Like many Ohioans, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company's Akron-based blimp, the Spirit of Goodyear, has become a "Snow Bird" and is leaving northeast Ohio's snow and cold for a retirement in the sunshine and warmth of Florida.
The blimp, which has been based at the company's Wingfoot Lake Hangar since its christening 13 years ago, will join The Spirit of Innovation and operate from the company's Pompano Beach, Fla. airship base this winter before being decommissioned in the spring of 2014.
Beginning next year, the company will begin replacing the current fleet of blimps with new state-of-the-art Goodyear NT (New Technology) airships, the first of which is under construction at the Wingfoot Lake Hangar.
"The Spirit of Goodyear gave up its hangar space for the construction of the new Goodyear NT airship and has been moored outside the past months," said Nancy Ray, director of Goodyear's global airship program. "With winter on the way and the blimp's retirement coming up, it's time for the Spirit of Goodyear to move south."
The airship will make farewell flights over the Akron area on Wednesday and Thursday giving area residents a chance to say "goodbye" before it heads into retirement.
"Akron loves the blimp and we love Akron," Ray said. "Our pilots and passengers routinely see countless people step outside of their homes and offices or pull over in their cars to watch the blimp. We wanted to make a last flight to say goodbye and give its fans a chance to wave goodbye to the Spirit of Goodyear."
The Spirit of Goodyear will depart Akron on October 11, traveling to State College, Pa., to cover the Penn State-Michigan football game for ESPN. Afterwards, the airship will work its way south to the company's Florida blimp base.
Christened on March 15, 2000 by America's first woman in space, NASA astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, the Spirit of Goodyear was named to honor the company's worldwide associates. It is the oldest of the tiremaker's three U.S.-based blimps and the first to be replaced by the new Goodyear NT.
During its years of service, the Spirit of Goodyear has flown over countless marquee sporting events including Kentucky Derby horse races, top college football matchups and Major League Baseball and NBA playoffs. In 2004, the airship delivered the first-ever, high-definition images from a camera mounted in a blimp during a Monday Night Football contest.
Ray said the company is on schedule with the construction of the new NT airship and it should be ready for test flights in the spring of 2014.
Goodyear, one of the world's largest tire companies, owns and operates three airships in the United States. They are based in Akron, Pompano Beach, and Carson, Calif.
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