ABJ article on Goodyear’s new Zeppelins

Source: Akron Beacon Journal

Goodyear will replace blimps with zeppelins

Akron tire maker announces retirement of U.S. airship fleet in favor of larger, faster dirigibles to be built at Wingfoot Lake

By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer

Published on Wednesday, May 04, 2011

It’s the end of the line for the iconic Goodyear blimp.

Really.

Instead, there’s a $21 million replacement in the works — the Goodyear zeppelin.

You might also call it the Goodyear dirigible or the Goodyear airship.

But not ”blimp.”

Goodyear announced Tuesday that starting in 2013, it will begin replacing its U.S. fleet of three blimps with state-of-the-art airships to be jointly built by Goodyear and German-based ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik.

The airships will be built at the Akron tire maker’s Wingfoot Lake hangar base in Suffield Township. The first one is scheduled to fly in early 2014, replacing the Spirit of Goodyear that is based there and scheduled to be retired at the end of 2013.

”This is exciting news, not only for Akron but the industry,” said Dave Osterland, chairman of the Akron-based Lighter Than Air Society, which has about 1,000 members globally. ”Historically, Goodyear has been a trailblazer with lighter than air. Akron is the center of buoyant flight, the national center. This is just one more feather in Akron’s cap.”

A prototype of the upcoming zeppelin-based airship, with Goodyear logo, flew around Europe last summer.

”The Goodyear blimp is one of the most recognizable brand icons in the world. An event isn’t considered truly special unless the Goodyear blimp is there to provide aerial coverage,” Richard J. Kramer, Goodyear chairman, chief executive and president, said in a prepared statement. ”I am pleased this investment will ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to experience the joy of seeing the Goodyear blimp grace the skies.”

The successor airships technically
won’t be blimps.

That’s because they will have a semi-rigid aluminum and carbon fiber interior skeleton. Blimps are basically helium-filled bags that don’t have interior skeletons to help support the envelope and other parts.

The new airships will also be significantly larger than the current blimps — 246.4 feet long compared with 192 feet. The new envelope will be 64.6 feet wide compared with 46 feet.

The newest Goodyear blimp, the Spirit of Innovation built in 2006 and based in Florida, is to be removed from service in 2017. Its U.S. sibling, the Spirit of America in Carson, Calif., is to retire in 2015. All three U.S.-based blimps were built by Goodyear and Lockheed Martin.

”Our current airships are approaching the end of their life cycle, and we saw this as an opportunity to take the next evolutionary step in our airship program,” said Nancy Jandrokovic, director of Goodyear’s global airship operations.

Airship fans excited

Dan Grossman, an Atlanta attorney and self-proclaimed ”helium head” who writes a blog at http://www.airships.net, posted news of the future Goodyear zeppelins Tuesday morning. He’d been tipped off by a pilot.

Grossman, author of various articles about airships, said the news is big in the airship fan community.

The Zeppelin NT is ”really the leading lighter-than-air technology at the moment,” he said.

The deal ”will help the Zeppelin company continue their efforts to pioneer LTA [lighter than air] technology,” he said.

Grossman said he’s not surprised Goodyear decided to team up with another company rather than go it alone. ”Goodyear probably thought it made sense to get the benefit of the Zeppelin company’s leading technology rather than trying to develop something themselves,” he said.

The $21 million cost of each airship, which includes technical support, is worth it, Goodyear spokesman Scott Baughman said.

”We always talked about the value. It’s a great value,” he said. ”You already have 80 years of brand exposure. This will continue that.”

Goodyear built its first blimp in 1917 and has built more than 300 airships since then.

Other differences

Among the notable differences between the blimps and the upcoming airships:

• The new model will be able to carry 13 people; Goodyear blimps now are limited to seven, including the pilot.

• The Goodyear zeppelin will be powered by three 200-horsepower prop-engines. Two of the propellers pull the airship and one pushes at the tail; the current blimps are pushed by two engines mounted off the cabin. The new airship will have two engines mounted above the cabin to the sides of the envelope skeleton. The propellers can be tilted up and down, or vectored, which allows the airship to take off and land in smaller spaces.

• Top speed will be 73 mph compared with to 54 mph now.

• The cabin will be much quieter — 64 to 69.4 decibels compared with 110 now.

The new airship will be designated as Zeppelin LZ N09-101 models. Predecessor models started flying in 1997. The Goodyear zeppelin that flew last summer was a Model 100.

The current Goodyear blimps are GZ-20A models and are based on a design that went into service in 1968.

The new airships ”will be bigger, they’ll be faster, they’ll be quieter,” said Osterland, whose Lighter Than Air Society has a website at http://www.blimpinfo.com. ”We’re always trying to look to the future.”

And in case you were wondering, Goodyear and Zeppelin, each founded in 1898, have worked together in the past.

”We are extremely pleased to renew the Zeppelin connection with the famous Goodyear blimp program,” Thomas Brandt, chief executive of ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, said in a prepared statement. ”Goodyear and Zeppelin worked together almost 90 years ago to bring rigid airship technology to America and we’re thrilled to be working together again.”

That history has been hidden in plain sight for decades — the GZ in GZ-20A stands for ”Goodyear Zeppelin.”

There’s a way to get an idea of what the new Goodyear airship will look like. The Internet website Goodyear created last year, http://www.goodyearzeppelin.com, as part of its short-term European airship program includes a video of the making of the zeppelin. The site features an intro to the rock song Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin.


Beacon Journal business writer Katie Byard contributed to this report. Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com.

Source: Akron Beacon Journal

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