Goodyear Blimp

Goodyear Blimp

The Goodyear Blimp is the collective name for a fleet of blimps operated by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for advertising purposes and for use as a television camera platform for aerial views of sporting events. Goodyear began producing airship envelopes in 1911 and introduced its own blimp, "Pilgrim", in 1925.


Today there are three blimps in the fleet:
*"Spirit of America", based in Carson, California, near Los Angeles
*"Spirit of Goodyear", based in Suffield Township, Ohio, near Akron
*"Spirit of Innovation", based in Pompano Beach, Florida, near Miami

All three craft are outfitted with LED sign technology Goodyear calls "Eaglevision." This allows the aircraft to display bright, multi-colored, animated words and images.

Goodyear also has blimps operating in other parts of the world, including one in China. These airships are built and operated by The Lightship Group of Orlando, Florida.

Lifting agent

The blimps are filled with helium. The helium is maintained under low pressure, so small punctures do not pose serious consequences for the blimp. In fact, one inspection element of the blimps is to look into the envelope for pinpoints of light which are indicative of small holes. The blimps have infrequently been hit by small-arms fire from the ground. Also, birds can hit blimps and make small beak holes. These incidents have not resulted in any serious consequences to the blimp or its crew.

The blimps are equipped with internal bladders in the envelope, and as the blimp ascends or descends these bladders expand or contract to compensate for density changes and to maintain uniform pressure in the envelope.


The three modern types of Goodyear blimps, since the 1960s, are: GZ-19, GZ-20 and GZ-22.

The GZ stands for Goodyear-Zeppelin, stemming from the partnership Goodyear had with the German company when both were building airships together. However these three classes came many years after this partnership had dissolved during the start of World War II. The GZ-1 was the USS Akron, the U.S. Navy's flying aircraft carrier.

*GZ-19: Introduced in 1963 and discontinued in 1978 after the loss of "Mayflower" (N38A). The design for this class resembles the U.S. Navy's L class blimp.

*GZ-20: This class is what the current American fleet is composed of. Introduced in 1969, with the "America" (N10A) and "Columbia" (N3A) being the first two. This class is slightly longer than GZ-19.

*GZ-22: The only airship in this class was the "Spirit of Akron" (N4A). Originally built in 1987 to show the U.S. Department of Defense that airships were still militarily viable, it was the largest and most technically advanced ship Goodyear ever had in its public relations fleet, featuring fly-by-wire technology. However, Spirit was lost in 1999 and the company has not built one since, most likely because of the large expense to build and operate one due to its size and advanced technology.


According to the Goodyear website, the three active GZ-20 blimps are 192 feet (58 meters) long, 59.5 feet (18 meters) tall, and 50 feet (15 meters) wide.

For comparison, the largest airships ever built, the Zeppelin company's "Hindenburg", LZ-129, and the "Graf Zeppelin II", LZ-130, were 804 feet (245 meters) long and 135 feet (41 meters) in diameter. That is, over four times as long and over twice as wide as the current Goodyear blimps. The largest blimp ever made by Goodyear was the U.S. Navy's ZPG-3, at 403 feet (121 meters) in length.

Blimps are non-rigid (meaning their shape is not maintained by a rigid aircraft internal structure) and dirigible (directible/steerable) airships. That terminology is seldom used in connection with blimps, being associated more with the great rigid airships of the past.


Since 1925, Goodyear had named its blimps after the U.S. winners of the America's Cup yacht race. This naming method is attributed to then-Goodyear CEO Paul W. Litchfield, who viewed the airships as being like yachts in the sky. Although that practice deviated with the introduction of the "Spirit of Akron" in 1987, the Florida-based "Stars & Stripes" would be the last to carry this honor, ending in 2005. The "Europa", introduced in 1972, was actually the first Goodyear blimp not named after a cup winner. However it was based in Europe and an American winner's name would have had no meaning to Europeans.

The America's Cup winners names:"Pilgrim,"Puritan","Reliance","Defender","Volunteer","Resolute","Vigilant","Mayflower","Ranger","Rainbow","Enterprise","Columbia","America","Stars & Stripes".

Non-cup winners names:"Europa","Spirit of Akron","Eagle","Spirit of Goodyear","Spirit of America","Spirit of Innovation","Spirit of Europe","Spirit of the Americas","Spirit of the South Pacific","Ventura".


The GZ-20 blimps Goodyear operates in the U.S have seating for only six passengers. No seatbelts are required.

The only passengers that Goodyear will allow on the blimps are corporate guests of the company and members of the press. No public rides are offered. This has been Goodyear's longstanding policy. However, for over 50 years, it had to offer limited public rides at its Miami, FL winter base on Watson Island as part of its land-lease deal with the city in order to operate from the island. That practice ended in 1979 when the base was moved to Opa-locka Airport, FL.

Night signs

For years, Goodyear has fitted its blimps with a night sign. From neon tubes, to incandescent lamps to LEDs, these signs have helped the company advertise its products and also deliver public service messages from various organizations such as local governments.

*Neon-O-Gram Originally called NeonGoodyear, was first fitted on "Defender" back in the 1930s. Neon tubes on the sides of the blimp which usually just spelled out Goodyear.
*10 Panel Incandescent Bulbs
*Skytacular: In the mid 1960s, the GZ-19 "Mayflower" (N4A) was fitted with over 3,000 incandescent lamps of red, yellow, blue and green on both sides that for the first time featured animation. Usually moving stick figures, ticker messages or colorful patterns. A small jet engine had to be attached to the blimp's car in order to power the Skytacular night sign.
*Super Skytacular: Same technology as Skytacular, but with more than 7,000 lamps on both sides. Super Skytacular was fitted on the new longer GZ-20 blimps in 1969.


*The "Wingfoot Air Express", while transporting passengers from Chicago's Grant Park to the White City Amusement Park, crashed through the skylight of the Illinois Trust & Savings Bank on July 21, 1919, killing one crewman, two passengers, and ten bank employees. [ [ Chicago Public Library: 1919, July 21: Dirigible (Balloon) Crash] ]

*The "Spirit of Akron", tail number N4A, crashed on October 28, 1999 in Suffield Township, Ohio, when it suddenly entered an uncontrolled left turn and began descending. The pilot and technician on board received only minor injuries when the blimp impacted with trees. The NTSB report claims that improperly hardened metal splines on the control actuators sheared, causing loss of control. [ [ NTSB Aviation Accident IAD00LA002] ]

*The "Stars and Stripes", tail number N1A, crashed on June 16, 2005 in Coral Springs, Florida, when it was caught in a strong thunderstorm that eventually pushed the aircraft into trees and power lines. There were no injuries in the crash, [ [ Wikinews:Goodyear blimp crashes in Florida] ] The NTSB accident report claims the cause of the accident to be the pilot's "inadequate in-flight planning/decision which resulted in an in-flight encounter with weather (thunderstorm outflow), and downdrafts..." [ [ NTSB Aviation Accident ATL05CA100] ]

The Goodyear Blimp in popular culture

*The "Mayflower (N4A)" appears in the Beatles 1965 movie 'Help'.

*A Goodyear blimp can be seen in several shots of the Deep Purple live at the California Jam in 1974, released on DVD.

*The Goodyear blimp is shown in the 1974 H.B. Halicki film, "Gone in 60 Seconds". During a night scene at Ascot Park, the blimp marquee is shown displaying the message "LOCK YOUR CAR OR IT MAY BE GONE IN 60 SECONDS"

*In an episode of "That '70s Show", it is revealed that Leo(Tommy Chong) mistook it for a UFO that told him he was going to have a 'good year'.

*In 1976 Goodyear allowed use of its blimps for the filming of the movie "Black Sunday" based on the novel by Thomas Harris, about a distressed former P.O.W. blimp pilot that helps Middle Eastern terrorists attack the Super Bowl with a lethal device attached to the airship's car. Two blimps were used for the conclusion. The base scenes were shot in Carson, CA using the "Columbia (N4A)". The Super Bowl scenes were shot in Miami, FL using the "Mayflower (N1A)", which was smaller than "Columbia". This led to visual errors where the blimp changes in size.
*In the 1986 movie "Flight of the Navigator", the audience is teased at the beginning of the movie when a large ominous shadow passes over a crowd of people. The camera then pans over and shows a shot of the Goodyear Blimp passing at low level.

*Rapper Ice Cube's 1993 single "It Was a Good Day" contains the line "Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp, and it read, 'Ice Cube's A Pimp'".

*Rapper Nas's single "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)" contains a line "I take a glimpse into time watch the blimp read 'The World Is Mine'". That line refers to the Goodyear Blimp when it say 'blimp', and also references the aforementioned scene from "Scarface".

*Rap group Three Six Mafia notes that they "keep the dope fiends higher than the Goodyear Blimp" in their song "Sippin' on Some Syrup".

*In the 1989 film "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" the protagonists invent an anachronistic sighting of the Goodyear Blimp in order cause a distraction and escape from a group of cowboys who are chasing them.

*In the 1991 comedy film "What About Bob?", Bill Murray's character, Bob Wiley, says of his psychiatrist Leo, after Leo's violent outburst: "He's so high above us, we're like ropes on the Goodyear blimp."

*In an episode of "Animaniacs" entitled "Critical Condition", Slappy Squirrel likens Codger Eggbert (himself a parody of Roger Ebert) to the Goodyear Blimp due to his obese figure.

*The Goodyear blimp is parodied in the Pixar film "Cars" as the Lightyear Blimp, which has the same colors as the blimp. In real life Goodyear promoted the movie by covering up the Good and the Winged Foot and replacing it with the words Light.

*In Stroker Ace, Clyde Torkle expands his advertising by promoting his company, Clyde Torkle's Chicken Pit on the neon text of the GoodYear Blimp at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

*In All Marketers are Liars, Seth Godin references the Goodyear Blimp as a "shining example of old media."

*The blimp appears in NASCAR Thunder 2002, NASCAR Thunder 2003, NASCAR Thunder 2004, , NASCAR 06 Total Team Control, NASCAR 07, and NASCAR 08.

*The Tragically Hip song Titanic Terrarium contains the line "His greatgrandfather worked for Goodyear/he'd see the blimp on Sundays/wonder what the driver knew about making rubber tires."



*"The Goodyear Blimp". "Quintessences: the Quality of Having It", pp 44-45. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal, 1983.

External links

* [ Official Website]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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