The implosion of Three Rivers Stadium in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February 11, 2001, as seen from the Goodyear
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.
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
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
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.
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
The first cross-country flight of the new Zeppelin LZ No7, August 8, 1998
The new Zeppelin NT flying over Frankfort,
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.