By Jim Mackinnon
Goodyear’s tandem airship flight over Akron during daylight hours looked iffy at best Wednesday morning because of rain.
Then the weather dried up, giving people the clear chance to view something they haven’t seen in a while — multiple Goodyear blimps flying overhead.
Similar tandem flights, however, may be few and far between over the next month.
The new, larger Wingfoot One semi-rigid airship and the old-style Spirit of Innovation blimp took off from the blimp base in Suffield Township late in the afternoon. Wingfoot One first rose vertically, using its vectored engines that move up and down.
Shortly afterward, the Spirit of Innovation’s engines roared, pushing the blimp forward and up. The two airships turned and made a low pass over the hangar base before heading over Wingfoot Lake and then toward the city.
“We haven’t done it in this configuration, the NT and the GZ,” said Doug Grassian, Goodyear’s airship spokesman. NT, for New Technology, is Goodyear nomenclature for the Wingfoot One-style airship. GZ, for Goodyear Zeppelin, refers to the old-school blimps.
(Technically, both airships flew Tuesday evening from the Portage County base to Cleveland to hover over the Cavs’ nighttime playoff game at Quicken Loans Arena, but they were not in formation.)
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s Florida pilots and ground crews will be at the hangar over the next several months to train on Wingfoot One. The airship, which first flew last year, will be permanently berthed in Florida starting in either late September or early October. As part of a major reshuffling, the Spirit of Innovation also will fly out to its new home in California.
“We probably won’t do a lot of tandem flights for the next month or so” to allow the Florida crew members more training time on Wingfoot One, Grassian said.
Donna Needs-Smith was among the lucky people who got to watch the two blimps take off at the Wingfoot Lake base. The Uniontown resident was in the area, saw the blimps and parked in the public observation area just outside the hangar.
“I think it was awesome. I’ve never seen two at one time,” she said.
Needs-Smith has had previous experience up close with Goodyear blimps: She said she was the first emergency medical person to get to the Spirit of Akron blimp when it crashed into trees while trying to land at Wingfoot Lake in 1999. (Injuries were minor.)
“I saw it nose-dive,” she said.
Nick Brown, 27, of Norton, said he came to see the new airship fly with the older blimp. He’s seen Goodyear blimps when he’s traveled to other parts of the country, and said the sight always made him think of home.
“It’s something unique to our area,” he said. “I’ve been a big fan of the blimp for years.”
Brian Corbin, a 29-year-old from the Uniontown area and another self-described blimp fan, recently created a Facebook page, Northeast Ohio Blimp Spotters, that has grown to 70 members.
“I’ll say it was unforgettable,” he said. “It’s just so good, I can’t come up with words to describe it. A very rare sight.”
Akron resident Loretta Shepherd said seeing the two blimps fly together “was a dream come true.”
The last time she saw multiple Goodyear blimps together was in 2002, when the company brought in three airships for the christening of a fourth, the Spirit of America. That marked the first time since the 1960s that four Goodyear blimps had flown together.
“I’ve been chasing blimps since I was little,” said Shepherd, 49. “I’ve had a lifelong affair with Goodyear and the blimps.”
Goodyear blimp fans — also called Helium Heads — will be able to view Wingfoot One almost at will over the next several months. The airship will be kept outdoors at Wingfoot Lake, with the Spirit of Innovation staying inside the hangar.
The two airships could fit in the structure together, but it would be a tight squeeze; work is on schedule to build the second NT airship inside. The lightweight framework appears nearly complete, although the outer skin, or envelope, that holds in the helium won’t be put on until November, followed by its first flight in March or April 2016.
Source: Akron Beacon Journal – ohio.com