Goodyear blimp Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A lighter-than-air craft that achieves lift by filling the balloon-type structure with 6 million cubic feet of helium.


Goodyear established an Aeronautics Department in 1910 for the purpose of manufacturing and marketing rubber-impregnated fabrics and coatings for airplanes. By 1912, the company had constructed its first balloon, and in 1916 it purchased 720 acres of land southeast of Akron, Ohio, for the construction of the Wingfoot Lake Airship Base. After the United States entered World War I in 1917, the U.S. Navy ordered sixteen B-type airships, nine of which Goodyear manufactured. The first airship flew on May 24, 1917. The following year the Navy placed an order for ten C-type airships. The Navy took over the Wingfoot Lake facility from 1918 to 1921 for the training of pilots and further experiments and testing of the aircraft.

Between the wars, Goodyear built two airships, the Wingfoot Express and the Pony, which used hydrogen instead of helium. In 1925, Goodyear entered the commercial market. A single-engine helium-inflated Pilgrim preceded the 86,000-cubic-foot, twin-engine, TZ-type blimp. Each new airship resulted in the production of larger envelopes. During the 1930’s, the U.S. Navy ordered two giant rigid airships from Goodyear. The aircraft, measuring over 200 yards long and requiring 6.5 million cubic feet of helium to ascend, relied on an internal metal frame to maintain its shape. The USS Akron and the USS Macon, used as aerial aircraft carriers equipped with small planes that could be deployed and retrieved, operated for two years before being destroyed during storms.

The next generation of blimps, built in the 1940’s and 1950’s, functioned as surveillance airships along coastal areas after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the post-World War II period, Goodyear purchased several airships back from the Navy and outfitted them with neon night sign panels equipped with a grid for a running sign. Goodyear continued to manufacture airships for the Navy, constructing the largest nonrigid airship in 1960. Modifications to the airships since 1960 include major car and power plant changes and a 147,300-cubic-foot envelope. In 1966, the Goodyear blimp at the Indy 500 auto race included four running night signs in color. In 1972, the company moved its facility from Akron to Spring, Texas. In 1986, additional alterations to the blimp included the use of twin vectorable turbine engines with ducted propellers, “X” fins, and a 247,800-cubic-foot envelope. Between 1917 and 1996, Goodyear produced 347 airships. By 2000, Goodyear maintained five airships worldwide: the Eagle in the City of Carson, California; the Spirit of Goodyear in Akron, Ohio; the Stars and Stripes in Pompano Beach, Florida; the Spirit of Europe; and the Spirit of the Americas, based in Saõ Paulo, Brazil.


Goodyear has manufactured three types of airships. The rigid airship has an internal frame of aluminum alloy that supports the balloon, but the weight of the frame requires the construction of long structures to maintain a proper weight-to-volume ratio. The semirigid airship incorporates a rigid lower keel and a pressurized envelope above. The nonrigid airship, the most advanced of the three types, uses the internal pressure of the gases to maintain the shape of the envelope and has no internal framework.

The anatomy of the blimp includes nose cone battens that stiffen the nose of the airship, helping to distribute the weight when the craft is moored and preventing damage to the nose of the ship. Behind the nose is the forward ballonet, an airbag within the envelope, which releases air through valves during ascent and lets air out through the scoops during descent. The air scoops take air from the props to fill the ballonets when additional air is required. When the airship is not flying and the engines are idle, the air scoops receive air from an electric blower. Four air valves control the release of air from the ballonets. The helium valve, located in the Goodyear logo on the ship, acts as a safety valve for the helium gas within the main envelope. Two inside envelopes, called catenary curtains, each 30 degrees off center, are attached by suspension cables and are sewn into the main envelope. The aft ballonet works in conjunction with the forward ballonet to achieve a nose-up or nose-down position. The ship is controlled by rudders (vertical fins) used for steering and elevators (horizontal fins) used to control the ascent and descent of the craft. Attached underneath the envelope is a car-passenger compartment measuring approximately 23 to 35 feet long and capable of holding a pilot and six passengers.

Propulsion is achieved by one of two different types of engines. Two 6-cylinder, gasoline-powered airplane engines that generate 210 horsepower can reach a top speed of 50 miles per hour. The second system uses two turboprop engines that generate a combined total of 840 horsepower and can reach speeds of 65 miles per hour. The average rate of speed maintained by both types usually averages 30 to 40 miles per hour.

The exterior of the Goodyear blimps are covered by 3,780 light boards with red, blue, and green light-emitting diodes capable of altering intensity to produce a total of 256 colors. Although one pilot operates the aircraft, the ground crew consists of fifteen individuals who work as aircraft mechanics, electronic technicians, or riggers. The ground crew follows the blimp across the country on a bus which functions as a traveling command and control center.

  • Payne, Lee. Lighter Than Air: An Illustrated History of the Airship. New York: Orion Books, 1991. Payne concentrates on current and future airship technology as well as information about the role that airships have played in commercial and military history.
  • Sullivan, George E. Famous Blimps and Airships. New York: Dodd, Meade, 1988. Easy-to-understand reference work that describes the difference between rigid and nonrigid airships. The author also provides a description, history, and construction information for several different airships, including the Goodyear blimp.
  • Topping, A. Dale. When Giants Roamed the Sky: Karl Arnstein and the Rise of Airships from Zeppelin to Goodyear. Akron, Ohio: University of Akron Press, 2000. Although this work chronicles the life of Karl Arnstein, the designer of the Zeppelin, the author also provides information concerning the development of the airship industry in the United States during the first few decades of the twentieth century.


Buoyant aircraft


Lighter-than-air craft


Military flight


Categories: History