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By Jim Mackinnon
Goodyear’s newest blimp is flying.
Wingfoot Three took off about 8:55 a.m. Monday into the rising sun at the Wingfoot Lake blimp base where it was built.
The semirigid airship revved its engines, disconnected from its mast truck, backed up a bit and then slowly rose. The airship circled the hangar and then headed out for its first flight test, which was expected to last between five and six hours.
Weather conditions were ideal: a slight breeze, cool temperatures and bright sunshine with high clouds.
Roger Durfee was among a couple of people who witnessed the takeoff from the blimp base’s public viewing area.
“That was pretty cool,” the 63-year-old Cuyahoga Falls resident said. “I got here pretty early.”
Durfee, who retired recently as a conductor for Norfolk Southern Railway, said he grew up near the Goodyear hangar. His parents used to bring him out to watch the blimps and go for ice cream.
“They’re just beautiful. They’re graceful, like an ocean liner almost, up in the air,” Durfee said. “I’ve always had an interest in transportation in general, but the lighter than air stuff just always had a special place in my heart.”
He’s a member of the Northeast Ohio Blimp Spotters, a group of avid blimp fans who have a Facebook page.
Michael Dougherty had quite a different viewpoint — looking out from inside Wingfoot Three’s gondola.
Dougherty is a chief pilot with Goodyear and part of the test flight crew, made up of two pilots and three engineers.
“The test flight program consists of a number of things from a checklist,” he said. “Engine checks and runs, flights at different altitudes and attitudes, making sure everything works the way it’s supposed to.”
Tests include the avionics system, or flight instruments, as well, he said.
“Most of our flying will be between here and Akron-Canton Airport,” he said.
The airship currently is restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration to a specific flight authorization area, Dougherty said.
“So we’ll stick to our space southeast of Akron,” he said.
Wingfoot Three is under the command of Oliver Jaeger, test pilot for the blimp’s German manufacturer, Zeppelin.
“He’ll be the pilot in command, and I’ll be assisting,” Dougherty said.
Wingfoot Three flew over Goodyear’s headquarters in East Akron, circling the building about 10 a.m. and then heading out.
The first flight required an early work start, with a lot of hangar crew at the base before 6 a.m.
Following a preflight meeting, crew members pulled the airship from the hangar after 6:30 a.m. Some 161 gallons of 100-octane, low-lead aircraft fuel were pumped into the craft’s tanks by 7:10 a.m., with the engines started at 7:35 a.m. and kept running.
Wingfoot Three remained anchored to its mast truck as the crew went through an extensive pre-flight checklist.
Once the preflight items were crossed off, crew members disconnected an electric line and removed a small metal cage under the gondola nose and took away the ladder from the gondola door.
Then, the flight crew opened a valve that dumped gallons of water ballast underneath the gondola.
A crew member disconnected the mast truck from the blimp and Wingfoot Three was away.
The airship was back in the hangar about 2 p.m. Goodyear said the flight went well.
Goodyear took Wingfoot Three out of the hangar for the first time on June 21, the first day of summer, for preflight testing. Weekend rain and winds pushed back the first flight to Monday.
The airship will be a familiar sight in Northeast Ohio skies since it will be based at the hangar in Portage County’s Suffield Township.
Wingfoot One, which first flew in 2014, is now based in Florida but is currently traveling the Midwest. Wingfoot Two is based in California and first flew in 2016. All three airships were built in Suffield Township.
Wingfoot Three is the final of three New Technology, or NT, airships that Zeppelin has built for Goodyear.
Technically, Wingfoot Three isn’t Goodyear’s blimp yet.
It belongs to Zeppelin until the airship passes all of its tests — likely weeks more of flying — and then will be turned over to Goodyear.
Source: Akron Beacon Journal – ohio.com