Having been Goodyear’s corporate icon in the sky since 1925, the Goodyear Blimp is used for advertising purposes and as a television camera platform for aerial views of sporting events.
Goodyear entered the aviation industry in 1910, establishing a dedicated aeronautics department that handled rubber impregnated fabrics and coatings for airplanes and lighter-than-air airships. Then the company built its first airship in 1911.
Construction of the Wingfoot Lake Airship Base started in 1916 and is the oldest airship base in the United States today. Airship production started in 1918, with the US Navy as their first customer.
The airship base gradually became a training site for the Army and Navy’s pilots, who were taught how to fly airships, observation balloons and free balloons by Goodyear instructors.
In 1919, Goodyear introduced its own branded airships, building the Wing foot Express and three Pony blimps.
The first commercially licensed blimp – a single-engined airship called the Pilgrim – in the States was then built and operated in 1925. Thereafter, Goodyear went on to develop its own fleet of blimps.
By 1930, the fleet’s route spanned across 42 states, perpetually carrying the Goodyear branding high and huge with neon night sign panels.
Later, Goodyear Aeronautical Department expanded to become Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation and built generously-sized airships for the US Navy.
After World War II, Goodyear resumed its fleet operations with seven ships acquired from the Government. The advertising gear was upgraded, the neon sign panels replaced with luminous light panels on some of the blimps, while others were fitted with an incandescent grid for a running sign.
The fleet of Goodyear’s blimps evolved to the next level in the sixties, receiving a new cab design, refreshed engines and “Sky-tacular” four-color running night signs with animation for the first time in the fleet’s history.
Today, Goodyear’s blimp fleet comprises of three airships:
• Spirit of America, based in Carson, California, near Los Angeles
• Spirit of Goodyear, based in Suffield Township, Ohio, near Akron
• Spirit of Innovation, based in Pompano Beach, Florida, near Miami
This modern-day Goodyear blimp is fitted with LED signs that Goodyear refers to as ‘Eaglevision’, allowing multi-coloured displays with animated messages and images.
These Goodyear airships are 58 metres long, 18 metres tall and 15 metres wide and they can reach a typical cruising speed of 35 mph (in zero wind conditions) with a top speed of around 50 mph and offer a maximum range of 900 miles (that’s 24 hours of flight without refuelling!).
(This article was first published in Goodyear Singapore's trade newsletter #6.)