By Chris Sweeney, Crain News Service
CARSON, Calif. (Aug. 24, 2015) — Goodyear Airship Operations is continuing its transition to a new model of blimps.
The company will retire its Los Angeles-based Goodyear blimp “Spirit of America” in mid-August. The last telecast of the airship was Aug. 2 at the Special Olympic World Games in Los Angeles on ESPN.
The GZ-20A model airship will be decommissioned and be replaced in the Los Angeles market by its twin ship “Spirit of Innovation” in late September, Goodyear said in a news release.
The firm said the transition is taking place as it introduces a new fleet of high-tech, next generation NT Zeppelin model airships. It christened Akron-based “Wingfoot One” in August 2014, which is a Zeppelin model LZ N07-101.
Spirit of America's replacement is being constructed now. The plan is to complete the airship by March and christen it in April or May.
Wingfoot One will transition to Florida later this year, a Goodyear spokeswoman said. The second NT Zeppelin will replace Spirit of America in California once complete.
The retirement for Spirit of Innovation has not been set yet, but the spokeswoman said it will remain in California for about 18 months before it is decommissioned. Construction will begin on a third NT blimp in 2016, and Goodyear projects completion by the end of 2017 for introduction in 2018. The final new blimp will operate out of its Akron base.
There are no plans to expand the Goodyear blimp fleet beyond three airships, the spokeswoman said. They will continue to operate out of their three current locations — Akron, California and Florida.
The two new blimps will be based off of the Wingfoot One design, she said. The new model is about 50 feet longer at 246 feet than the GT model and runs faster because it operates with three engines. The new blimps will transition from an analog cockpit to a glass cockpit.
“It's faster, it's easier to control,” said Jerry Hissem, pilot in charge at Akron who flies Wingfoot One. “It can land in a lot tighter spaces because it's almost like a vertical take off and landing vehicle.”
Spirit of America was christened on Sept. 5, 2002. Its name was selected as a tribute to the U.S. following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Goodyear said it is one of only two GZ-20A classified airships that still exist in the world.
The spokeswoman said GZ-20A models have been in use for about 20 years. The Spirit of Goodyear, retired last year, earned a Guinness Book of World Record for being the longest continuously operated airship in the world, and that one had operated for 14 years.
The blimp will enter the hangar for a five-day decommissioning process on Aug. 10, which involves a controlled deflation and removal of equipment. The blimp's gondola will be donated to the Planes of Fame air museum in Chino, Calif., and its envelope will be repurposed and donated to Trash for Teaching, an educational program that will use it for different applications, the spokeswoman said.
Most of the other parts from Spirit of America will be used as spare parts when operating Spirit of Innovation in California.
Goodyear sometimes recycles its parts, as Matt St. John — Spirit of America's pilot in charge — discovered when he relocated to California in 2006. When he was a kid, a Goodyear blimp flew low while he was fishing with his family. They took a picture of him with the blimp in the background, and he eventually became a blimp pilot. When he got to California, he discovered that the gondola used on Spirit of America was the same one from that picture.
“Its sad because in the end, something that helped put the bug in my head, like it was meant to be for so many years, is coming to an end,” Mr. St. John said. “So yeah it's going to be sad, but at the same time, for every end there's a new beginning. We're excited about the new airships, and they're supposed to be fantastic.”
Goodyear is celebrating 90 years of the Goodyear blimp in 2015, along with 60 years of aerial broadcasting. The firm manufactures tires in 50 facilities in 22 countries around the world with 67,000 employees.
The spokeswoman said Goodyear has built about 300 airships for naval, military and promotional applications since 1925.
This report appeared in Rubber & Plastics News, an Akron-based sister publication of Tire Business.