Old Goodyear blimps make way for the newer models - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Old Goodyear blimps make way for the newer models

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AKRON, Ohio  – The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company's Akron-based blimp, the Spirit of Goodyear, is headed for retirement in the sunshine and warmth of Florida.

The blimp, which has been based at the company's Wingfoot Lake Hangar since its christening 13 years ago, will join The Spirit of Innovation and operate from the company's Pompano Beach, Fla. airship base this winter before being decommissioned in the spring of 2014.

Beginning next year, the company will begin replacing the current fleet of blimps with new state-of-the-art Goodyear NT airships, the first of which is under construction at the Wingfoot Lake Hangar.

"The Spirit of Goodyear gave up its hangar space for the construction of the new Goodyear NT airship and has been moored outside the past months," said Nancy Ray, director of Goodyear's global airship program. "With winter on the way and the blimp's retirement coming up, it's time for the Spirit of Goodyear to move south."

The Spirit of Goodyear will departed Akron on Friday morning, traveling to State College, Pa., to cover the Penn State-Michigan football game for ESPN. Afterwards, the airship will work its way south to the company's Florida blimp base.

Christened on March 15, 2000 by America's first woman in space, NASA astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, the Spirit of Goodyear was named to honor the company's worldwide associates. It is the oldest of the tire maker's three U.S.-based blimps and the first to be replaced by the new Goodyear NT.

During its years of service, the Spirit of Goodyear has flown over countless marquee sporting events including Kentucky Derby horse races, top college football matchups and Major League Baseball and NBA playoffs. In 2004, the airship delivered the first-ever, high-definition images from a camera mounted in a blimp during a Monday Night Football contest.

Ray said the company is on schedule with the construction of the new NT airship and it should be ready for test flights in the spring of 2014.

Everything about the new Goodyear NT airship design is larger and more advanced than the current fleet. The current blimp design is 192 ft (58.5 m) long with an envelope volume of 202,700 cu ft (5,735 cu m), while the NT is 246.5 ft (75 m) long with an envelope volume of 297,527 cu ft (8,425 cu m).

During its long operational history, Goodyear has built and operated more than 300 lighter-than-air vehicles since 1917, including two large rigid airships – the U.S.S. Macon and U.S.S. Akron. The Goodyear NT is the first semi-rigid airship to be built in the 95-year history of the Wingfoot Lake Hangar.

Goodyear owns and operates three airships in the United States. They are based in Akron, Pompano Beach, and Carson, Calif.

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