Akron-area residents are going to have to listen a bit harder to detect the new Goodyear NT airship as it flies overhead.
The high-tech, semi-rigid aircraft, which Goodyear still refers to as a blimp, flew for the first time on a freezing, blue-sky-filled Monday morning from its Wingfoot Lake hangar base in Suffield Township.
The St. Patrick’s Day inaugural flight went well — the unnamed airship even circled over Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s headquarters in what was about a two-hour flight before returning to base.
Weather permitting, the NT airship will be flying around the area a lot over the next several months as the new version of Goodyear’s icon.
“Everything went great. No issues,” Goodyear spokesman Doug Grassian said.
Observers who watched from the public viewing area outside the hangar base noticed the NT — for New Technology — airship sounds different from the smaller, nonrigid GZ20A blimps that Goodyear used for decades and have been familiar sights.
“A lot quieter,” said Brian Gorham, a Goodyear security specialist who stopped by just before the airship took off. “It’s an amazing machine.”
Brimfield resident and blimp fan Jeff Marchion was among the few to see the NT’s first flight.
“I had heard the blimp was going to launch today, this would be the test run,” he said. “I think it looks good. It’s good to see them making new blimps again here. ... It’s quieter. I know that people who have talked about it wanted to know how it was going to sound, if they were going to be able to tell that it was in the air. I think so. I think it’s louder than what they anticipated. It is quieter than the old blimp but they are going to be able to tell.”
The NT took off shortly before 10 a.m. The 246-foot-long airship — 54 feet longer than the Spirit of Goodyear blimp it replaces — was slowly pulled out of the hangar by its new 8-wheel-drive mast truck just before 9 a.m. Temperatures were in the teens, with a slight, steady wind.
The preflight check included firing up the engines, which can swivel up and down, or vector. That lets the airship take off and land similar to a helicopter.
The airship detached from the truck mast and slowly backed up toward the hangar. Then the engines roared and the airship rose a bit vertically before heading out.
Minutes before the airship took flight, a small helicopter stationed at the hangar base took off and circled overhead. The helicopter carried a crew that has been shooting a documentary movie about the making of the Goodyear NT airship.
The NT was piloted by Fritz Gunther, from Germany-based Zeppelin, the manufacturer. Also on board were Derek Reid, from Goodyear, and Juergen Fecher, Zeppelin’s head engineer.
The new airship performed faster than advertised, Goodyear’s Grassian said. The NT airship specs call for a top speed of 73 mph. (The top speed for a GZ20A is 54 mph.)
NT goes 80 mph
But the NT hit 80 mph at one point, helped by a strong tailwind, Grassian said.
“It’s pretty exciting to go this fast,” he said.
Over the next several months, the NT will be used to train Goodyear pilots and undergo certification. Goodyear expects the airship will enter service sometime this summer after it is christened.
Goodyear publicly unveiled the airship last Friday morning with a media event and followed that in the afternoon by permitting an estimated 50 employees and tire dealers to come to the hangar for an up-close look.
Construction of the helium-filled NT started in early 2013 and was completed earlier this year. The airship can carry two pilots and 12 passengers and, unlike the GZ20A blimps, has a restroom on board.
The airship replaces the Spirit of Goodyear blimp that was decommissioned recently after 14 years of service.
Goodyear is sponsoring a naming contest for the NT. To enter, go online at www.goodyear.com/en-US/company/blimp. The company is not accepting paper or mail entries. Deadline is April 4.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com.