AKRON, Ohio -- Goodyear has been in the airship business since 1911. The tire company designed its first airship envelope for photographer and explorer Melvin Vaniman, who lost his life when his hydrogen filled ship "Akron" exploded in 1912.
But Goodyear's airships have a long and successful history, which CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman learned about when he visited the company's Wingfoot Lake airship operations hangar near Akron on Road Trip 2013. This is a gallery of the company's greatest blimps, the earliest of which were built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation.
According to Goodyear, the AD Pilgrim was the United States' first commercial airship, which was certified in 1925. It was "inflated with hydrogen then helium [and] Pilgrim is considered the start of the present day Goodyear commercial fleet. Its control car was the first to be directly attached at the envelope. The gondola was donated to the Smithsonian Intuition in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s where it remains today."
The Puritan was the first TZ model airship, and America's first permanent licensed airship. It was based in Miami. According to Goodyear, this photo "shows Puritan advertising for an air show, part of Goodyear–Zeppelin’s business plan of selling, renting or advertising airships. The airships also towed banners and sold rides to public."
This photograph shows the Volunteer, which was based in Los Angeles, in 1929. The photograph depicts Volunteer with floatation devices, which showed Goodyear-Zeppelin's goal of extending innovation in airships to many possible applications.
This photograph, from the 1930s, shows the largest gathering of Goodyear airships up to that point. According to Goodyear, "The formation consisted of Pilgrim, Vigilant, Mayflower, Defender and Neponset [with] Neponset... conducting pay for hire aerial advertising."
This rare image, taken in Akron, Ohio, shows "the Goodyear airships frolicking with Graf Zeppelin, which has just cased off for a nonstop flight to Seville, Spain. This was the last time a ridged airship was in Akron, Ohio," according to Goodyear.
The Defender, which was christened by Amelia Earhart, was called the "Flagship of the Fleet" and was the largest member of the fleet. Goodyear was experimenting with diesel engines and bow elevators and later sold the Defender to the U.S. Navy. The photograph shows Defender in the northeast corner of Goodyear's mammoth Airdock for maintenance "with a rudimentary night sign with some of the first framing of the Navy ridged airship U.S.S Akron," according to Goodyear.
This rare color image, featuring Goodyear's typical pre-World War II logo, shows the Rainbow, which was drafted into the service of the U.S. Navy as L-7 during the war.
The Resolute "was the only airship on the West Coast of the U.S. in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor," according to Goodyear. "The image shows the Resolute and crew, as with the rest of the Goodyear airship fleet and crews, being inducted into the defense of the United States. The missions were to search for Japanese submarines, but coming directly from a commercial service they initially only used hunting rifles to perform this task."
The Puritan was built for the U.S. Navy for anti-submarine warfare during World War II. All told, 134 of these K-Ships were built, and Goodyear acquired this one after the war "to experiment with the 'Trans Lux' night sign found in New York City," according to Goodyear. It became Goodyear's largest commercial airship to that point.
The Enterprise was an L-Ship World War II-era design that, according to Goodyear, "was designated as a trainer [which along] with sister ship Ranger were the mainstays of the Goodyear blimp fleet of the late 1940s to the end of the '50s. The image shows Enterprise moored to the auxiliary mast mounted on the crew bus."
This was the first GZ-19 design that replaced the L-Ship design of the World War II era. According to Goodyear, "it featured an updated engine package, larger envelope and avionics. [The] Mayflower was the only inflated Goodyear blimp at the end of the 1950s and was thought to be the 'last Goodyear Blimp.'"
According to Goodyear, "this is a rare dramatic color image of Ranger at Akron Municipal airport in the early 1950s. It exhibits the color scheme, slightly weathered, that was standard, which was a 3D two-tone paint scheme carried by all Goodyear blimps at the time."
The Columbia, and its sister airship, the Mayflower, "were the only airships operating continuously in the U.S. and the world in the 1960s," according to Goodyear. This photograph shows Columbia coming into land at the Wingfoot Lake hangar near Akron, Ohio.
Taken in 1969, this was the "largest gathering of Goodyear airships since the 1930s at Wingfoot Lake," according to Goodyear. The photograph shows the company's old GZ-19As Columbia and Mayflower, along with the new GZ-19A Mayflower and the new GZ-20s Columbia and America.
Launched in 1969, the America was the first GZ-20 airship and the forerunner of today's Goodyear blimp fleet, according to the company. The GZ-20 had larger volume, engines, night sign, and a longer endurance than the GZ-19A.
The Europa was the first model GZ-20A airship and featured a larger volume, a stronger car structure, and a greater gross weight than the GZ-20, according to Goodyear. The Europa was the first Goodyear blimp to be based internationally, with its home base in Rome. It traveled around Western Europe for 14 years and is seen here flying over Venice, Italy.
The Columbia, and her sister GZ-20, the America, "were designed to carry a large incandescent night sign on both sides," according to Goodyear. "The signs were powered by an auxiliary jet turbine engine. Along with the America and Mayflower, they formed the backbone of [Goodyear's blimp] operations in the U.S."
This GZ-19A, the Mayflower, was the last airship of its kind. Afterwards, Goodyear moved its Florida operations to Pompano Breach and flew GZ-20s there.
The Enterprise, a GZ-20A, was one of the most successful airships in Goodyear's history. It flew for 12 years and helped establish Goodyear's blimp presence in Pompano Beach, Fla. The photograph shows Enterprise at Wingfoot Lake being prepped for a cross-country flight.
The blimps America and Enterprise, both GZ-20As, along with the GZ-22 Spirit of Akron, in formation flight over the company's former complex at Akron Municipal airport.
The GZ-20A America was based in Houston for 10 years.
The Columbia was the company's last virtually brand new GZ-20A airship, according to Goodyear. It was based in Los Angeles and was in service for six years. "In 1992 Columbia was renamed Eagle and the paint scheme was changed from silver and black to the new familiar blue and gold colors that Goodyear" has used ever since, according to the company.
The Stars & Stripes, a GZ-20A, was based in Pompano, Beach, Fla., for seven years. This was the standard Goodyear blimp color scheme of the 1990s.
According to Goodyear, the GZ-22 Spirit of Akron was "originally designed to take advantage of new technologies applied to airships. It was greater in volume, mechanical horsepower, and electrical capacity than a GZ-20A. [It] was the first airship in the world with a fly-by-wire flight control system, turbine engines, and [it] also featured a retractable landing gear." The Spirit of Akron was in service for 12 years, based in both Pompano Beach, Fla., and Akron, Ohio.
This photograph shows a formation flight over Wingfoot Lake consisting of Eagle, Stars & Stripes, Spirit of Goodyear, and the newly completed Spirit of America on her christening day, according to Goodyear.
This is the Stars & Stripes, the second blimp flying with that name. It was based out of Pompano, Beach, Fla., for seven years and was replaced by Goodyear's current blimp, the Spirit of Innovation in 2006.
This is the Eagle, which was based out of Los Angeles for 10 years until 2002 when it was replaced by the current blimp, the Spirit of America.