About Flying

How many crewmen and pilots are there for each ship?

The usual complement is sixteen crewmen (riggers, engine mechanics, ground handlers, and electronic technicians), four pilots, and a public relations manager. Crewmen also share driving chores in the bus and truck and they take turns standing watch over the ship which is never, ever, left alone.

Is the blimp safe?

Goodyear has flown passengers in its blimps for over fifty years without interruption (except for World War II), with no serious injuries. It's probably the safest form of air travel ever devised.

How high does the blimp usually fly?

Most flights, whether with passengers or cross-country, are at 1,000-1,500 feet. Goodyear likes to keep the ship close to the ground so that people can see it more easily. It has a maximum altitude, depending on the variables of the atmosphere, of about 5.000 feet. Beyond that height the air gets thinner and the helium expands, causing automatic safety valves to open.

Do people get airsick in the blimp?

It's less likely than in almost any other aircraft. On a long flight in turbulence it is possible to get seasick, however, since the blimp will pitch and roll much like a boat. Fortunately, the envelope absorbs the bumpiness on normal flights, and the ride is usually as smooth as can be.

What is it like to fly the blimp?

The blimp has a life of its own in the air. Its movements are slow and ponderous, and yet it reacts very intimately to air currents and thermals. It can take several seconds for the ship to respond to the pilot's commands, and as a result, blimp pilots soon develop a feel that helps them counteract the blimp's inclination to aimless meanderings. The control surfaces are as big as barn doors, they are not power-assisted. On a turbulent day, the pilot might find himself half standing in the seat as he lays both feet onto one big rudder pedal to force the ship into a turn. For the most part the blimp is a relaxing joy to fly. The slow cruise speed is a special treat for a pilot used to fixed-wing flight, since he can gaze out and observe the passing landscape in much finer detail.

What is it like to ride in the Goodyear blimp?

It is the flight of dreams, smooth, slow and close to the ground. The cabin windows can be opened on a nice day, and passengers (the ship carries only six) can lean out and wave to people on the ground. You can see the ground in far greater detail than from a plane, and a given point stays in view for much longer, since the ship moves at only thirty-five miles per hour.

How do the pilots learn to fly blimps?

Goodyear trains its own pilots. All Goodyear LTA pilots are also certified as instructors, and they share teaching duties when a new student is assigned to one of the operations. Goodyear only takes applications from fixed-wing or rotor craft pilots who already have commercial instrument, and multi-engine ratings. A college education is also a big bonus for an applicant.

What happens if the ship shuts off power to both engines?

The pilot could fly the ship as they would a free balloon, gradually valving off helium to let the blimp down. lf just one engine is shut off, the blimp can easily fIy and maintain ballonet pressure on the other one.

How can I get a ride on the Goodyear Blimp?

Rides on the Goodyear blimps are available at the invitation of the company only. Most of the lucky riders are Goodyear customers, winners of local charity auctions, local dignitaries, or members of the press.

Blimp Construction

What are those two ropes at the nose?

The nose lines are used to hold the ship's nose into the wind while it is being handled on the ground. The ship has so much sail area that it will become a little unmanageable if it is allowed to get off-wind, so two groups of three crewmen grab each line as the ship lands, run to the sides, and hold the ship into the wind at the direction of the crew chief. The ropes are allowed to hang down when the ship is flying, since there is no particular reason to tie them off.

How is the ship anchored when it's on the ground?

At the very tip of the blimp's nose is a steel ball much like an automobile trailer hitch. This ball locks onto a cup at the top of the portable mooring mast, which is taken along and set up wherever the ship is operating. The blimp is anchored to the earth only at this one point, so it is always free to rotate 360 degrees around the mast as the wind changes. This arrangement has held the blimp in hurricane-force winds on more than one occasion. The blimp will always point itself into the wind, like a weather vane.

How many lights are there on the signs?

There are 82,656 lights on each of the Goodyear Airships. The lights are custom made high brightness LED (light emitting diode) Light modules.

What is the blimp made of?

The Goodyear blimps in the United States are fabricated by Goodyear & Lockheed Martin. They are made of polyester fabric coated with neoprene rubber. They look shiny and metallic from a distance, but they are actually soft and flexible.

How does the night sign work?

Goodyear calls it the EagleVision, and basically it's a computer driven, electronic system which reads data and then sends out millions of commands to turn the lights on and off with different colors at the proper instant creating text and animations brilliant enough to be seen up to one mile away.

If the ship doesn't let off helium, how does it come down?

Inside the envelope are two air chambers called ballonets, one forward and one aft. They can be pumped up with air from the outside or allowed to deflate as the helium expands and contracts. Since air is heavier than helium, inflating or deflating the ballonets will add or subtract weight from the nose or tail, thus trimming the ship. Using the pilot controlled rudder and elevators the ship can fly up or down in the ocean of air and maintain its proper envelope pressure without having to drop ballast or valve off helium. The two hanging scoops behind the propellers are air intakes for the ballonets; the props force air into them when the pilot opens them up. When the ship is on the ground and the engines are off, auxiliary electric blowers automatically maintain the proper pressure in the ballonets.

How often does helium have to be added?

The ships lose very little helium in normal operations, although the gas does have to be purified about twice a year by a Goodyear designed purifying machine. As the envelopes age and have a tendency to allow gas diffusion. The crew might have to add 10,000 cubic feet of gas per month. They buy the gas along the tour and add it as needed since none is carried along.

Why are the blimps so safe?

Unlike the great German Zeppelins of fifty years ago, the Goodyear blimps are filled with helium, an inert gas. Although Hydrogen is a better lifting gas, lighter and more plentiful than helium, it is terribly flammable, even explosive. Helium is found in the earth, mixed with other natural gases. The most significant deposits yet discovered are in northern Texas, Kansas and Colorado.

How much does the blimp weigh?

Without any lifting gas, the empty ship (GZ-20) weighs about 12,840 pounds. Inflated with helium it weighs only 100-200 pounds, depending on the amount of fuel, payload and ballast aboard.

What avionics do the ships carry?

All Goodyear blimps are FAA-certified for IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flying, day or night. They carry two King 360-channel navcom radios, the usual light plane instruments, digital radar for keeping an eye on thunderstorms, transponder for radar identification, and a couple of instruments peculiar to blimps: manometers for watching envelope pressure and a helium temperature gauge. All Goodyear Airships carry GPS navigation receivers for precise navigation.

How fast and how far can the blimp go?

The usual cruising speed is thirty-five miles per hour in a zero wind condition; all-out top speed is fifty-three miles per hour on the GZ20. As to cruising range: the ship can carry enough fuel to fly for twenty- four hours, although it rarely does so. When traveling cross-country the blimps fly wherever they go, and the crews try for an eight-hour day, or about 300 air miles.

What type of engines do the blimps have?

The GZ-20's carry two fuel injected Continental I0-360's, producing 210 horsepower each. An altered version of this engine is used on the Pitts Special acrobatic airplane. The propellers are pusher Hartzells, constant-speed and reversible. They are custom-made for the Goodyear blimps.

Why does the crew chief hold up that butterfly net when the blimp lands?

That's a little portable wind sock, and it gives the pilot a final check on the wind direction as he makes his approach. The airship always lands directly into the wind.

What are those little round bags for?

They are ballast bags, each filled with twenty-five pounds of lead shot. They are put in or taken out from a little compartment at the rear of the car to give a final trim before take-off. The crew chief and the pilot calculate the weight of fuel and payload (including passengers). then add or subtract shot bags as desired. Pilots usually like to take off about ''four bags down", or 100 pounds heavy.

Could the ship somehow get loose from its mast and float away?

The latching mechanism is designed to anchor the blimp in extremely strong winds, and failure is very unlikely. Should the ship somehow break its mooring, it would auto-deflate to contain the damage to the ship and prevent it from floating away.

What are the blimp's dimensions?

The GZ-20A size blimps (Spirit of Goodyear; Spirit of Innovation; Spirit of America) are 192 feet long, 55 feet in diameter, and 59.5 feet high, with 202,700 cubic feet of helium and a gross weight of 12,840 lbs.

Business Of Blimps

How many Goodyear blimps are there?

There are three based in the U.S.: the Spirit of Goodyear, based in Akron, Ohio; the Spirit of Innovation based in Pompano Beach, Florida; and the Spirit of America based near Los Angeles. Goodyear also operates a blimp in China named The Navigator. Goodyear has operated as many as eight at a time since its first commercial ship, the Pilgrim, flew in 1925.

What events do the blimps cover for TV?

It varies from year to year, but the list is impressive. Some of the more well-known events it has given audiences air views of include The World Cup, The Olympics, auto racing, soccer, golf, American football and baseball, and horseracing. The Indianapolis 500, the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl and World Series games, the Rose Bowl and parade, the America's Cup yacht races; the U.S. Open and PGA for Golf.

How does the television camera in the blimp work?

Goodyear has its own specially designed TV equipment for use in the blimps. The equipment is kept with the crew for installation just prior to a given event. The camera is a Cineflex V14, mounted in a vibration-free gimbal mount. The lens is an enormous Fujinon 44:1 zoom. The camera's image is transmitted to the ground by microwave, where a microwave dish antenna and receiver pick it up and feed it to the network. The blimp signal can be put on the air live or taped for replay. Goodyear pilots fly the blimp and the company supplies the TV equipment and technicians to the networks.

What does Goodyear get in return for such an investment in the blimps?

The end result is corporate-name recognition and goodwill. Independent research has demonstrated that people are excited by seeing the blimp and are able to remember exactly when and where they saw it. Over sixty million Americans get a first-hand look at the three U.S. blimps every year, and millions more see the airships in South America and throughout the world via global network connections. The Goodyear blimps may be the best-known corporation symbol in the United States.

How do the other crewmen get their jobs?

Experienced blimp people are hard to find. In the case of mechanics, since the blimps use regular light plane engines and turbines, Goodyear hires qualified airframe and powerplant mechanics. The crew of the Goodyear Blimps consist of professional mechanics, electrical and electronics technicians and specialized crewmen that all have a variety of skills. Because the blimps can spend between six and eight months a year on the road a love of travel is a must.

Are there any other airships in the world?

There are several other blimps in the world. Most are smaller than the Goodyear blimps and are active in Europe and North America.

Historical Questions

What is the story behind the "ghost blimp"?

Early in World War II, the Navy blimp L-8 left Moffet Field in California on a routine anti-submarine patrol flight over the Pacific. Two Naval officers, Lieutenant Cody and Ensign Adams, were aboard When L-8 had been out for about an hour, Cody radioed that they had spotted an oil slick and were investigating. Then nothing. This message was the last ever heard from the two men. Later that same day, the blimp was spotted nudged against a cliff on a beach south of San Francisco. As rescuers approached, the ship dislodged itself and drifted inland. It floated down in Daly City, made a perfect landing on its one wheel, and came to a stop in an intersection. No one was aboard the L-8, and no one has even been able to account for the disappearance of Cody and Adams. The throttles were at idle, everything was working normally, there was fuel in the tanks and the cabin door was open. Some local volunteer firemen slashed the envelope, completely destroying it, in the mistaken belief that the crew might be trapped inside. Only the car was saved. Goodyear donated the gondola to the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola, Florida. It is currently being restored and will soon be on display.

Exactly what happened to the Hindenburg?

While the huge German Zeppelin was making a landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937, a fire started in the tail and within seconds the ship's six million cubic feet of hydrogen were ablaze. The airship was totally destroyed and thirty-six passengers and crewmen were killed. The fire might have been touched off by static electricity, or it might been an act of anti-Nazi sabotage. The truth will probably never be known.

How big were the Zeppelins compared to the Goodyear blimps?

The Hindenburg was the largest, and it was 804 feet long, more than four times the length of the larger Goodyear GZ-20. Its gas volume was over six million cubic feet, and it had 242 tons of gross lift, enough to carry itself plus seventy passengers, a crew of sixty, diesel fuel for a transatlantic flight, luggage, some cargo and mail, and twenty tons of water ballast that could be dropped in the event of an emergency descent. It was faster, too, cruising at about eighty miles per hour.

Did the U.S. military ever use blimps?

The Navy used blimps for antisubmarine patrol duty in world War II, and as radar picket ships in the fifties, but it decommissioned the last of its lighter-than-air fleet in 1962.