|Fred Harl and Carmelo Turdo|
The Goodyear Zeppelin Wingfoot One is truly an impressive airship. It measures over 246 feet from nose to tail, and rises to nearly 58 feet tall. It contains nearly 298,000 cubic feet of volume, and its three piston engines power the airship at speeds of up to 73mph. The gondola holds up to 14 passengers in comfort. Though not nearly as long as the 804ft Hindenburg of the 1930s, it is a safe, modern descendant of the Zeppelin airships that once provided luxurious, trans-oceanic air travel at twice the speed of the ocean liners of the day.
Unlike a pure blimp, it is a semi-rigid airship that holds helium gas in bladders fastened to an aluminum and carbon-fiber structure beneath the surrounding outer envelope. Assembly of Wingfoot One began in March 2013 at the historic Goodyear Wingfoot Lake Base near Akron, OH. The tail and gondola were made at the Zeppelin plant in Germany and shipped for assembly in Akron. Goodyear engineers and pilots contributed to significant changes in the gondola, especially in the cockpit. Here is a Goodyear-produced time-lapse video of the construction of Wingfoot One:
During the week, Wingfoot One flew several precision flight demonstrations during the afternoon airshow, taking off and landing from its mooring at Pioneer Airport near the EAA Museum and helicopter base. A typical day's flying activity can be captured in this sequence:
A flight opportunity became available for Saturday afternoon during a series of media orientation flights. The Goodyear crew was efficient and courteous as they gathered the media representatives into the shuttle van for the short drive to the airship mooring area. We were promised a 30-minute flight around the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh grounds and surrounding areas. Well, that was not what we received! Due to a great scheduling quirk, we were treated to a 1.5hr. flight that gave us spectacular views of the grounds and the smoke trails of the airshow performers a safe distance away. During the flight, as we followed roads around the nearby farms, pilot James Kosmos gave thorough explanations of the airship's flying capabilities and control systems. Kosmos was involved in the design of the cockpit layout, and thus had keen insight into the improvements made on request of the Goodyear flight team. "This is the only one of its type flying. It's the most advanced, innovative airship in the world," he made sure to tell his captive audience.
Wingfoot One lifted smoothly from the field and began a wide circle around the grounds. The comfortable seats and wide windows gave the impression of merely floating along in mid air. The swiveling engines and computer-controlled flight system responded smoothly, and there was little noise from the side engines as we watched their propellers spinning from the large side windows. The ascent and descent from the mooring were smoother than an elevator, and the level flight of the airship (versus the porpoising of the blimps) was a welcomed improvement. This short video clip and photos from the gondola give some impression of the passenger accommodations:
Pilot James Kosmos noted that new procedures and checklists were developed for this airship and for those that will be added in the future. "We're doing an airline-style training program. We built that all from the ground up, so it took us quite a long time." Future crew training should be smoother for the next crews, who will fly several more airships to replace the blimps. The new airships will need less ground support, while offering more precise and longer flights over sports venues and other areas needing in-flight news coverage.
Even our long flight had to end at some point, and none of us wanted to leave the gondola. But we exited as we entered, one at a time to prevent a sudden imbalance of weight affecting the buoyancy of the airship, through the forward entry door. The crew made it look effortless and routine, which says as much for their professionalism as anything else. The Aero Experience hopes that you have enjoyed this brief foray into our flight on the Goodyear Zeppelin Wingfoot One, and we thank everyone who made our participation possible.