In the Air: Taking a trip in the Goodyear blimp

For nearly 50 years, the city of Carson has been one of three home bases for Goodyear’s iconic blimps.

The airships are mainstays at sporting events all across the Southland and country. But over the coming months, those blimps are getting an upgrade.

Goodyear will sunset the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ next year, and I recently got a chance to take a ride in the retiring ship:

‘Innovation’ will be replaced by what’s called a Zeppelin NT. Dubbed ‘Wingfoot Two’, a semi-rigid ship, 50 feet longer, much quieter and more dexterous.

The new ship won’t be much of a blimp at all, in the classic sense.

The big, wooden wheel used to adjust the blimp’s pitch will be replaced with a joystick. And the ship will be able to take off vertically. No more angled ascensions. It’ll just go… up… for another generation of Southern California skywatchers to admire.

The electronics on the new, Goodyear airship will be state-of-the-art. This is a look at the old GPS device,
The electronics on the new, Goodyear airship will be state-of-the-art. This is a look at the old GPS device.

Blimp pilot Kristen Arambula described the delicate process of getting her current ship in the air:

“We have the static lift, with the Helium above us in the envelope and then we also have the dynamic lift of the blimp moving through the air,” she said. “We have engines propelling us forward, which creates lift over the envelope and so that helps us steer right and left and climb and ascend and then it also helps us go forward.”

Kristen Arambula is one of three, female blimp pilots in the world.
Kristen Arambula is one of three, female blimp pilots in the world.

Because of all that helium inside, the blimp coasts.

What Arambula does inside that gondola, using pedals with her feet – like a car, and using a wooden wheel – at her side – moves the ship in different directions.

Arambula, who is one of only three female blimp pilots in the world, has mixed feelings about the change to a new design and ship.

Blimps, of course, are very safe. But they have had their share of mishaps over the years, including perhaps the most infamous disaster in zeppelin history.

The Hindenberg crashed in 1937 while trying to connect to a mooring at a Naval Air Station in New Jersey, killing 36 people.

It would certainly be safer to fly a pilotless drone for an overhead look at the world. But Tom Crouch, the Senior Curator of Aeronautics at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, said there’s something special about a blimp.

“You can’t get what you get from a blimp,” Crouch said, “which is that real aerial perspective that kind of takes your breath away.”

KCRW’s Benjamin Gottlieb recorded and produced this segment.