AirShowPix Productions

"Where Images Take Flight"

Taking a flight in the Goodyear Blimp

Ambassadors of the Sky - By Clark Cook, Editor

Carson, California - Since 1925, Goodyear blimps have graced the skies as some of the most known corporate icons. The first helium-filled public relations airship, named the pilgrim began a very illustrious history when the largest tire and rubber company painted its name on the sides of the airship over 80 years ago. Today there are three blimps in the Goodyear fleet operating in the United States: The Spirit of America, based in California, The Spirit of Goodyear, based in Ohio, and The Spirit of Innovation, based in Florida.

The Goodyear Blimp is a common sight at pro football games and other major events and is the first to provide aerial television coverage. 2010 marks the 50th anniversary since the first sporting event, the Orange Bowl in 1960. To date, the company’s blimps cover about 100 televised events a year. Goodyear is also the first to provide aerial coverage in high definition. The aerial night sign, dubbed "Eaglevision" replaces the incandescent "Skytacular" and "Super Skytacular" with a state of the art LED light display. This new technology is capable of displaying a high resolution text, smooth animation and even video!

Our once in a lifetime experience begins at the Airship Operations in Carson, California, approximately fifteen miles south of Los Angeles International Airport. Upon arrival, Public Relations Manager Bob Urhausen was here to greet us, provide facts about the airship "Spirit of America", answer questions and brief us for the upcoming flight. We were then introduced to our pilot, Matthew St. John. As acting assistant pilot in charge, St. John obviously loves what he does for a living. "Blimp pilots are a rare breed, in fact there actually are fewer blimp pilots than there are astronauts", said Urhausen.

Shortly after our introduction, we were led past the gate to the landing area. The Spirit of America (model GZ-20) was clearly in sight approaching from the southwest on a downwind leg, with the drone of its engines being slightly audible. As the airship was on short final over the adjacent golf course, ground crew members were ready to grab the ropes hanging from the nose and guide the giant airship to where we would board. Embarking the airship was a bit tricky, because a small ladder was attached underneath the door of the craft that was "floating" only a few feet above the ground. After the number two engine was shut down for safety reasons, we were allowed to board. Pilot St. John was the last on board, taking the seat of the previous pilot at the controls.

After the number two engine was fired up, St. John trimmed the elevator to a 20 to 30 degrees nose up attitude and applied full power. Climbing at approximately 1,500 feet a minute into the clear blue Southern California sky at less than 30 knots, our altitude was already nearly 700 feet AGL before we cleared the airfield! Since the airship travels at such a slow airspeed and very little turbulence is encountered, seatbelts are not a requirement. As we leveled off at 1,500 feet, our cruise speed was a modest 25-30 knots as we headed towards the Queen Mary in Long Beach. At this time I'm wondering "how many people are looking up at us?"

The duration of our flight gave us a breathtaking bird's eye view of Downtown Long Beach, the shoreline and the port. While in flight, St. John explained the flight characteristics of the airship and the controls. Much like an airplane, the elevator controls the pitch imputed by what looks like a giant trim tab wheel between the two front seats. The rudders also act like a conventional airplane controlled by rudder pedals. Unique to this airship are the helium/air valves. Proper management of the air in the forward and aft ballonets is critical to the structural integrity and proper trim. The air pressure in the ballonets adjust to changing ambient air pressure due to altitude variations. The Sprit of America is powered by two Continental IO-360 six cylinder engines with constant speed reversible propellers, the same combination used for the aft engine configuration of a Cessna 0-2 Skymaster. "The prop pitch can even be reversed in flight, something that is impossible for a conventional aircraft" said St. John.

Nearing the conclusion of what would be a memorable flight, St. John trimmed the airship at a nose down attitude as we began our descent. Upon final approach at about 20 degrees pitch, engine RPM was increased to maintain our descent. As we leveled off a few feet above the ground, the ground crew split into four smaller teams and quickly sprung into action. Two of the teams grabbed the two ropes on the nose of the airship, while the others secured the handrails located on the sides of the gondola. After exiting, other passengers were boarded and the new pilot boarded for the next flight. To get an in depth look on the history of the Goodyear Blimp and how it operates, please visit

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