The iconic Goodyear blimps are a common sight in the skies over stadiums at sporting events in the US, serving as an aerial billboard and television camera platform to provide aerial views. In 2011, Goodyear announced plans to replace the current fleet of GZ-20 class blimps first introduced in 1969 with three new Zeppelin NT airships. Goodyear says this new design will be longer, faster, and more maneuverable than the current fleet, while also being less expensive to operate.
The new airships models are supplied by German zeppelin manufacturer ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, and last week Zeppelin and Goodyear teams at Goodyear's hangar in Suffield, Ohio, installed an envelope over the aluminum and carbon fiber framework of the first airship. This was an important milestone with the zeppelin starting to take on the familiar blimp-like shape as the envelope made of polyester with a DuPont Tedlar film is stretched over each metal truss.
Everything about the NT, (NT stands for "Neue Technologie", which is German for new technology), design is bigger. The current blimp design is 192 ft (58.5 m) long with an envelope volume of 202,700 cu ft (5,735 cu m), while the NT is 246.5 ft (75 m) long with an envelope volume of 297,527 cu ft (8,425 cu m) and the ability to carry nearly 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) more cargo than the current airships in the Goodyear fleet.
"It is a fly-by-wire design, with the latest in airship technology," Nancy Ray, director of Global Airship Operations at Goodyear tells Gizmag. What makes the new Goodyear NT more maneuverable are the three vectoring prop engines. "They swivel up and down. In essence, this helps the airship take off and land more like a helicopter, and provide the ability to control its aerial position," explains Ray.
The major difference is the change from a traditional non-rigid blimp to a zeppelin. A blimp is an aerial vehicle that helped coin the term "lighter than air," because there is no rigid framework and it's filled with hydrogen or helium – although only helium is used these days after the flammability of hydrogen was deemed a hazard. In comparison, the Zeppelin NT has a semi-rigid framework to support the helium-filled craft, which allows for a larger payload.
"As we build the new-design NT airships, the current fleet of Goodyear blimps will not be completely out of service until 2017, so as we decommission airships we will keep useable parts as spares," says Ray. The first of the new airships is set to enter service in 2014, with each expected to have a lifespan of 25 years, with progressive maintenance.
Though Ray preferred not to provide specifics as to the cost of the new zeppelins, she says, "It represents a strong investment in Goodyear’s airship program, helping to ensure that Goodyear will remain at the forefront of aerial broadcast coverage and support."