Personally, I think you have to be a pretty hard person not to be a little enchanted by the sight of a blimp or dirigible floating in the sky. In an age when air travel has become ho-hum and associated with annoyance and aggravation, blimps harken back to a more romantic era of flight, when breaking the bonds of earth was nothing short of astonishing.
So you could see why I jumped at a chance to do a story about the Goodyear blimp, probably the best known aircraft in the skies of Southern California. After all, who hasn’t seen the airship hovering over everything from a Dodgers game to the Academy Awards. The airship is about as L.A. as palm trees, the beach, and Sunset Boulevard.
Other than knowing that it was filled with helium, I was pretty clueless about the Goodyear blimp before arriving at its Carson airfield for a visit and flight. How fast and high can it travel? How does flying it compare to an airplane or helicopter? And why does a company best known for making tires want to have anything to do with a blimp in the first place?
I got answers to those questions and others. Listen below:
The Spirit of America Goodyear blimp taking off from the Carson airfield. Goodyear has flown blimps out of Carson since 1968. The Spirit of America first entered service in 2002. Photo: Saul Gonzalez
The Spirit of America blimp covers more than 80 events a year, from professional and college sporting events to the Oscar and Emmy awards. Goodyear has barter arrangements with broadcasters, trading the use of the blimp for aerial footage in return for on-air commercial spots. The most difficult events to fly over for the blimp pilots are golf tournaments. The players don’t like the shadow the airship casts over the golf green and the sound of the engines. Photo: Saul Gonzalez
Before the blimp takes off, a member of the ground crew has to climb this very tall docking tower and manually detach the airship. It’s a very dramatic sight and evokes an older era of aviation. Photo: Saul Gonzalez
Blimp pilot Kristen Arambula at the controls of the Spirit of America. All of the airship pilots have certification on fixed-wing aircraft, but they still need special training when it comes to learning how to pilot the airship. Goodyear says there are more astronauts in the United States than certified blimp pilots. Photo: Saul Gonzalez
The view from the blimp’s gondola during a flight over Santa Monica Bay. The blimp usually travels at an altitude of between 1,000 and 1,500 feet. In the photo you can also see the blimp’s capture lines dangling down. Photo: Saul Gonzalez
The blimp casts a shadow over Manhattan Beach.The airship travels at a stately 30 to 35 miles per hour. In good weather, you can put the windows down in the gondola. Unlike an airplane or helicopter, you feel like you’re part of the sky when traveling in the airship. Photo: Saul Gonzalez
There’s a lot of muscle involved in operating and maintaining a blimp. Here you see the ground grabbing the mooring lines as the airship comes in for a landing. Between 14 and 17 people maintain the blimp. When the airship flies out of town they go with it, traveling in a fleet of ground vehicles and maintaining radio contact. Photo: Saul Gonzalez
The blimp’s gondola as passengers are boarding. The blimp can carry six-passengers. You don’t have to wear seat belts, but like a commercial jet, you do have to turn your cell phone off. Photo: Saul Gonzalez
The blimp’s ground crew putting down the blimp’s docking mast after a launch. Many of the riggers and technicians grew up near the airfield and were captivated by the idea of working with the blimp. Photo: Saul Gonzalez
Goodyear has operated more than 300 lighter-than-air vehicles since 1917. It launched its first blimp in 1925. Goodyear will soon replace its blimp fleet with new airships now under construction in Ohio. The new craft will be faster, bigger and able to carry heavier payloads. Photo: Saul Gonzalez