Prior to this weekend, I had never been to the christening of anything but a baby. So when Goodyear invited me to the christening of their new Zeppelin, Wingfoot One at their historic airship base at Wingfoot Lake, Ohio along with the chance to ride on it, (*weather permitting) I was all over it!
I arrived at Wingfoot Lake about an hour before the festivities began. Entering the hangar near the middle, I walked into the cavernous space and immediately saw Wingfoot One to my right, tethered to the walls in various places and it's primary truck mast up at the nose. The ship was just massive, and every bit as impressive as the Boeing 747s I've walked along-side while being built in Everett, Washington. At 246 feet, Wingfoot One is only four feet shorter than the new 747-8, which is the world's longest passenger jet. It's also 54 feet longer than its predecessor GZ-20 model.
Because I saw the tail first, one of the things I noticed was her registration — D-LZGY. D is the designator for German aircraft, (Deutschland) which made sense, being that Zeppelin is a German company. When I asked about that later on, I was told that a U.S. registration (N1A) would be applied once the ship received full certification. N1A was also the tail number on one of Goodyear's older model GZ-20 blimps in the past, called Enterprise.
Walking under Wingfoot One, if I had stood on my tip-toes, my head would have touched the belly of the ship, and I'm 5'10." The passenger compartment, called the gondola seats 12 passengers plus two pilots. Three vectored engines each put out 200 horsepower, helping the ship top out at 73MPH. The pilots I spoke to said their average speed is about 50MPH, which feels fast in comparison to the older blimps with an average speed of 35MPH. Besides the upgrades to its size and speed, the biggest difference between Wingfoot One and previous ships is that the envelope (the balloon part) has an internal structure of aluminum and carbon fiber trusses, while older models were essentially just an inflated ballon made of Dacron and Neoprene. Wingfoot One is the first of three new Zeppelins that will join the fleet over the next four years.
Goodyear CEO Rich Kramer
Once the christening ceremony began, Goodyear CEO Rich Kramer introduced various distinguished guests, including Walter Bjerre, 92. He flew blimps for the Navy during WWII and joined Goodyear afterward, training blimp pilots for the company. Also in attendance was Akron resident Charlotte White, whose submission won the naming contest for Wingfoot One.
Today's new blimp is a renewal of both our airship program and the blimp itself. Its structure is the first complete redesign since the 1940s and skillfully combines both the long history of our airships and the newest in innovation... Even in its new form, the Goodyear blimp is still the marvel of aviation that led Goodyear's first CEO, Paul Litchfield, to envision the horizon filled with what he called "the yachts in the sky."
Good Morning America co-anchor and former ESPN sportscaster Robin Roberts was on-hand to do the actual christening. Her family has deep-rooted ties to aviation, Goodyear and the Akron area. "My heart is so full, and it is pounding right now. I am indeed honored to be part of this timeless celebration," she said. She shared that her great-grandfather was recruited by Goodyear in 1918, transplanting his family from Alabama to Akron. Robin's father was a Tuskegee Airman.
"This is not just a special moment in my family's history, but in this great community's history. In our nation's history. Almost a century after my great grandfather moved his family here to Akron... there's no way he could have imagined that all these years later, one of his descendants would have this grand honor. In honor of my family, I say thank you, and bless you. To honor the legacy and embrace the future of Goodyear airships, I christen thee, Wingfoot One!"
During a question and answer session after the ceremony, Robin also shared that a career as a pilot was her "plan B" if journalism had not panned out for her. Speaking on her ESPN days, she said the blimp changed sportscasting by providing a view like no other. She said, "It's just part of our sports history now, and you know it's a major event when the Goodyear Blimp is there."
In the next couple of days, I'll be posting additional pieces - including what it was like to fly on Wingfoot One, as well as an interview with one of Goodyear's blimp pilots, Captain Jerry Hissem.
All photos by Paul Thompson