Monday, November 3, 2014

Goodyear Blimp Hangar Tour

We have a a return visit by our guest blogger Erica who has written for us several times.  Most recently Erica shared her experiences at the grand opening of Birchwood and Pine.  Today she generously shares a very rare experience--taking a tour of the blimp hangar.  Thanks Erica!
When she is not sharing her favorite things about Akron with us, she runs a small business called As I Breathe I Hope, where she handmakes quirky original plush characters made from new and recycled fabrics. Check out AIBIH on Etsy and on Facebook.

Ask and You Shall Receive: How I Landed a Tour at the Goodyear Airship Operations Base
by Erica Scheutzow

In 2012, the Summit ArtSpace held their first annual Akron Arts Prize. I took on the challenge of creating something outside of what I normally craft for my business, As I Breathe I Hope, to exercise my skill and style of fiber arts. It was quick and easy for me to decide on what I would make – a Goodyear Rubber & Tire Company themed, soft-sculpture mobile. It would be a play on an iconic company and the juxtaposition of being born and raised around it. I dubbed it, “Rubber City, Baby!”  My inspiration stems from many things, aside from being raised in the ‘burbs of Akron and seeing the imagery everywhere. The two things that stick out the most are my fascination of the blimp and Wingfoot Lake State Park.

Components of the mobile: Eagle tire, the Blimp, Wingfoot and Goodyear logo’s

As a child, I would get so pumped when I heard the hum of the engines that I would run to the windows, if not bolt outside to catch a glimpse of the blimp flying by. To me, dusk was the best time for viewing because you could still see the entire blimp but the scrolling lights would come on and it would just be a magical sight. Wingfoot Lake State Park was my second haven. My aunt Bonnie would take my siblings, my cousin and I to the park to play when we would stay the night at her house in Tallmadge. I can remember running through all the paths to each of the park’s playgrounds. On a hot summer day, you could smell the rubber from the tire shreds that were used instead of mulch for the play areas. My aunt has since passed, so now these memories are even dearer to me and I always feel reassured when I see the blimp fly over.

So how does the Akron Arts Prize and a tour of the Goodyear Airship Operations Center come together you might ask? After the Arts Prize, my mobile just sat around my studio with good intentions of being hung. I always thought, “I should contact someone at Goodyear and see if they might be interested in displaying the mobile at their offices.” Well, I never did and it continued to sit around until I recently moved. Here in my new home, I unpacked the mobile and decided that I shouldn’t wait any longer. I wasn’t really sure who to contact so, I privately messaged the Goodyear Facebook page explaining the concept of my piece and included photos, hoping to make contact. To my surprise, I received a message back within hours and from there the conversation grew into an invitation for my husband and me to visit the blimp hangar in Suffield. Umm, “What!?” Yes, of course I’ll come visit the hangar for a private tour!

My literal expression while reading this message from the Goodyear Blimp. It’s quite comical

Upon our arrival, my husband and I parked at the Airship Operations lot and were greeted by Mr. Eddie Ogden, the public relations manager. He was very friendly and helpful as we signed in at the visitor’s center and got ready for our tour. We started out in the hallways of the offices as Eddie led us through the history of the blimp through pictures and giving us in depth information of the beginnings and growth of the blimp through the years. It was fascinating! We could easily tell, that even after 28 years at Goodyear, Eddie still has a tremendous passion and enthusiasm for what the company does.

From there, we were led into the warehouse. In there is where they had their own painting station, housing and assembly for parts as well as work stations. We then walked into the blimp hangar. It was massive! It looks big from the outside of the building but being inside it seems infinite. Eddie showed us a retired gondola that would be shipped for permanent display at the Crawford Auto Museum in Cleveland. 

Walking on, we then viewed a restored 1916 Packard delivery truck. It was the first of its kind to have a sleeping cabin. So many more specialized vehicles were in the hangar, some were for moving the blimp, and some were for travel when doing promotions and so on.  

1916 Packard
From this view, we’re standing about half way down the hangar

But what about the blimp? The blimp was fully visible from the warehouse, you could see the back end of it and it looked so small in this giant hangar from viewing it through the doors of the warehouse. When entering into the hangar, I had much anticipation waiting to get close to it as we discussed other topics. I was in awe as we approached it and walked underneath it. Perspective is everything, I felt so incredibly small. 

We were then given permission to step aboard the gondola and it was so much larger than the former gondola that was phased out. Not only larger but more streamlined and lightweight, by 800lbs and made out of carbon fiber composite opposed to the former aluminum on steel welded frame. The interior was a vast improvement as far as seating, larger windows for optimal viewing and on-board restroom. 

My husband, Kevin and I aboard the Wingfoot One
I began to ask Eddie numerous questions like, “How does someone gain access to a ride on the blimp?” To which he responded, “Either through an auction or if you’re a corporate customer.” In case anyone out there was wondering, of course I had to ask! I also asked, “What is the blimp made out of?” He responded, “The envelope is made out of polyurethane, polyester and Kevlar.” The envelope is the outer fabric material. I also asked, “Everyone refers to this as “the blimp”, what is it really?” He responded, “It’s actually called a Semi-Rigid Airship. It has an internal rigid lower or upper frame and a pressurized envelope whereas, the former Non-Rigid Airships have no internal frame and the internal pressure of the lifting gas (non-flammable helium) maintain the shape of the envelope.” 

I have to say, grilling Eddie with a million questions was a lot of fun and he was at the top of his game. It was a true delight! My overall experience about the tour was unlike anything I had ever expected. The history alone was so invaluable and I gained so much more perspective on how innovative the Goodyear Company really is in so many aspects and they continually exceed expectations. My time there was an absolute treasure and even though I didn’t win anything from the Akron Arts Prize, I truly did win here. My “Rubber City, Baby!” mobile will be on permanent display in the visitor’s area of the Air Operations Base in Suffield. It’s an absolute pleasure, joy and honor to be able to extend my art to others who come to visit and share the same excitement as I do for the blimp. Thank You, Eddie for the opportunity!

“No dream is too big, be bold and seize the opportunities when they are presented.”

To learn more about the history and innovation of the Goodyear Blimp:

Custom shirt courtesy of Rubber City Clothing:


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