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Goodyear's Wingfoot One: A Different Breed of Airship (With a Homebuilder Pilot!)
By James Wynbrandt
July 25, 2015 - Among the thousands of aircraft here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, surely one has been seen and admired above all others: Wingfoot One—N1A—Goodyear’s new Zeppelin, making its Oshkosh debut. If it looks like it’s maneuvering even more effortlessly and gracefully than its predecessor, the GZ-20 model Goodyear blimp, that’s because it does.
“We’ve gone to electrically actuated controls,” said Jerry Hissem, N1A’s Chief Pilot, at Pioneer Airport, standing in the shade cast by its 246-foot long airframe. “The controls in the GZ-20 were all mechanically moved. It took up to 100-200 pounds of force on the pedals [to maneuver the aircraft], and on the right hand there was a large elevator wheel to control the pitch of the aircraft.
“This is fly-by-wire with sidestick control.”
Built by a team of engineers from Goodyear and Germany’s ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, the Goodyear Zeppelin’s semi-rigid internal structure differentiates it from previous Goodyear lighter-than-air ships. Another big change: the engines were previously fixed to the side of the gondola, whereas the two 200-hp engines on this model are mounted on the airframe and swivel vertically, providing vectored thrust. It also has a small tail rotor. “You can land in a smaller, tighter area, and it’s more controllable,” Hissem said.
The airship flies as many as eight times per day here at the fly-in, and also takes part in the night air shows, putting on a display of its own, flashing messages across the 86,656 LED lights on its side.
This is the fourth time Hissem has flown a Goodyear airship here, and he’s previously attended the air show three times on his own. An avid GA pilot, Hissem flies single-engine fixed-wing aircraft and is currently building a straight-tail Sonex experimental aircraft.
Here at the show, when not flying N1A, he’s often out patrolling the exhibit hangars and “catching up on technology.”
Hissem graduated from Ohio State University’s aviation program, with an A&P (airframe and powerplant) certificate, and fixed-wing commercial pilot certificates. A native of Akron (where Goodyear is headquartered and N1A is based), he began his career as an A&P with Goodyear, and within a year the company had an opening for an airship pilot and he was accepted and trained for his commercial lighter-than-air rating.
Goodyear has two additional blimps, also new zeppelin models: Spirit of Innovation, based in Pompano Beach, Florida, and Spirit of America, based in Carson, California. They have a top speed of about 70 kts. “We travel about 100 to 130 days per year,” Hissem said of Wingfoot One. “Between our ship, and the Florida airship, we split the Eastern part of the U.S., so you’ll see us in New York City, Boston, Chicago…”
The Goodyear airships make their approach to Oshkosh from the south. “We check in with the Fond du Lac Airport, they hand us off, and we follow Route 41 north,” he said. The ground crew that shadows the dirigible includes a crew chief, chief mechanic, chief electronics technician (in charge of the cameras when covering sporting or other events) and chief ground service equipment mechanic. As for the storms that occasionally sweep through the area, “the ship can handle up to 70 to 80 kt. winds when attached to its mast tether,” Hissem said.
Attendees are “more than welcome to come to Pioneer Airport and see the airship,” said Hissem.
But how do you get a job piloting such a ship? Like any other pursuit.
“Have a passion,” Hissem advised. “Once you start, stick with it. Make good connections within the business and show your desire.”