New Generation Of Blimps Set To Take Flight


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The new re-designed Goodyear blimp is slated to take off on its inaugural flight Monday.


And it's out with the old and in with the new for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. After 45 years of using the same model for its fleet of blimps, Goodyear is preparing for its new generation of helium filled airships. The tire company holds a test flight this morning in Akron, Ohio with the first of three new airships it plans to build. This first new blimp is longer and faster, it has more room for ads and even a bathroom with a window.

One thing the new airship does not have - a name. Goodyear is taking suggestions. It's launching a nationwide name the blimp contest. The winner will get exclusive use of the new craft for a day.

Mark Urycki from member station WKSU has details of the modern-day blimp.

MARK URYCKI, BYLINE: The new airship is 82 yards long. That's more than 50 feet longer than today's model and pretty good for a flying billboard. The company provides free aerial coverage of sporting events in returning for some mention by TV networks.

Gary Melliere of Goodyear's marketing department says that's a better deal than simply buying commercials.

GARY MELLIERE: You know, everybody in the stands see it. The TV audience sees it. It's just that constant brand recognition. It's something very unique - the power of the blimp. It's just awe-inspiring. So it gets people's attention, you know, whereas, you know, TV advertising gets lost in the clutter. The blimp breaks through certainly.

URYCKI: The company has been using airships for advertising since 1925 and calls them its aerial ambassadors. That also works down at the business level when the Goodyear offers rides to its dealers and important customers.

MELLIERE: Just going on the Goodyear blimp is a bucket-list item.

URYCKI: The new version blimp, built with the German company ZLT Zeppelin, carries a larger gondola that seats 12, almost twice the capacity of the older model. It also comes with a new array of LED lights that offer four times the resolution of their current display.

Goodyear's electronic consultant Robert Peacock says that gives the blimp a capability to show films at night.

ROBERT PEACOCK: Pretty much anything your imagination can think of - scrolling sentences, video or, you know, computer animation.

URYCKI: The airship has three engines that can tilt and allow the blimp to hover in one location. Baseball fans may see the new blimp hovering over a nearby stadium this summer.

For NPR News, I'm Mark Urycki in Akron.

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