The Goodyear Blimp
is the collective name for a fleet of blimps
operated by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company
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, The Pilgrim,
Today there are three blimps in the fleet in the USA:
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. These airships are built and operated by The Lightship Group of Orlando, Florida.
In May 2011 Goodyear announced it will be replacing its fleet of blimps with three Zeppelins 
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 Goodyear blimps are non-rigid (meaning their shape is not maintained by a rigid internal structure) dirigibles (directable/steerable airships). However, the term dirigible is seldom used in connection with blimps, being associated more with the great rigid airships of the past. Inside their exterior envelope, the Goodyear blimps are equipped with gas bladders. As the blimp ascends or descends, the internal 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. However, in 2013 Goodyear will be retiring the GZ-20 and replacing with the Zeppelin NT.
- 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.
- Zeppelin NT: Goodyear confirmed on May 3, 2011, that they will reinstate their long lost partnership with Zeppelin. Goodyear has ordered three Zeppelin NT LZ N07-101 models with plans to commence operation in January 2014. However, the Zeppelin NT will be the successor to the current GZ-20 in Goodyear airship advertising.
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.
Goodyear blimp "Puritan" at the 1933 Chicago Worlds Fair
Since 1928, 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 America's Cup winners names: Puritan, Reliance, Defender, Volunteer, Resolute, Vigilant, Mayflower, Ranger, Rainbow, Enterprise, Columbia, America, Stars & Stripes.
Non-cup winners names: Pilgrim, Neponset, Spirit of Akron, Spirit of Goodyear, Eagle, Spirit of America, Spirit of Innovation.
Foreign based blimps (operated by The Lightship Group since the 1990s): Europa, Spirit of Europe, Spirit of the South Pacific, Spirit of the Americas, Spirit of Safety, Ventura, Ling Hang Zhe (Navigator).
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 long-standing policy. However, for over 50 years, it had to offer limited public rides at its Miami, Florida, 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, Florida.
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 Eagle, tail number N10A, suffered a deflationary incident in May of 1995, when the blimp struck the ground near the Carson, California, mooring site while unmanned. This blimp was repaired and rechristened as the Eagle N2A. No injuries were reported.
- The Spirit of Akron, tail number N4A, crashed on October 28, 1999, in Suffield, 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.
- 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 powerlines. There were no injuries in the crash, although the pilot and passenger were trapped for a number of hours until the powerlines could be de-energized. 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..."
- The Spirit of Safety I, registered as G-TLEL and owned and operated by Lightship Europe Limited, (but operating in Goodyear livery), caught fire while on landing approach to the Reichelsheim Airport (ICAO code EDFB) and crashed on June 12, 2011, near Reichelsheim, Hesse, Germany. Three passengers were able to jump to safety shortly before the crash, but the pilot died in the wreck.
Notable appearances in popular culture
In 1976, Goodyear allowed use of its blimps for the filming of the film 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, California, using the Columbia. The Super Bowl scenes where shot in Miami, Florida, using the Mayflower, which was smaller than Columbia.