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A blimp caught my eye

Posted on November 14, 2021 | Comments

Driving home from Los Angeles, I was southbound on the 405 that was back to its normal traffic crawl. However, thanks to the snail’s pace my car was traveling, I could watch the Goodyear Blimp circling gracefully in the sky and see a host of groundcrew ensure a safe landing at its Carson airship base. Even though I grew up seeing blimps, this one had me mesmerized because it was so close and SO BIG! Having been a passenger in just about every airborne craft, I wondered what it would be like to ride in a blimp. Also wondered why they never really got off the ground, so to speak, as a viable mode of transportation.

Someone at “Reader’s Digest” must have read my mind because the magazine published an article that gave plenty of history along with an explanation for why the blimps never attained a foothold in air transportation. For example, I had no idea that 169 years ago, the first steam-powered airship lifted off the ground—51 years ahead of the Wright Brothers’ historic first flight.

Since Goodyear is synonymous with tires and rubber, it’s not a stretch that the company started building airships in 1925 for both advertising and military purposes during World War II. Because of unfortunate crashes and the advancement of airplanes and helicopters, airships found a smaller, yet beneficial niche. If speed is not an issue, the airships are a favorable choice for their ability to hover for long periods of time along with transporting freight and for research purposes. In the era of TV coverage and advertising, Goodyear blimps are a camera platform for sporting events, especially football. Oddly enough, they are the length of a football field. 

Other factors prevent blimps from becoming mainstream. The cost of helium for one trip is nearly $100,000. Only 128 people are trained to fly blimps in the U.S. with the bulk of them being contractors and experimental pilots. A mere seventeen are full-time pilots. Compared to 15 hours for learning to fly single-engine aircraft, training to fly a blimp requires 250 to 400 hours. As for the events Goodyear has popularized over the years with birds-eye views, drones are faster, more advanced and far less expensive.

Even though I’ve flown a helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft, don’t think learning to fly a blimp is in my future, but it’s definitely on my wish-list to be a passenger. And, even if it’s not on Goodyear’s list to launch its airship this season with holiday greetings, it’s on mine to say, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Original publication, OC Register, November 11, 2021

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