4th February 2015 l Winter Haven, Florida. As the ERCO Ercoupe made its way along the taxiway to the active runway, a departure radio announcement came through the pilots’ headphones.
It was the voice of Ms. Taylor Laverty at the controls of Goodyear GZ-20A blimp Spirit of Innovation (N2A) which is based at Pompano Beach, Florida. As the pilots aboard the venerable flying machine performed its pre-takeoff checks at the hold point, the two saw the giant gracefully and spritely gain speed and point its nose upward.
The pilots completed their checks and announced their intended takeoff, moved the 1946 airplane onto the runway and began to roll. Quickly the plane began to lift into the sky. The floating behemoth hung, seemingly motionless, in the atmosphere a mile or two distant.
With the identified flying object filling the windscreen as he banked left to remain in the airfield’s traffic pattern the aviator occupying the ERCO’s left seat happily exclaimed to his female colleague, “I guess we can say we’ve now flown formation with a blimp!” “Yes we can!” was the reply.
Spirit of Innovation is a GZ-20A non-rigid airship. According to Goodyear this blimp is based in Pompano Beach, Florida, and “is the first Goodyear Blimp to be named by the general public through a web-based “Name-the-Blimp” contest.” Spirit of Innovation was christened on June 21, 2006.
The envelope (which holds the helium gas) material is a combination of Dacron and Neoprene. Her overall length is 192 feet. The two pusher engines provide a combined total of 420 horsepower and can generate a top speed of 50 miles per hour. The gondola has a seating capacity of 7. The fuel load provides for an endurance of up to 24 hours.
Goodyear has been utilizing their blimps as ‘aerial ambassadors’ since 1925. The company currently operates three airships in North America. They are based in Akron, Ohio; Carson, California and Pompano Beach, Florida.
The previous day pilot Taylor Laverty graciously took time from her schedule to answer some questions. Taylor “decided to pass up an airline flying career when the opportunity to fly with Goodyear came about.” She added, “I’m glad I did.”
When asked how she earned her rating, Laverty explained, “I completed a 6-month training program.”
Taylor subsequently expounded on her previous comment and said, “Blimp pilots hold a commercial ‘Lighter-than-Air’ rating and an instrument rating. Each Goodyear pilot candidate must successfully undergo and complete a comprehensive Goodyear flight training program which is designed to help candidates pass the Federal Aviation Administration requirements and earn a license.”
Judged by the excitement and awe exhibited by onlookers at KGIF (Winter Haven Municipal Airport), everyone was glad Taylor invested the time and effort.
Spirit of Innovation is reportedly scheduled to be retired in 2017 when a new ‘semi-rigid’ airship, designed by ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik of Friedrichshafen, Germany is ready to replace her.
The author (John Stemple) thanks Taylor Laverty and the other air and ground personnel, as well as Spirit of Innovation, for visiting KGIF.
Sources and Suggested Readings
Blimp Appearance Schedule
Blimp Spirit of Innovation
Explore the Blimp’s History
ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik