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Goodyear unwraps new blimp

Goodyear has unveiled an all-new, state-of-the-art version of its world-famous icon, the Goodyear Blimp. The new airship is larger, faster and more maneuverable than its fleet of predecessors and builds on the tyre manufacturer's legacy as the world's leading builder and operator of airships.

Codenamed the Zeppelin NT, this yet-to-be-named newcomer is the first of three airships the company is building to replace its current fleet. After 14 years on high, 'Spirit of Goodyear', the oldest of the fleet, retired in February after its last duty providing aerial coverage of the Daytona 500 in Florida, USA. The decommissioned blimp was awarded a Guinness World Records achievement for being the 'Longest Continuous Operating Airship'.

Innovation in Flight

Goodyear's blimps have adorned the skies since 1925. The current generation of airships debuted in 1969 and is based on the original flight control system! That's why the technological innovations of this new airship are causing such a stir. Assembly of the new blimp began a year ago at Goodyear's Wingfoot Lake hangar, near the company's global headquarters in Akron, Ohio. An international team of engineers and technicians from Goodyear and Germany's ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik worked side by side to complete the build project. Parts such as the tail fins and gondola were built in Germany and shipped to the United States for assembly.

Goodyear's new generation of blimps will differ in construction, appearance and operation. The new helium-filled airship is close to 75 metres long, more than 15 metres longer than its predecessors. It incorporates the latest in on-board, computer-controlled avionics and flight control systems. These advancements result in more precise operation of the airship while in flight, on landing, and on take-off.Technically speaking, this is no longer a true blimp but more a cross between a blimp and a zeppelin. Where a traditional zeppelin has a rigid structure, however, this ship boasts a lightweight frame constructed of aluminium and carbon fibre trusses which, along with its internal pressure, enable it to maintain its instantly recognizable 'fat cigar' shape. The new blimp's body is made from polyester reinforced with a DuPont-supplied film called Tedlar.

In addition, the new airship has a top speed of 117 km/h, compared to the current maximum of approximately 80 km/h giving the blimp greater range to cover more events. (The average speed of a domestic airplane is around 900 km/h.) Aided by a tail wind on its maiden test flight over Goodyear's home town of Akron, Ohio, recently, the lighter-than-air vehicle reached speeds of close to 130km/h. Goodyear blimps can reach as high as 1 500m but typically fly at a relatively low altitude of around 400m, which means that, in warm weather, passengers can enjoy their ride with the gondola windows open and the sky high breeze on their faces. The new blimp's bigger gondola affords larger, wraparound windows providing sweeping, panoramic views, and seating for up to a dozen passengers - double the capacity of the current models.

Goodyear Blimp History

During its long operational history, Goodyear has built more than 300 lighter-than-air vehicles. This is the first semi-rigid airship to be built in the 95-year history of Goodyear's Wingfoot Lake hangar.Since 1925, the Goodyear blimps have appeared at the most watched news, entertainment and sporting events around the world. Goodyear Tyre & Rubber Company's Spirit of the South Pacific blimp provided worldwide television coverage of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney Australia. The blimps also heavily support local and national charities, and community emergency response programs.

This latest blimp, for now codenamed Zeppelin NT, is yet unnamed. Like all magnificent ships, every Goodyear blimp is christened with its own special name and, for the second time ever, the company has invited suggestions from its United States consumers via an online competition. The competition closes on April 4, with the winner joining the Goodyear blimp for a day of amazing airship activities. The first consumer naming contest was held in 2006 and drew more than 20 000 unique names. 'Spirit of Innovation' now fills the skies above Florida and is one of the last in the remaining fleet of two 'old school' blimps.

By the way, the word 'blimp' is said to date back to 1916; it simply mimics the sound made when a tightly inflated balloon is tapped with your finger!