Gentle and slow moving, the Goodyear blimp is like the manatee of the sky. The airship first floated above L.A. in January 1920. It tied down in Carson in 1968, slowing traffic on the 405 ever since. The current blimp, dubbed Spirit of America, has a laid-back cruising speed of 35 miles per hour, the same as L.A.’s original. Come take a trip
The Fins and Rudders
Hydraulics are prohibitively heavy, so instead cables attach the fins to a manual wheel, while the rudders are connected to pedals. Since operating the blimp is rigorous, two pilots spell each other on longer trips.
Blimps were used along the West Coast during World War II to search for Japanese submarines, but today they’re almost solely marketing vehicles. LEDs on the side of the blimp—82,656, to be exact—allow it to show text, images, and video that can be seen miles away.
Classified as a “nonrigid airship,” Spirit of America has no internal skeleton or external framework. Air pressure—in the form of 184,000 cubic feet of helium, which replaced hydrogen in 1937—inflates the “envelope,” the 2,400 square yards of neoprene-coated polyester fabric that make up the body.
Sixteen contoured aluminum tubes, or battens, originate from the nose cone and travel toward the rear of the craft. They help maintain structural rigidity when tethered in high winds, and they keep the nose cone from being pushed in during flight.
Less than 23 feet long, the gondola has only seven seats. To nab a ticket, try bidding on any of the roughly 100 pairs that are donated annually to local charities for auction, or patronize (and then beg) your local Goodyear dealer.
Spirit of America is 192 feet long, 55 feet wide, and nearly 60 feet high. Among inflatable airships the models now in Goodyear’s fleet are like Smart cars. To wit, the Hindenburg—technically a zeppelin because of its rigid body—was 804 feet long and 135 feet wide.
The Ground Crew
A full-time crew of 16 mechanics, riggers, and handlers babies the Spirit of America. If the blimp travels more than 50 miles from home, it is shadowed by an 18-wheel Kenworth tractor-trailer, a 22-person bus, and a passenger van.