Perhaps the allure of better technology has finally overcome the negative connotations associated with zeppelin airships since the fiery crash of the Hindenburg in 1937. In fact, the company behind the development of Goodyear's new airships is ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, the same company that built the Hindenburg. A key difference between then and now is that zeppelins no longer use hydrogen for lift but non-flammable helium instead – the same gas used in Goodyear's current fleet of non-rigid airships.
Why the change from blimp to zeppelin? Well, for a variety of reasons, including golf. (Stay with me here!) Zeppelins are quieter, faster and have better maneuverability than blimps, and ZLT's design uses three engines, which can be vectored to make the airships hover, a valuable technique that the current two-engine blimps can't perform. Film crews at sporting events can appreciate this to help them set up the perfect aerial shot, but so can a professional golfer, who can't have a blimp flying around and casting distracting shadows during play. Because of this, expect to see the new Goodyear "blimps" in more places than the old ones.
Goodyear's fleet of three blimps is based out of Akron, Ohio; Carson, Calif.; and Pompano Beach, Fla.; and the company will gradually update it with the new airships. The first zeppelin is being built in Akron now, and Florida will probably get it later this year, CNET reports, followed by California in 2016 and Ohio in 2018, at which point all three blimps will be grounded. Scroll down below for a press release from Goodyear.
This week marks an important milestone in the company's plans to replace its current fleet of blimps as workers install an envelope over the aluminum and carbon fiber framework of the first of its new-design airships. The airships are supplied by German zeppelin manufacturer ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik and being built with Zeppelin and Goodyear teams at Goodyear's hangar in nearby Suffield.
Compared to the current fleet of Goodyear blimps, the new airship models will be longer, faster and more maneuverable. The envelope being applied to the new airship is made of polyester with a DuPont™ Tedlar® film. As it is stretched over each metal truss, the envelope is attached. When complete, the helium-filled envelope will have a volume of 297,527 cubic feet.
"This is a major project that requires the dedication and skilled handiwork of these combined teams of airship experts. The result will be the only Zeppelin model airship in North America. It represents a strong investment in Goodyear's airship program, helping to ensure that Goodyear will remain at the forefront of aerial broadcast coverage and support," said Nancy Ray, Goodyear's director of Global Airship Operations.
Upcoming construction milestones, according to Ray, include the attachment of the airship's tail fins and passenger gondola –scheduled to happen this year. In early 2014, key steps will be the crew training, airship certification, installation of the electronic video boards and eventual christening.
Goodyear's blimp fleet generates significant value for the company through visibility at major events, on-camera exposure during television broadcast, tire sales through support of Goodyear dealer and store promotions, and the goodwill generated by support of non-profit and public service programs.
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. This is the first semi-rigid airship to be built in the 95-year history of the Wingfoot Lake Hangar.
For more than 87 years, the Goodyear blimps have appeared at the most watched news, entertainment and sporting events around the world. The blimps also heavily support local and national charities, and community emergency response programs.
Goodyear owns and operates three airships in the United States. Goodyear is one of the world's largest tire companies. It employs about 69,000 people and manufactures its products in 52 facilities in 22 countries around the world. Its two Innovation Centers in Akron, Ohio and Colmar-Berg, Luxembourg strive to develop state-of-the-art products and services that set the technology and performance standard for the industry.