LOS ANGELES — The fabled Goodyear Blimp, which has been seen floating over American sports events for generations, is retiring.
But that big, cigar-shaped dirigible will remain instantly recognizable with its blue-and-gold Goodyear logo emblazoned across the side. It just won't be, technically, a blimp.
From the ground it won't look much different from Goodyear's Spirit of America, which was deflated and disassembled earlier this month after a farewell flight across California.
"It's a brand new design. It is a much larger airship. It's a semi-rigid dirigible," Goodyear's Priscilla Tasker said of the new fleet of non-blimps replacing the company's three aging U.S. airships.
In air-speak that means the new model has a fixed structure holding its big, gassy balloon in place. That's unlike a blimp, which goes flat when the helium is removed.
"But the most impressive features are the glass cockpit that is all fly-by-wire, the most state-of-the-art avionics in airships today," Tasker said.
The first of the new models, Ohio-based Wingfoot One, took to the sky last year, replacing the 14-year-old Spirit of Goodyear. The last of the old ones, Florida-based Spirit of Innovation, will fly to California next month to replace Spirit of America while its replacement is being built. After that, Spirit of Innovation will be retired.
The new ships, with three engines instead of two, will be able to hit freeway speeds of 73 mph (118 kph) and make less racket getting from place to place. They'll also be more manoeuvrable. And they'll still be carried aloft by helium.
The overhaul comes on the 90th anniversary of Goodyear's entry into the dirigible business, but there's more than a birthday bash involved.
Most people who see the iconic blimp hovering overhead are at a sporting event or major entertainment show like the Academy Awards.
But the ship isn't there just to show off. The people inside its gondola are filming the bird's-eye-view scenes you see on television, and they say they'll be able to do that better with a faster, more manoeuvrable craft.
With quieter engines you might not hear the new one coming. But it will be harder to miss once it gets there: The replacement models are 246 feet (75 metres) long, nearly the length of a football field and 50 feet (15 metres) longer than the old ones.
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