early ballooning in the USA
Charles hydrogen balloon
Napoleonic military balloons
balloons in the US civil war
Military balloons 1850 - 1900
Santos Dumont
Henri Giffard
the Baldwin dirigible
balloons in World War 2
balloons to the stratosphere
record balloon flights
balloons and meteorology
science research and balloons
airships today

airships today

The implosion of Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February 11, 2001, as seen from the Goodyear blimp.

Since the end of World War II, airships have all been of the non-rigid type, commonly known as blimps. Goodyear Tire and Rubber has been the most prominent firm to produce these airships. Goodyear entered the aviation industry in 1910, and built its first balloon in 1912. In 1913, it began building and flying balloons in balloon competitions.

In 1916, the company bought land near Akron, Ohio, for a manufacturing site (Wingfoot Lake) and airfield and began to build a hangar. It began manufacturing airships in 1917, when the U.S. Navy ordered 16 airships—nine from Goodyear, five from Goodrich, and two from Connecticut Aircraft. Goodyear's hangar was not completed yet, and it had to erect the B-1 airship in a large amusement park building in Chicago. The B-1 first flew on May 24, 1917, and five days later it was flown non-stop from its Chicago location to Wingfoot Lake. During these early years, the Navy was Goodyear's largest customer, which trained Army and Navy airship pilots at its Wingfoot facility.

After World War I, Goodyear began building and operating its own airships. The Pony was built in 1919 and the Pilgrim in 1923. This was Goodyear's first helium-filled public relations blimp. After 1928, the fleet expanded with the Puritan, Volunteer, Mayflower, Vigilant, Defender, Reliance, Resolute, Enterprise, Ranger, and Columbia. During the 1930s these airships were used for advertising, and they barnstormed all over the United States. Goodyear also continued to furnish airships for the U.S. military, building two rigid airships, the USS Akron and USS Macon in the 1930s. These were designed as aerial aircraft carriers and could launch and retrieve specially equipped planes while in flight. Both these airships were destroyed in storms within two years after entering service. These disasters, coupled with the destruction of the Hindenburg in 1937, virtually ended the use of rigid airships.

During World War II, Goodyear non-rigid airships provided patrol and reconnaissance functions for the Navy. From 1942 through 1944, Goodyear built 104 Navy airships at Wingfoot Lake and flew them to the Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey, as well as several that went to Moffet Field in California. Some of these airships could stay aloft for more than a week at a time.

After World War II, Goodyear's facility converted to peacetime manufacturing and produced a variety of aviation components, as well as non-aviation-related items such as storm doors. It also built an amphibian airplane called the GA-22 Duck, which was flown as a prototype, but never reached the production stage. During this time, Goodyear continued building airships for the Navy. The last was a 1,465,000 cubic-foot ZPG-3W, the largest non-rigid airship ever flown, which was delivered to Lakehurst on April 4, 1960. Goodyear also set the flying endurance record. A ZPG-2 blimp, called the Snow Bird, still holds the record of 11 days in flight. In March 1957, it flew from Weymouth, Massachusetts, to Europe and Africa, and back to Key West, Florida, without refuelling or landing.

Goodyear got into the sky advertising business energetically in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The GZ-19 Mayflower, built in 1959, incorporated major car and power plant changes. The Columbia was also built in 1963. The "Skytacular" four-color running night sign debuted on the Mayflower at the Indy 500 in 1966. This was so successful that a larger airship was designed and certified with more powerful engines to display an even larger "Super-Skytacular" sign. Goodyear built two ships in 1959 in the United States, and built the Europa in England with Goodyear personnel in 1972. In all, from 1917 through 1995, Goodyear erected more than 347 airships of all types.

The Spirit of Goodyear, based near Akron, Ohio. This blimp has a new blue panel below the mid-line that improves its visibility for advertising purposes and also improves the visibility of the day sign lights

Goodyear no longer produces airships. In the United States, it operates three well-recognized blimps: the Spirit of Goodyear, the Eagle, and the Stars and Stripes. It also operates two Spirit of Europe blimps on the European continent and the Spirit of the Americas in South America.

The Spirit of the Americas over Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Other companies continue to produce and operate airships. Among these are the smaller blimps, some remote-controlled, that are tethered inside stadiums and used to provide television audiences with bird's-eye views of sports events.

In 1991, Westinghouse Airships launched the 220-foot (68-meter)-long Sentinel 1000, the first in a projected series of blimps intended for use by the U. S. Navy for a range of surveillance, communications, and patrol duties. The envelope of the Sentinel 1000 was made of a mix of synthetic fibres that was impervious to weather and almost invisible to radar. This was to be used in the development of a much larger Sentinel 5000. However, the prototype was destroyed in a hangar fire in 1995, effectively ending the program. Global Skyship Industries, which purchased Westinghouse Airships in 1996, owns and operates airships for commercial advertising, military, and government applications in a number of locations worldwide.

A newly configured Zeppelin company has also participated in a rebirth of the rigid airship. In the mid-1990s, the company built a prototype zeppelin, called the Zeppelin NT. It flew for the first time on September 18, 1997 and successfully completed its prototype-testing phase in March 2000. Throughout 2000, it made demonstration flights around Germany, accumulating more than 800 hours of flying time during 220 flights. It is intended for commercial passenger operation, sightseeing flights, and in-sky advertising.

The first cross-country flight of the new Zeppelin LZ No7, August 8, 1998

The new Zeppelin NT flying over Frankfort, Germany

It's possible that the blimp and zeppelin industry may grow in the future. An airship can fly all day using less fuel than a 747 airplane uses to taxi to the runway. Compared to other aircraft, its noise and air pollution is minimal. It can transport cargo economically, and requires only a small amount of airport space for takeoff and landing. It may soon become one of the safest methods of transportation.