I can sleep through almost anything, so May 23 was a bit out of the norm. I tossed and turned, because in a matter of hours, I would be stepping foot onto Goodyear’s brand new Wingfoot 2 airship.
I imagine all kids who grew up in Akron have a Goodyear blimp story. We remember the loud, rhythmic sound of the blimp soaring overhead, rode paddleboats at Wingfoot Lake, and maybe even thought every city has these massive creatures floating through the summer sky. I’ve wanted to ride a blimp for as long as I can remember.
My paternal grandfather, whom I never met, worked at Goodyear for 45 years starting in 1918 at Plant 2. Dad first worked there in 1944 as a mail boy and later built life rafts at Plant 3 until he went into the Army. As a kid, I hung out at Wingfoot Lake and collected those little blimp erasers my uncle brought me from work. The pieces were about to all come together.
After finally falling asleep, I woke up on May 24 muttering “Dirigible Day” excitedly, nervously, repeatedly. The monumental nature of the event called for a special shirt from Rubber City Clothing. I chose the Fulton Angel holding a blimp, paired with Akron’s founding date (1825).
After a backroads ride to the Goodyear Hangar and a looping video on the history of the Goodyear blimp, my five inaugural ride companions and I boarded a conversion van for a quick ride to Wingfoot 2. The day was perfect: 70 degrees with a light wind and cloudless sky as we boarded the dirigible – one at a time, up a short staircase suspended just above the ground.
Though created using 100-year-old technology, Wingfoot 2 represents a number of technological advancements. The ship is 246 feet long, more than 50 feet high and weighs almost 20,000 pounds. Unlike previous blimp models, which clocked in at 50 mph, Wingfoot 2 reaches more than 70 miles per hour.
Blimp vs. dirigible
I have a few friends who are blimp snobs (this is a real thing and you know who you are), so I have been schooled on the difference between a blimp and a dirigible.
A dirigible is supported by an internal framework rather than being kept in shape by the pressure of the lifting gas. Wingfoot 2’s internal framework is supported by aluminum and carbon fiber trusses. The trusses are secured within the envelope, or outer skin. Goodyear’s new airship has an envelope made with polyurethane, polyester and tedlar film.
Also, Wingfoot 2 is a dirigible. A bit of history: The first Goodyear airship was a blimp, built in 1917, and the Wingfoot Lake facility was operated by the Navy from 1917-1921, serving as a construction, test and development base with 26 buildings by the end of World War I.
I sat down and buckled in, the dirigible swaying ever so slightly. The pilot exchanged a few words with the passengers, and we were off. And by “off” I mean we slowly began floating up into the air – effortlessly and almost silently – and in what seemed like a few seconds, we were gliding above Wingfoot Lake.
Once we reached our cruising altitude of 1,000 feet, we were invited to unbuckle and walk around the cabin with only a ceiling bar to stabilize as the dirigible swayed slightly in all directions, humming through the sky.
And then the co-pilot opened the window. As someone adjusted to the security and comfort of airplanes, this was a bit unnerving. Air travel is usually accompanied by closed windows, but in a dirigible, there is just a thin cockpit separating you from the birds. The temperature is the same, the window is open, and save for the pilot’s expert skills, the dirigible floats along like a giant balloon in the sky.
Sitting in the back, there’s a seat with a 180-degree view of Akron, the Rubber Bowl, my dad’s childhood home, beautiful farms and the Central Interchange – all amazing to see as we sailed above in slow motion.
After 40 minutes, it was time to return to home base. We floated back down to the ground effortlessly, hovering as we disembarked, one person leaving the dirigible as another got on to balance the weight.
Innovation and invention
Dirigible and blimp innovation has progressed immensely over the past 100 years. I have spent the past 16 years working for the National Inventors Hall of Fame, surrounded by innovators whose lives are spent improving on others’ ideas.
While Ferdinand von Zeppelin conceived and developed his namesake, the first rigid dirigible, now over 100 years later we all benefit from Goodyear’s investment in progressing Zeppelin’s innovation.
Both Goodyear and Zeppelin are National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees – two of the world’s most creative minds whose innovations paved the way for a better world. And they paved the way for my dream come true: Dirigible Day.