There was a time in the history of air power that lighter-than-air aircraft held equal sway with heavier-than-air planes. Various hot air balloons were a crucial part of getting man’s feet off the ground, predating the first powered flight by hundreds of years. They evolved into dirigibles once suitable propulsion was discovered. While the speed and maneuverability of early airplanes made them better suited for short range, low-crew flights, airships were seen as the answer for carrying large numbers of passengers over a great distance. They were slower, but they had a certain grace and stability about them.
All that changed in 1937 when a spark, a whoosh, and a cry of “Oh, the humanity!” ended the era of the airship as a means of popular transport.Photo: Car and Driver
Vestiges of this bygone age still hover overhead, usually on the weekends at sporting events. Perhaps the biggest name in airships these days is one of the most grounded companies of all – none other than Goodyear Tires. Their famous blimps have provided aerial coverage for decades while serving as a mobile billboard for the company. Now they’re starting over with their first new airship in forty years, and this time it’s a genuine zeppelin.
How genuine? In the name of precise language, let us clarify. A blimp is essentially a long balloon with a box attached to the bottom. It is inflated with whatever gas is keeping it aloft. A zeppelin has a rigid framework which is then covered and filled with gas, no inflation necessary. So an empty zeppelin would retain its shape whereas an empty blimp would not. As another way of explaining, if you watch the footage of the Hindenburg disaster, the initial wave of flames burns up the outer covering in an instant, leaving the zeppelin’s skeleton exposed in the moments before that too crumples and begins to disintegrate into the inferno.Photo: Car and Driver
Zeppelins were invented by Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin. We imagine if he had lived to see the Hindenberg disaster, he would have felt a lot like Daedalus, watching Icarus crash into the sea. Not to be mistaken for a digression, Zeppelin – the company that built Goodyear’s new airship – traces its roots back to the original network of companies founded by Ferdinand more than a century ago. They’ve been (back) in business since the 1993.Photo: Car and Driver
This being a car blog, we would be remiss if we didn’t give some stats on the new high flyer. The Car and Driver article on this subject reports a top speed for the new ship of 73 miles per hour, considerably better than the blimp’s 50 mph max speed. It’s powered by three engines of 200 horsepower a piece which are more powerful together and quieter than the twin 210 hp motors on the blimp. The construction of the zeppelin that we discussed allows these propellers to be mounted on the sides of the frame rather than the passenger compartment. Fifty feet longer and fifteen feet wider, the airship will be able to carry twice as many passengers as its predecessor.Photo: Car and Driver
If you want to know more about all the highly technical aspects of operating a zeppelin, we recommend this Car and Driver article on how Goodyear parks and stows its airborne behemoth. We’d go over it, but we want to get to the good stuff, and that is:
Goodyear is having a contest to name the new airship. Just visit this page on Goodyear’s website and fill out the form, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a set of Goodyear tires. That’s only first prize, though. One grand prize winner will win a daytrip in the zeppelin itself. It carries fourteen people – you could feasibly fit your whole extended family in there. Not many people can say they’ve had a chance to roam the sky in a 250-foot airship. If you enter and your name for the Goodyear zeppelin is chosen, maybe you’ll be able to. The contest ends on May 9.Photo: Car and Driver