Greg Poppenhouse is the Pilot-In-Charge of the Goodyear Blimp "Spirit of Goodyear." He likes the fact that every flight is different.
"If I were to jump in on the next flight, the winds would be a little bit different," he said after flying a group of reporters around Akron. "The wind speed might be a little bit stronger or weaker, the direction might change a little bit."
Soon, the entire blimp will be changing.
The Spirit of Goodyear is being retired. It's flying its farewell tour over Akron this week before being sent to Goodyear's facility in Pompano Beach, Fla. In its place next year will be a Goodyear NT airship with a new design. Where the current blimps use World War II-era manual controls, the new ones will utilize fly-by-wire technology. They will also be able to take off and land like helicopters and hover in one place for long periods of time.
The hovering capability will come in handy in one of the blimp's primary duties: sports broadcasting. It will allow the blimp to stay on one shot for a much longer period of time than the current blimps, which must be moving at all times.
While they may look similar on the outside, the blimps will be very different inside.
"It's not like going from one single-engine plane to another single-engine plane," Poppenhouse said. "It's like going from, I want to say, a Piper Cub to a Lear Jet."
At 246.5 feet, the NT airships will be much longer than the current blimps. The new airship being built at the Wingfoot Lake Airship Base in Suffield Township is so long that it forced crews to dock the Spirit of Goodyear outside for the last several months because there was no room left for it in the hangar. It also features a semi-rigid frame, something no airship built at Wingfoot Lake has ever had.
Perhaps one of the most important upgrades for Poppenhouse and his fellow pilots, though, is the addition of a bathroom.
"Our current ships, we have to put a travel john like you use in an RV," Poppenhouse said. "They weren't designed for those."
Part of Akron
It's not uncommon to see the Goodyear Blimp flying over Akron. Goodyear brought blimps back to Wingfoot Lake in 1992, and there has been a working blimp based there nearly the entire time since. Director of Global Airship Operations Nancy Ray said while the Spirit of Goodyear is leaving, the blimp program is not.
"We still have an airship here," she said. "It just won't be flying for a few months. Akron won't be without a blimp."
Ray said Goodyear regularly donates blimp rides to charity, allowing people to bid on the opportunity to take what is for most people a once-in-a-lifetime ride. The charity auctions are the only way to get on board, unless you're a member of the media, a Goodyear client, or a member of the blimp crew. Many members of the crew are from Northeast Ohio.
"We have more pilots from Northeast Ohio than from anywhere else," Poppenhouse said.
The blimp crew is looking for new members. Poppenhouse said Goodyear is looking for blimp electronic technicians to be based in Pompano Beach and at the blimp program's west coast hub in Carson, Calif.
"A Unique Experience"
Poppenhouse said the experience of flying a blimp is unlike any other.
"It's just such a unique experience, I don't know if I can really put it into words," he said.
Ray doesn't fly on the blimp nearly as much as Poppenhouse. But she said the experience of working on the blimp crew is still incredible.
"I work with one of the greatest brand icons in the world, and it's an awesome experience to be able to do that," she said.
Another perk, Ray said, is the built-in icebreaker that comes with working on the Goodyear Blimp.
"Someone's always interested in hearing about the Goodyear Blimp," she said.
While the chance to ride on a Goodyear Blimp is rare, some people try to make the experience even more unforgettable. Poppenhouse said he's witnessed several couples' proposals while flying the blimp. But one blimp experience you cannot have: proposing via the blimp's LED message board.
"If we were to do it for one, we would have thousands of people wanting it," he said.