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Goodbye Goodyear Blimp, hello Zeppelin

Norm Goyer looks back to the future of the Zeppelin.

I am writing this on my 85th birthday and my mind started wandering over the past years about the many aviation milestones that I have witnessed or otherwise came into contact with. I also would like to think that I have not forgotten some noteworthy events.

I was a year old when Lindberg and his Spirit of St Louis spanned the Atlantic. I was 16 years old when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. You get the idea, I have been around for a very long time. My flying buddy Walter Schomburg dropped by and we were talking birthdays. As usual, he also had a birthday story to tell.

Walter and his parents were on the way home to Argentina from German after visiting relatives left behind. It was also Walter’s 6th birthday. The Captain of the ocean liner told everyone that a special rendezvous was going to be made around 4:30 the following morning. It seems that the paths of the liner and the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin would cross paths. Walter was in second grade at the time. Walter’s mother pointed to the sky when lights appeared on the horizon. The Graf Zeppelin had arrived. The Captain of the dirigible had dropped down to about a 1000 feet, or as Walter remembers about 300 meters, and circled the ocean liner with all lights ablaze. Walter is now in his 80s and can recount every second of the huge airship over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

I responded with my Zeppelin story. I was born and brought up in Northampton, Massachusetts. President Calvin Coolidge had been the mayor of our town. The German Zeppelin firm manufactured a Zeppelin for the United States and they delivered it to Lakehurst, New Jersey. President Calvin Coolidge was on hand to welcome the huge air ship soon to become USS Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles proved so successful that the United States copied the Hindenburg and its sister ship the Graf and built the Shenandoah, Macon and the Akron. And there folks are the sum total of Zeppelins in the United Sates in during the late 1930s. Seven decades later there are at least four modern Zeppelins built by a daughter company of the original Zeppelin. They are still being built in Germany.

I am about to involve the Goodyear Tire and Rubber folks into the mix, so I guess it’s time to discuss blimps , balloons, dirigibles and semi-rigid dirigibles. Americans are used to seeing blimps circling over sports events and flashing advertising signs at night. These are blimps, a gas bag with two engines and a small cabin module hung on the bottom.Dirigibles have an internal structure with multiple gas bags tucked into the metal structure.

Those modern Zeppelins are hybrids, they have a partial rigid skeleton but sections of the interior inflated bags do dictate part of the outer shape of the airship. Zeppelin construction allows larger engines to be attached to the metal structure and some interior space can also be used for luggage and crew quarters. For passenger hopping, a Zeppelin is far superior to the gas bag blimp.

The aviation press was alerted recently that the Goodyear Rubber and Tire Company was purchasing a fleet of hybrid Zeppelins from Germany and retiring the famous Goodyear Blimps. The magic word in this upcoming shift in hardware is Goodyear wants to kick up their profit making a bit by adding paying passengers in greater numbers than possible with the blimps. There are several Zeppelins already in the United States hopping passengers and making a profit.

Dirigibles were carrying passengers in many countries before the Wright Brothers flew the first fixed wing aircraft. Zeppelins made life hell in London during World War I. Zeppelins were carrying passengers between Germany, United States and Brazil on a regular schedule way before the famous Clipper four engine seaplanes were used. Dirigibles, like me, have been around for a very long time.

You can now make reservations for a Zeppelin ride in the San Francisco area! Airship Ventures has brought a Zeppelin NT airship from Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei GmbH, Allmansweilerstrasse 132 D-88046 Friedrichshafen Deutschland to the Bay Area The new Zeppelin is being used for daily sightseeing flights, advertising operations, corporate and event occasions and scientific missions. It has been operating from Moffett Field, North Oakland and Sonoma County airports since November 2008.

By Norm Goyer

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