Friday, August 21, 2015

Akron, Ohio - Home of the Blimp(s)

I was riding my bike home from work today, and enjoying what turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day -- clear, bright blue sky, nary a cloud to be seen, low humidity, and temperature in the mid 70s. As I approached my neighborhood in the city of Akron, which had once been the center of the North American tire and rubber industry (maybe the world's tire and rubber industry), I heard a familiar sound in the sky. A deep, bronchiolar rumble that could be only one thing: The Goodyear Blimp.

Anyone who's ever watched a major American sporting event on TV has probably seen the blimp -- probably circling over a huge stadium. But if you've never heard one in person, you should know that the sound of a blimp is unique among aircraft. There's nothing else that sounds like one. If you live in Akron, which is still the home of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company (though most of the other rubber companies have been bought, sold, and moved), the sight and sound of the Goodyear Blimp flying slowly overhead is almost commonplace.
One blimp is a common sight in Akron.
Two flying together is pretty rare, even here.

But today was unusual - even in Akron. Looking up for the familiar silver, blue, and gold blimp, I saw there was not one, but two blimps circling overhead.

The two blimps were flying in tandem as part of a "farewell tour" as they are both being moved to new bases - one going to California, and the other going to Florida. The two blimps are actually very different from one another. The older of the two is the Spirit of Innovation, a "true" blimp in that it has no rigid framework holding its helium vessel. It is the shorter, "rounder" looking blimp at the top of my photo. The Spirit of Innovation is a model known as a GZ-20, which has been the standard Goodyear Blimp model since the 1960s.

The other blimp, a newer model, is Wingfoot One, which is longer, and of a completely different design from the Spirit of Innovation. Wingfoot One is what some might technically call a "Zeppelin" which in this case has a lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber framework supporting the helium vessel. Wingfoot One is heading to its new, permanent base in Florida, and another yet-to-be named blimp of the same model is currently being built nearby to replace it at the Akron-area base.

OK - other than the fact that I saw this on my bike ride home, this doesn't really have much to do with bicycles (and I won't go into a retro-grouchy rant about carbon fiber blimp frames). But it was too cool not to share.


  1. As a kid I lived near the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, VA. One day my buddy and I were in his backyard when we heard that unmistakeable sound. We looked up and a Goodyear blimp was passing directly over us, so low to the ground that I could read the label texts on portions of the underside of the craft. It covered the entire backyard, which was a good half-acre. It was truly awesome. And I rode my coffee-colored Sears Free Spirit ten-speed over there (24-inch rims?), so totally relevant to the blog.

  2. I never knew about the differences in blimp design. Thank you for discussing them.

    Once, years ago, I was taking the NYC Transit Number 7 train to Shea Stadium, then home of the Mets. The train halted about midway between two stations. "Attention passengers..." the voice crackled on the PA system. "We're being temporarily delayed by a Goodyear blimp in our path. As soon as it gets out of our way, we'll be on our way!"

    A moment later, another voice on the PA system: "Correction. It's not a Goodyear blimp. It's a Fuji Film blimp."

    Even the most jaded New Yorkers on that train chuckled.

    It's interesting that almost any helium-filled airship is now referred to as a "Goodyear Blimp" in much the same way that clear adhesive tape is referred to as "Scotch tape" or facial tissues are called "Kleenex".

    1. That is kind of funny. I guess Goodyear had sort of a monopoly on blimps at sporting events for long enough that people couldn't think "blimp" without putting "Goodyear" first.

    2. I personally prefer the Goodrich blimp ;-)

      The Los Angeles base for the Goodyear blimp is in the City of Carson, right next to the San Diego Freeway (I-405). If traffic wasn't bad enough, it gets worse when the blimps take of for land due to rubbernecking, which I suppose is appropriate for a tire company.

    3. That's funny. I remember when Goodrich (which was also Akron-based) used to run commercials making light of the fact that they DIDN'T have a blimp.