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The new Goodyear blimp takes its first flight
The larger, faster Goodyear NT blimp lifted off for test flight over Wingfoot Lake in southern Portage County

Mark Urycki
The new Goodyear blimps gets an escort from some Canadian geese at Wingfoot Lake.
Courtesy of MARK URYCKI
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The new generation Goodyear blimp lifted into the air for the first time today outside its hangar in Suffield Township.  The airship has to undergo test flights before it becomes certified by the FAA. WKSU's Mark Urycki reports the first flight appeared to go off without a hitch.

LISTEN: New blimp lifts off

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The new brand high-tech blimp was towed outside the nearly 100-year-old Wingfoot Lake hangar behind a brand new Mack truck with a special mast and four outrigger supports that keep the truck from flipping over .

The bitterly cold winds were a problem for cameras and tape recorders and fingers, but the pilots seemed to have no trouble firing up the three Pennsylvania-made piston engines.

Ed Ogden of Goodyear‘s Airship Operations watched in take off into the sunshine

“That’s a beautiful sight.” 

Flying the German flag
The newest generation blimp was assembled inside Goodyear’s hangar, but it was designed by the German company Zeppelin and for now it flies a German flag. It needs first to be certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency and then by the FAA. You could hear a mixture of German and English among the ground crew.

“Right now we have the Zeppelin chief pilot up on the certification flight along with one of our pilots who was trained in Germany to fly the new style airship," explained Chief Pilot Greg Poppenhouse. "Their chief engineer has a test program laid out so today they’re just going to go up and make sure everything is correct while they’re flying around, so there is no interaction with the radios and communications.  They’ve already checked on the ground. They want to make sure there are no problems in the air.”   

 The airship is almost 250 feet long, about 25 percent longer than the older models -- and noticeably quieter. A chase helicopter was louder than the blimp, which has one third more volume of helium that its predecessor.   

While the basic ship design has been used in Germany for several years, Goodyear’s cockpit is all new. Still, Poppenhouse says the electronic displays will be familiar to American airplane pilots

“These are basically Garmin 500, which is a primary flight display along with a multi-function display. So you have all your navigation, communications, everything you would see on any type of modern plane today. “

Can you type in your destination and get a suggested route?

“Pretty much, (though) these don’t talk."

Akron is home to the new blimp, which does not yet have a name.Goodyear plans to build two more of the ships over the next four years to replace older models in Florida and California.   

(Click image for larger view.)

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