The Goodyear blimp may have been flying around for almost 90 years, but it still manages to turn heads. On Friday, there was another reason to look beyond nostalgia for the days of the great airships of old as Goodyear unveiled its new state-of-the-art blimp to the media, Goodyear associates and dealers at its Wingfoot Lake hangar in Suffield, Ohio. Built in partnership with the Zeppelin company, the new craft that replaces the 45-year old GZ-20 blimp fleet is not only larger and faster, it isn’t even a blimp, but a semi-rigid airship.

Unless you’re an aeronautical history buff, the connection between a tire manufacturer and a blimp may seem tenuous, but during the heyday of airship travel before the Second World War, Goodyear was also a major builder of blimps and airships, including the US Navy’s USS Macon and USS Akron, and for many years, the Goodyear blimp was the only operational dirigible in the world.

Goodyear has been flying its famous blimp at sporting events and other public exhibitions to televise games, drum up publicity for the company, and raise money for local charities since 1925, and it’s gone through a number of design changes, but the version unveiled last week is the most radical re-engineering of the airship yet.

Larger, faster, and more maneuverable than its predecessor, the as yet unnamed airship is 246 ft (75 m) long, which is over 50 ft (15 m) longer than the current blimps. The envelope that holds the low-pressure helium gas is made of DuPont Tedlar polyester spread over a semi-rigid frame. This means that the craft is technically no longer a blimp or dirigible because the structure of the envelope is no longer supported entirely by the gas inside. There’s also a new livery that retains the Goodyear logo and the traditional blue and yellow branding on a silver envelope.

Slung underneath the envelope is a longer, streamlined gondola that seats up to 12 passengers with larger wraparound windows and new seats for greater comfort. Additionally, new avionics and flight controls see the manual control system replaced with computerized fly-by-wire systems that transmit instructions from the pilot to the three vectoring prop engines and control surfaces for greater precision and safety.

The new airship hits a top speed of 73 mph (117 km/h), which is an improvement on the 50 mph (80 km/h) that the GZ-20 manages. According to Goodyear, this increase in speed will allow the airship to attend events much farther from its home base.

A joint project by Goodyear and ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, the tail fins and gondola were built in Germany and shipped to Goodyear’s Wingfoot Lake hangar for assembly beginning in March 2013. According to Goodyear, this is the first semi-rigid airship to be built at the hangar in its 95-year history.

"The completion of the new blimp marks the beginning of a new era for our airship program and reflects Goodyear’s commitment to remaining at the forefront of aerial broadcast coverage and support," says Paul Fitzhenry, senior vice president, global communications. "This airship will offer enhanced aerial television coverage capabilities, increased flight range to cover more events and an unparalleled passenger experience."

As part of the airships commissioning, Goodyear is running a "Name the Blimp" contest, which is open to residents of the United States and runs until April 4. This is the second time that Goodyear has let the public name one of its airships, the first being the Spirit of Innovation in 2006, which is based in Pompano Beach, Florida.

The airship is scheduled to begin test flights over Northeast Ohio later this month before going into service in the northern summer.

Source: Goodyear