovation... will move to Wingfoot Lake and be replaced in 2017.
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The three trusses mean that the new airship is semi-rigid. As such it is not a blimp, which is defined as non-rigid... But Goodyear's newest airship will still be called a blimp. 'The term Goodyear Blimp is so universally recognized that the company is proud to have it continue, regardless of any technical difference,' said Goodyear spokesman Doug Grassian.
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