Riding The Goodyear Blimp At AirVenture
By Chris Batcheller
Every once in a while you get to do something truly amazing.
This week I got the chance to take a ride in the Goodyear Blimp
that has been a staple of AirVenture for so many
Here it was, the start of AirVenture and I was caught up in the
ho hum of it all. Press conferences, writing, pictures - repeat.
AirVenture is always in overdrive with product announcements,
industry news and updates from the alphabet soup agencies (EAA,
FAA, AOPA and the like). We were covering a lot of exciting stuff,
but somehow it felt routine.
Then I got a call from our editor Tom. 'Can you be at the museum
for 1:45? I've got you a slot on the blimp' he said. Now your
talking! I blurted out the quickest 'no problem' I could muster. I
started to scurry to the EAA museum, located on the edge of pioneer
field. Apparently the boss 'Zoom' had made a phone call or two and
managed to get me into the flight roster earlier that morning.
After everyone on the flight arrived we were whisked out to the
blimp in the Goodyear van. The pole that the blimp is
tethered too was lying flat and the number one engine was running.
What seemed like an infinite crew were holding onto the mighty
blimp with ropes and by hand holds on the gondola. A detachable
latter awaited us. Later I found out that they need a minimum of 13
ground crew for operations and today we had 20 plus crew.
We all jumped put of the van and corralled by the door. One by
one we were motioned by the ground crew to make our way out to the
blimp. I was the third one out and juggled my camera bag, two
cameras, cell phone and HD video camera as I scrambled up the
ladder. 8 or 10 ground crew folks were holding onto the gondola and
two of them helped me up inside.
Once in, I made my way to the back bench and tried to get all my
gear situated. The Aero-News TV crew wanted video and I wasn't
going to miss getting some great shots over the show grounds! Not
to mention, I just couldn't resist posting pictures to my Facebook
page from my cell phone.
Soon everyone was settled in. The number 2 engine cranked up and
soon we were off. With a quick bounce, the blimp was up, and away.
Whoooaaa the nose pointed skyward and we began to climb. I didn't
expect that deck angle! Our Pilot Matt St. John later told me that
the blimp climbs and descends between 1600 to 2200 fpm. Sitting in
the back of the gondola, it felt like about 30 degrees nose up!
Soon we were floating effortlessly above Oshkosh with both
engines humming along. There was very little vibration, only a
slight bit could be felt in the airframe. We flew out of the
airport area and into the Wisconsin countryside. Up front, Matt was
giving an interview to a Milwaukee based televisions crew while
listening to the air boss and the chatter from controllers.
The blimp is controlled with throttles, rudder peddles and a
very large pitch wheel. The helium in the envelope is transferred
using valves that are controlled by pull controls just in front of
the pilots head.
I got the chance to switch to the right seat up front. The TV
camera guy and I swapped places and I found the view from the front
to be truly exceptional. About this time we made our way back over
the air show grounds for a few laps.
Sticking my camera lens out the open window was meet with almost
no resistance. I'm used to 80 or 100 knots of wind pushing back on
the lens. I was mashing the button on my Canon capturing every bit
of AirVenture I could. After several laps we made the approach into
Matt pitched the nose down and drove the big blimp into the
landing zone. As we got close, what seemed like an entire pro
football team began to run toward us. They were after the two ropes
that had been dangling from our nose the entire flight. They caught
the ropes and began to pull us in. We touched down and the ground
crew grabbed onto the gondola. We all exited the blimp and made our
way toward the Goodyear Van. I never did see the other passengers
file in, but in a matter of what seemed like a minute or two the
mighty blimp was off again with a new load of passengers.
The Goodyear Blimp is a truly exceptional aviation experience. I
know it was hard for me to wipe the smile off my face for the rest
of the day! Be sure to check out the jump below, Goodyear has
put together a great site with tons of information on the fleet and
their operations. Oh and you can see the video as the opening shot
At Oshkosh 2010: Looking Back At Day Three.