By William Schertz, Tire Business staff
AKRON (Aug. 25, 2014) — Goodyear’s newest airship, Wingfoot One, was officially christened Aug. 23 at the tire maker’s Wingfoot Lake Hangar in Suffield, Ohio, by Robin Roberts, the co-anchor of ABC News’ “Good Morning America.”
More than 2,000 people gathered at the hangar for the ceremony, during which Ms. Roberts touched on her deep connections to both the Akron area and Goodyear. In 1918, her great-grandfather was recruited by the company and moved his family to Akron from Alabama, she said.
In addition, her mother was born in Akron and graduated from Akron East High School, located only a few blocks from Goodyear’s headquarters. Ms. Roberts’ aunt, Depholia Butler, still resides in the area.
“My heart is so full, and it is pounding right now,” Ms. Roberts told the crowd. “I am indeed honored to be a part of this timely celebration. I can remember many, many summers being here in Akron on Lucy Street visiting my Grandma Sally and visiting my cousins…. And I have to say, it is wonderful to be back home.”
Following the ceremony, Ms. Roberts boarded Wingfoot One for its ceremonial first flight, making her the first in her family to ride in a blimp.
“I feel—and I’m not being corny—I feel my family,” she told reporters following the christening. “I feel my great-grandfather, my father, who was a Tuskegee Airman.
“Aviation—if this journalism thing didn’t work out—aviation was my Plan B. I wanted to be a pilot,” she continued. “So to be the first in my family—knowing the history in our family of the Goodyear company—to be the first one, I’ll be a little teary-eyed when I go up for the flight.”
The Wingfoot One ushers in a new era of blimps for Goodyear, Chairman and CEO Rich Kramer told attendees at the ceremony.
“Today’s new blimp is a renewal of both our airship program and the blimp itself,” he said. “Its structure is the first complete redesign since the 1940s and skillfully combines both the long history of our airships and the newest in innovation.”
The blimp is the first of a new generation of airships manufactured by Goodyear’s German partner, ZLT Zeppelin Lufschifftechnik, and assembled by a team of Zeppelin and Goodyear engineers at the tire maker’s Wingfoot Lake Hangar. The semi-rigid Zeppelin model LZ N07-101 took a full year to complete.
The new blimp features advanced on-board avionics and flight control systems, Goodyear said, and is both larger and faster than the previous GZ-20 models. It also features a spacious passenger gondola, which Goodyear said will provide an “enhanced in-flight experience, with sweeping, panoramic windows.”
The blimp will be used this year in Goodyear’s aerial coverage of sporting events, though the new airship’s first game has yet to be determined, Mr. Kramer said.
The Spirit of Goodyear, the first of the older GZ-20 blimp models to be decommissioned, took its final aerial coverage flight Feb. 23 during the 2014 Daytona 500 race at Daytona International Speedway. The other two blimps are expected to be replaced with new models in 2016 and 2018, Mr. Kramer said, adding that lessons learned from constructing the first blimp should make the process of building the second and third go “a lot faster.”
“I think it really gets into continuous improvement,” he said. “This is the first time that we’ve built a blimp like this. As you know, it’s a different structure, a different type of airship. So the first one through, there were just a lot of lessons learned in terms of efficiencies and getting it together and constructing it.”
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