Saturday, August 8, 2015

Goodyear Blimp - Spirit of America retirement celebration

One really fun perk of living where we do, is seeing the Goodyear blimp flying by fairly regularly. The Goodyear Blimp Base Airport is based out of Gardena California, and regularly flies at least 5 days a week. The "Spirit of America" is one of three blimps in Goodyear's fleet, which covers events all over the United States. After 13 years of service, it's finally time to retire the "Spirit of America" and the public was invited to the send off!
Taking place on Friday and Saturday, from 11am-6pm, parking was available at the nearby StubHub Center, and a bus shuttled people back and forth to the blimp base airport. We arrived right at 11am, hoping to beat the crowds. There was already quite a line for the shuttle, and we just missed getting on one. It worked out pretty well for us though because two of the blimp support crew showed up. We peppered them with all sorts of questions while we waited, and they were happy to answer them.

Off we go!

The Base Airport

The gates to the airport were open and we walked onto the airfield.

This thing is enormous! Nearly 200 feet long and 60 feet tall! The next tour will be taking place in fifteen minutes, so we spent the time taking pictures. How often does anyone get a chance to be this close to the Goodyear Blimp?

Let's get a few more photos.

One really cool thing they had going on was a raffle for a ride on the blimp! Goodyear never sells rides on their blimp. It allows them to operate with a different set of regulations compared to a commercial flight. Goodyear does donate opportunities to ride to many different charity groups. Silent auctions for 2 seats typically bring in $3-5 thousand dollars for a one hour ride!

Just before 12 noon, lots of people gather around for the raffle. One of the pilots says a few words about the blimp, including what's going to happen to it after it retires. The gondola will be donated to Planes of Fame, an air museum in Chino (about an hour away). The envelope, the neoprene-impregnated polyester fabric that makes up the blimp, is going to be donated to Trash4Teaching. It's a group that rescues discarded materials and engages children in ways to re-imagine things that can be done with it.
Afterwards they had the raffle, but sadly we didn't win.

Time to go see the blimp up close!

Goodyear Blimp pilots and support crew led large groups of people out to the airfield while providing history and answering questions about the blimp.

The pilot who spoke to us has had nearly 2000 flying hours in this blimp, and the longest stretch for her has been 11 hours. Other pilots have gone as long as 15 hours. The blimp has enough fuel to fly for 30 hours straight and has a top speed of 50 miles per hour, with 30 miles per hour being the typical speed. That means when there's a game to cover up in Washington, it takes nearly 6 days of flying to reach it. The maximum altitude tops out at 8000 feet, so it never goes east of the Rocky Mountains.

Ian staying behind the white keep-out line, but just barely. When it's moored, the blimp is only attached by the nose. It's kept at equilibrium, being effectively weightless, so it's free to float around with the wind. Because there's no internal structure to the blimp (it's really just a giant balloon filled with helium) tying down on both sides would be a bad idea. If it's tied down in two places, a strong wind could cause a lot of pressure on one side and deform the balloon.

One thing I found really interesting was the pressure difference between the inside and outside of the balloon. With such a big envelope, the pressure differential is actually very low. Imagine being underwater. You know as you go deeper, the pressure increases. The pressure between the envelope and the outside air is like being under only 1 inch of water.
Someone asked about what would happen if it was hit with a bullet. The pilot said they'd likely never know, at least for a few days. Because the pressure is so low very little helium will escape, and the only reason they'll know is because of the sensors inside showing more helium at the top of the envelope and more air at the bottom (because it's heavier).

The gondola holds 6 passengers plus the pilot. Everything in this blimp is controlled through foot pedals and wheels.

It's right on top of us!

And it really does come right up to that keep-out line. 

Pointing out some of the ballast that is used to hold the blimp down. Because only a few materials are completely impermeable, the envelope that holds the helium does leak and has to be replenished. The technician we spoke to says it needs about $1000 of helium every week just to stay afloat.

The engines run on regular aviation fuel which runs about $6.00 a gallon. A normal trip will only burn 70 gallons of fuel.

How about all those messages you see on the side of the blimp? On the left side, there is an array of LEDs.

There's a total of 3780 boards, each containing 22 LEDs. That means there's over 80,000 LEDs used in this sign.

After checking out the blimp, I wandered around the airfield a little more. How often does this chance come around?

Every time we drive south on the 405 freeway, we pass this sign and see the blimp. I knew I wanted to get a picture of both of them together from this angle when I heard the airfield was going to be open.

Let's go see what else we can find!

A very old Goodyear sign from the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company that opened in 1919, salvaged when the plant closed and brought here in 1983.

The Los Angeles Fire Department is also here with one of their trucks out for kids to explore.

Ian loved the truck and all the stuff in it.

Let's roll!

After hanging out in the front of the cab, he went to the back.

Good thing those tires are Goodyears. That would have been embarrassing.


Enjoying some Italian Ice. Along with the Italian Ice, there was also a BBQ truck selling food.

Mmm. Yummy!

We stuck around for the 1:30pm raffle and were so close to winning. As they read off the winning numbers, we kept matching all of them until the very last one, and we were only off by 2! Oh well. It's still hard to spoil this day.

Thank you so much to Goodyear for opening this up to the public. We had a fantastic time coming to see the blimp! "Spirit of America" we wish you well!
Replacing the "Spirit of America" will be the "Spirit of Innovation", coming in September. The "Spirit of Innovation" will make Gardena its home for the next year, before it's replaced with an all new design! Wingfoot One is a semi-rigid airship that is 50 feet longer with more capability. The current blimp design is insured for $8 million dollars, while the new airships cost $33 million!
We'll look forward to seeing that flying over our house when it does come!

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