Building a better blimp

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OK, sure: blimps – also known as airships, dirigibles, and zeppelins – aren’t trucks; indeed, they aren’t even CLOSE to resembling trucks. So why write about them in a truck-focused blog?

Well, for starters, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. is in the process of building a whole series of new and improved blimps to replace its current airship fleet – blimps that should make an appearance overhead sometime in 2014, the tire maker says.

And tires is but one of the reasons I’m talking about blimps here, for as we all know, Goodyear makes tires of all shapes and sizes – from cars on up to big rigs – and uses its fleet of ubiquitous blimps to promote them far and wide.

Indeed, this week marks an important milestone in Goodyear’s plans to replace its current fleet of blimps as workers install an envelope over the aluminum and carbon fiber framework of the first of its new-design airships – a fleet of airships being supplied by German zeppelin manufacturer ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik and being built with Zeppelin and Goodyear teams at Goodyear's hangar in Suffield, England.

Compared to the current fleet of Goodyear blimps, those new ZLT airship models will be longer, faster and more maneuverable, with an “envelope” made of polyester with a DuPont Tedlar “film” that will sport a volume of 297,527 cubic feet worth of helium when fully inflated.

"This is a major project that requires the dedication and skilled handiwork of these combined teams of airship experts,” noted Nancy Ray, Goodyear's director of global airship operations, whoe oversees a fleet of three blimps for the tire maker. “The result will be the only Zeppelin model airship in North America.”

Indeed, Goodyear has built and operated more than 300 lighter-than-air vehicles since 1917, including two large rigid airships – the U.S.S. Macon and U.S.S. Akron – and this ZLT zeppelin will be the first semi-rigid airship to be constructed in the 95-year history of the Wingfoot Lake Hangar.

Yet blimps are also being developed for freight hauling operations, too. Take a look below at one such “cargo lifting” model that’s been in prototype testing since February.

In some ways, you could think of such freight-carrying blimps as the “big rigs of the sky.”

On second thought … nah, no way could a blimp outshine the cachet of a tractor-trailer. You just can’t put chrome on a blimp can you?

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