It was the first time in nearly 40 years that Goodyear's four blimps could be seen together. And thousands of Akron-area residents turned out Sept. 5 to gape and photograph them during the christening of the company's newest airship-the ``Spirit of America.''
Built and dedicated at Goodyear's ``Wingfoot Lake'' blimp hanger in the near-Akron community of Suffield, the new 192-foot-long, 59-foot-high airship will soon replace the company's Los Angeles-based ``Eagle,'' which is scheduled for retirement.
The Eagle has completed more than a decade of service that includes frequent television appearances at major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA finals, U.S. Open Golf, LPGA tournaments, U.S. Open Surfing Championships, college football and more than 100 major league baseball and NFL games.
Following the 1994 San Francisco earthquake, Goodyear's Eagle assisted officials by conducting survey flights over the disaster areas and beaming public service emergency messages to victims on its computer-programmed Eagle Vision aerial sign.
Goodyear said the Eagle's seven-member crew will return home to Los Angeles aboard the Spirit of America and resume a busy fall schedule of TV coverage, public service missions and guest appearances as Goodyear's corporate icon.
The new airship was christened by Letitia Driscoll, mother of New York Police Department Officer Stephen Driscoll, who was killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Mrs. Driscoll broke a ceremonial bottle of mineral water over the ship's cabin structure and gave it a celebratory kiss for good luck. The ``Spirit of America'' then took to the sky to join in formation with its three airborne companions: the Pompano Beach, Fla.-based ``Stars and Stripes,'' Akron-based ``Spirit of Goodyear'' and the soon-to-be-retired Eagle.
Goodyear said all four ships are based on the same GZ-20A design. They have a maximum speed of 50 mph, are powered by two 210-horsepower, fuel-injected, air-cooled engines and are emblazoned with rolling billboards made up of more than 165,000 light-emitting diodes capable of producing more than 256 colors.
The new ``Spirit'' weighs 9,395 pounds empty, obtains its lifting ability from 202,700 cubic feet of helium gas and is equipped with a single Goodyear tubeless aircraft balloon tire, size 26x10.50-6.
The ship's next public appearance will be on Sept. 17-18 in San Angelo, Texas, for the media launch of Goodyear's new Eagle F1 GSB3 ultra-high performance tire. During the 77 years Goodyear been building the airships, the company has turned out a total of 322 blimps, including 242 for the U.S. Navy and 17 for the Army.
During World War II, the blimps operated as convoy escorts to protect U.S. Navy vessels from enemy submarine attacks.