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The Goodyear Blimp gets a makeover

The New Goodyear Blimp. The New Goodyear Blimp.
The New Goodyear Blimp. Courtesy: Goodyear

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (GT) has scrapped its eponymous blimp, and this summer will replace it with an airship designed by ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH of Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Yes, that Zeppelin.  The one used by the German military to bomb the Allies in World War I.  It later became the first trans-Atlantic airliner and, of course, manufactured the airship Hindenburg—named for the president of Germany—which exploded near Lakehurst, N.J. on May 6, 1937, killing 35.

The NT, for new technology airship, will be larger, faster and, due to advanced controls, more maneuverable.  Its construction is semi-rigid, as opposed to the soft balloon that it replaces.  Just as automobile tires today look more or less the same as always even though they’re more sophisticated and capable, airship technology continues to advance – a point Goodyear is underscoring with the NT.

“The new blimp is a reflection of the company’s commitment to developing and using the latest technologies to deliver superior performance and innovation,” Paul Fitzhenry, a Goodyear senior vice president said in March.  The Hindenburg, which was filled with combustible hydrogen, was an accident waiting to happen – today’s airships use helium and are considered safe.

Goodyear, based in Akron, Ohio and known mainly for its tires – especially those used in races like the Indianapolis 500 – has been building and flying blimps since the 1920s; they’re used as a highly visible branding tool, often at sporting events, like the Super Bowl and car races, where spectators can see its video display.  The company usually permits only corporate guests and journalists to ride on them.

The New Goodyear Blimp, scheduled for launch in August, will be nearly 250 feet in length compared to the current 192 feet.  Instead of a Dacron and Neoprene balloon with no interior support, the new structure will be built on a framework of aluminum and carbon fiber trusses covered with a polyurethane, polyester and Tedlar film.  Its maximum speed rises will be 73 m.p.h., up from the 50 m.p.h. the current blimp can move.  Maximum flight endurance will be about 40 hours in the air, compared with the current 24 hours. Depending on the configuration, the gondola on the new aircraft will seat 12; the retired model held seven.

Noise, inside and outside, has been reduced significantly.

In the early part of the last century, Goodyear and Luftschifftbau Zeppelin GmBH cooperated on design and manufacture.  During World War II, the relationship was suspended, as Luftschifftbau turned to activities that included assisting with the development of the V-2 rockets used against the Allies.  The company got its name from Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who began experimenting with rigid airships as early as 1885.

It’s nearly unimaginable that a century ago, well before airplanes began to ferry passengers commercially, lighter-than-air ships were regarded by many as the future of travel.  The Empire State Building’s summit was designed with the idea that these craft might dock in midtown Manhattan.

Goodyear, one of the last U.S. tire producers, said it will introduce its airship in August.  The name will be chosen in a contest the company is conducting.