SUFFIELD, OhioGoodyear's newest airship, Wingfoot One, was officially christened Aug. 23 at the tire maker's Wingfoot Lake Hangar in Suffield by Robin Roberts, the co-anchor of ABC News' Good Morning America.
More than 2,000 people gathered at the hangar for the christening 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.
In her previous position as an ESPN commentator from 1990 to 2005, Ms. Roberts said countless times she saw the blimp flying overhead at sporting events, but this was the closest she had ever been to it.
Following the ceremony, she boarded Wingfoot One for its ceremonial first flight, making her the first in her family to ride in a blimp.
I feeland I'm not being cornyI feel my family, she told reporters following the christening. I feel my great-grandfather, my father, who was a Tuskegee Airman.
Aviationif this journalism thing didn't work outaviation was my Plan B. I wanted to be a pilot, she continued. So to be the first in my familyknowing the history in our family of the Goodyear companyto be the first one, I'll be a little teary-eyed when I go up for the flight.
Ms. Roberts joins a list of women who have christened Goodyear blimps in the past, including astronaut Sally Ride in 2000 and aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart in 1929, Goodyear said.
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 Luftschifftechnik, 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.
In a press conference following the ceremony, Mr. Kramer told reporters that the level of community support for the tire maker still amazes him.
This company has such a tremendous history, which we all appreciate, but on days like today I think it really even blows me away how much support we have and how embedded we are into the culture in Akron, he said. ...We have a lot to do to keep driving this company going forward, but I really do view our job as a steward of a great company to take us forward and make sure it's in great hands for the next generation.
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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