By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
The Spirit of Goodyear blimp is taking its final Akron-area flights and then heading south for the winter, never to come back.
The blimp, based at Goodyear’s Wingfoot Lake airdock in Suffield Township, is scheduled to fly around Akron today and Thursday, weather permitting, before heading out of town for good Friday morning.
The blimp is being sent to Florida and will be officially decommissioned in 2014, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. announced Tuesday. The blimp will be stationed at Goodyear’s Pompano Beach dock, where the Spirit of Innovation blimp also is based.
The Spirit of Goodyear will have special messaging on its large light board as it flies around Akron, a spokesman said.
“We’ve created some [messages] as a nod to the folks of Akron,” blimp spokesman Doug Grassian said. “We love Akron. Akron loves the blimp. There’s a big connection there.”
People will be able to share stories, photographs and make comments via social media at Goodyear’s blimp Facebook site and via Twitter, @GoodyearBlimp.
Starting next year, Northeast Ohio skies will see a different Goodyear airship — the under-construction Goodyear Zeppelin NT now being built inside the Wingfoot Lake airdock. The NT model — NT stands for New Technology — remains unnamed and will succeed the Spirit of Goodyear locally.
The NT’s first flight is projected to be in March; Goodyear over the next several years will build three of the internal-frame zeppelin airships to replace its three U.S. blimps.
The Spirit of Goodyear is almost 14 years old and has flown longer than most other blimps of its design, Grassian said. “It’s been a very good ship,” he said.
The blimp was commissioned March 15, 2000, by NASA astronaut Sally Ride.
Because of the indoor zeppelin construction, the Spirit of Goodyear has been moored outdoors for the past several months, Grassian said.
“It’s retiring to the south just like many people in the north do,” Grassian said.
The blimp will have an active retirement, Grassian said.
On Friday morning, the Spirit of Goodyear will fly to State College, Pa., where it will be used to provide aerial coverage of the Penn State-Michigan football game. From there, it flies to North Carolina for another college football game next week and then on to Florida for yet another college football game. The blimp will be kept flying until the decommissioning, Grassian said.
“It’s going to be active,” he said.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com.