The Goodyear blimp Spirit of Innovation (Source: Jeff Knight, WAVE 3 News)
Captain Matt Lussier (Source: Jeff Knight, WAVE 3 News)
A view out of the gondola as the Spirit of Innovation climbs. (Source: Jeff Knight, WAVE 3 News)
The ground crew prepares to grab the ropes as Spirit of Innovation comes in for a landing. (Source: Jeff Knight, WAVE 3 News)
Spirit of Innovation makes her landing (Source: Jeff Knight, WAVE 3 News)
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Tens of thousands of people will filter into Valhalla each day and try to get the best view of their favorite golfers during the PGA Championship. None of them will get a view quite like the one you'll see if you watch on TV, provided from above Thursday and Friday by the Goodyear blimp. We got to ride along to see what it takes to cover major sporting events and what it takes to fly one.
When he was little, Matt Lussier wanted to be a bird. He settled for flying with them.
"There's only about 35 to 40 blimp pilots in the world," said Lussier. "I was at the right place at the right time.”
A pilot since he was age 14, Lussier jumped when he heard there was an opening to fly a Goodyear blimp.
"About eight interviews later and 1,800 applicants later, here I am," Lussier said.
Since the 1960s the blimp and sports have gone hand in hand.
"It's not a good sporting event unless the Goodyear blimp is above your event," said Lussier who has flown over them all - baseball, football, and as a Charlotte-area native, NASCAR. "I love doing NASCAR and it is the best seat in the house. Those are the skybox seats."
This week his assignment is golf. We went with him in the Spirit of Innovation, based in Pompano Beach, Florida, for his first flyover of Valhalla. Lussier and his crew will be shooting the PGA Championship Thursday and Friday. One or two pilots will be in the gondola, or cockpit, plus one camera person. Two people will be onsite to receive the blimp's microwave signal and send it out to the TV network. Everyone else in the 20 to 21 person crew will be on the ground, helping the blimp takeoff and land.
"Blimps are well-suited for golf because of the fact that we are stationary, we don't move around a lot, it's easier for the cameramen to actually track the ball," Lussier said, “as well as the fact that we are generally quieter.”
Blimps float with the air currents, up and down. Lussier is constantly making adjustments to keep it level. The engine is there to help it along, and toward the end of our ride, we understand how important it is as well to bring the blimp back down.
"We actually have to point the nose down, add power and drive it back to Mother Earth and slow it up and be caught by 15-plus people," Lussier said.
Depending on the weather, the descent can be steep. Lussier says the maximum is a 30 degree angle. There are no brakes. The blimp stops because of the people on the ground who catch it.
There are only two ways to get to ride in the blimp, aside from scheduled media rides. When the crew is at home, they host rides to raise money for charity. When they make stops in places like Louisville, they invite Goodyear customers to come along for a ride.