Blimp experience once in a lifetime

Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

By Lewis Franck, Special to Kickin’ the Tires

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – Goodyear Tire & Rubber has been supporting racing in ways where the rubber doesn’t meet the road.

Of course, it’s the Goodyear blimp that offers unrivaled camera angles to help casual and serious fans get unique views of the racing action down here on the ground.

This year Wingfoot One will be providing those images for your viewing pleasure. The 246-foot lighter-than-airship has high tech features like vectored (swiveling) engines to give the two pilots greater control.

And speaking of control yours truly recalls one windy night a couple of decades ago when the original blimp was fighting a mighty, losing, battle with headwinds. A number of journalists were having dinner at the Halifax Club on the top floor of a building in Daytona Beach. Looking out the window we were able to see and hear the old aircraft with engines at the rev limiter being blown south towards Miami. The pilots, skillfully, were able to maneuver their giant craft without any other dramas.

Back to this year’s Daytona 500. Monday and Tuesday are days when the 2.5-mile track is not open for competition. Goodyear offered a trip of a lifetime – a one-hour flight near the circuit.

There was an orientation for our group.at the New Smyrna airport. For instance, getting on and off a blimp is unlike anything imaginable. It is literally a moving target in all three dimensions pitching and yawing like a fisherman’s bobber.

My group was driven out on a grassy area where the Goodyear ground staff

The Kickin’ the Tires staff enjoyed an earlier ride on Wingfoot One and shares Lewis Franck’s gratitude for the opportunity. Photos by Jerry Jordan/Kickin’ the Tires

was waiting for us. Of course, there were personnel to hold the lines. One crewman was there to hold a portable windsock indicating direction of said wind. It was almost comical seeing him chase the wind.

 

Other workers attached a short stairway to the swaying blimp. Luckily it did not require a literal leap of faith. Two people debark and then it’s your time to get on.

Once in the gondola, with room for 14 passengers, the seating was as you’d expect it. Only the views from the huge windows are nothing like being on a commercial liner. The sightlines were virtually limitless on a sun-kissed Florida day.

We headed south over the ocean and it was kind of shocking to see sharks swimming so close to shore. Luckily none of them were near anyone in the surf. Unfortunately, our ride didn’t take us over Daytona International Speedway and the one-hour ride seemed like it took only five minutes.

It’s hard to express my gratitude to the folks at Goodyear Racing and the crews who operate the blimp. Hope you enjoy the images they’ll provide this weekend.

One Comment

  1. Kay Presto

    February 24, 2017 at 6:48 am

    Lewis, I was up three times in the older version of the Goodyear Blimp, and each one was a marvelous ride..I remember when Mario Andretti was practicing on the infield road course at OMS I was sitting next to the pilot, and he was kind enough to go down low enough with the blimp that I could get some great photos of Andretti. The blimp always looked slow and graceful from below, but I marveled at how much hard work the pilot had to do to keep it flying, especially in the heavy winds…So glad I had those trips, would love to go up in the new blimp to see how much that process has changed. Glad you got the ride..

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