The 92-year-old asset will live on in airship form, but will always be called the Goodyear Blimp.
The Goodyear Airship doesn’t sound quite right, does it?
And yet if Goodyear was to be pedantic, that’s technically what it will be from now on.
That’s because the tire and rubber company said goodbye to one of its infamous blimps – and the last of its GZ-20 models – to make room for a more modern fleet of airships with semi-rigid bodies that are bigger, faster and quieter.
The last true blimp, the Spirit of Innovation, was retired March 14. It was the 21st such model, which Goodyear said was in use from 1969 to 2017.
With the retirement of the Spirit of Innovation, Goodyear has two so-called NT model airships, Wingfoot One and Wingfoot Two, in operation. Construction on a third – which may or may not be called Wingfoot Three – will begin in the spring near Goodyear’s base in Akron, Ohio, where it will remain permanently.
Wingfoot Two, which will be sent to Los Angeles later this year, was christened in Akron in October 2016 by Ohio native Savannah James, the wife of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, said Emily Cropper, senior manager of airship communications at Goodyear.
Goodyear said Wingfoot Two has already seen live TV action tied to the NBA’s Cavaliers and the MLB’s Cleveland Indians.
Wingfoot One, which was christened in 2014, is based near Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
According to Goodyear, the balloon-like bodies of its new airships are made of polyester with a film from science and engineering conglomerate DuPont called Tedlar. A rep noted these semi-rigid airships have an A-frame structure with aluminum and carbon fiber trusses within to support the overall shape and to secure the elevated engines. The Spirit of Innovation and its predecessors, however, had envelopes made of dacron, a synthetic polyester with tough, elastic properties, and the synthetic rubber neoprene. They were also true blimps, meaning they had no internal structure and the shape of the inflated envelope was maintained by helium and air pressure.
Nevertheless, Cropper said Goodyear will continue to call it the Goodyear Blimp as “Goodyear Semi-Rigid NT does not really roll off the tongue”.
The new blimps are also larger – to the tune of 246.4 feet versus 192 feet in overall length – and faster. The Wingfoot models can go 73 MPH – versus a top speed of 50 MPH for the blimps, according to the Goodyear website.
Cropper said they also have much quieter engines.
In addition, the new airships have double the seating capacity with gondolas that can accommodate 14 people – and what Cropper called an “enhanced gondola experience.”
“It’s more like a first-class cabin. Everyone has their own chair and space to walk and in the back there’s a panoramic view,” Cropper said. “And for the comfort of the pilots when they’re flying eight-hour days, there’s a restroom on board.”
Per Cropper, the experience of riding in a Goodyear blimp/airship is very different than an airplane.
“I’d describe it more like being on a boat in the air – especially with Wingfoot One and Two, which have engines [with the] ability to take off like a helicopter,” Cropper said. “You almost go straight up and then once you’re at a cruising altitude – around 1,000 to 1,500 feet – then you just slowly float in the sky. And, just like on a boat, sometimes there’s turbulence and it’s wavy or rocky, but it’s a beautiful experience.”
Goodyear’s blimps have long been a part of the sports – and marketing – landscape.
In fact, the brand celebrated 61 years of so-called “Blimpworthy moments” in a 2016 campaign feting its role in college football, which began with aerial coverage of the 1955 Rose Bowl, which saw the University of Southern California fall to Ohio State.
Cropper said blimps fly to each venue from their bases around the country – and have an accompanying ground crew that drives to meet them. The website has a schedule of upcoming blimp appearances and even a form to request a flyover.
Goodyear also does passenger flights via company invitation, as well as through certificates from nonprofits, which are generally auctioned off during fundraisers, Cropper said.
The recently retired Spirit of Innovation was the first blimp named by the general public through a contest, she added. In its 11-year tenure, it logged 5,818 flights for a total of 33,938 flight hours, covering 11 NCAA football and NASCAR seasons, Super Bowl Weeks in Tampa and San Francisco and NBA Finals in Orlando and Oakland. Its first event was a Cleveland Indians game on April 26, 2006. Its last event was the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, 2017.
And because this blimp is the last of its kind, once it is formally decommissioned, Cropper said Goodyear will preserve as much of the blimp as the brand needs for historical purposes, but it will also donate blimp artifacts to museums.
The Spirit of Innovation gondola in particular will return to Akron, but another blimp gondola is being restored at the Smithsonian, Cropper said. Museums like the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum and the Western Museum of Flight have also received Goodyear Blimp memorabilia.
An inflatable hangar
Goodyear said it also plans to upgrade the facilities at its Airship Operations base in Carson, California, which is near LA and will house Wingfoot Two by the end of the year.
The improvements include an inflatable hangar that will be built out of 73 miles of partially translucent polyester fabric and will be almost nine stories tall and longer than a football field. Construction is expected to be completed in seven months and erected on the property in July. Thereafter, Wingfoot Two will begin its cross-country journey – making stops along the way, naturally.
The company has operated its base in Southern California since 1968.
Additional facilities updates will include an enlarged mooring circle for ground handling, a new masting system and a new maintenance building.
Goodyear has flown blimps for 92 years.
According to its website, Goodyear was founded in 1898 when “America was feeling the full effects of the Industrial Revolution.” As a result, the brand was “capitalizing on that momentum and looking for unique ways to expand beyond tires,” which included balloons and aircraft. This, in turn, led to the creation of what it called one of America’s most enduring brand icons.