When you think of Goodyear, you generally tend to think “Goodyear tires,” but there’s much more to the company than that. Goodyear has long been a maker of rubber parts like hoses, belts, gaskets, motor mounts, industrial rubber products and more. In WWII, Goodyear even built hundreds of copies of the F4U Corsair fighter plane for the Navy!
Other than Goodyear tires…what’s the next thing that comes to mind? Most likely the Goodyear Blimp.
The Goodyear Blimp is one of the most recognizable and renowned public relations and advertising devices in America, and it has a fairly interesting history. Blimps (or more properly, dirigibles) saw military duty in WWI. Legend has it that the name came from an officer flicking the surface of one with his finger, and it made a sound that he pronounced as “blimp.” Considering their expertise with Goodyear tires and rubberized fabric, Goodyear was a perfect fit for producing blimps; their first was built in 1912.
Since 1925, Goodyear has built and maintained a fleet of airships, sometimes partnering with Luftschiffbau Zeppelin of Germany. Their airships were initially kept aloft with hydrogen, but after the infamous Hindenburg incident of 1937, all airships were converted to helium. In WWII, the company built 104 Navy airships, which were used for observation, anti-submarine and escort duty. To this day, Goodyear’s Wingfoot Lake base outside of Akron remains the oldest and largest airship facility in the country.
By the mid-50’s, blimps were being equipped with television cameras and transmitters, and in 1955 the Enterprise V broadcasted the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena. By the mid-60’s, the blimps were used for spectacular aerial shots of Super Bowl and World Series games. A blimp was even pressed into service to provide aerial views of the damage from the catastrophic California earthquake of 1989; in 1992, a blimp was used to spread important rescue information to survivors of Hurricane Andrew.
Today, Goodyear operates three blimps in their United States fleet; the Spirit of America, based in California; Spirit of Innovation, based in Florida, and Wingfoot One, based in Ohio. All three are outfitted with Goodyear’s “Eaglevision” displays, a huge LED sign that can display bright, multicolored words or animated images. Goodyear has announced that the blimps will be replaced by semi-rigid airships that are 52 feet longer and can cruise at 113 kph (rather than the leisurely 80 kph of the older aircraft). Over the years, the Wingfoot Lake base served as an important research facility for aerospace and military technology.
Inside the blimp, individual chambers can be inflated or deflated to help maintain an even pressure throughout the aircraft. Since the helium is under low pressure, barely more than ambient air, small punctures don’t pose a serious hazard. Water is now used as ballast, allowing the pilot to reduce weight while in flight. The blimps’ envelope is made from a lightweight polyester/polyurethane/Kevlar blend. While the blimp’s altitude is usually limited to 300-460 meters, making it easier to see from the ground, it features state-of-the-art avionics and navigation equipment in the cockpit. The cabin has room for 12; while passengers are by invitation only, you can get a pilot’s-eye view at http://www.goodyearblimp.com/behind-the-scenes/art-of-flight.html.
Now that you know a little more about the Goodyear blimp, we hope that you’ll come to The Tire Terminal in Mississauga, ON the next time you’re in the market for some Goodyear tires!