More than 2,000 people witnessed the christening of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s newest blimp, Wingfoot One, on Aug. 23, 2014. Richard Kramer, Goodyear chairman and chief executive officer, said the brand equity built by the airship helps to sell tires around the globe. “It is invaluable, irreplaceable and one of a kind.”
The blimp was christened by Robin Roberts, the award-winning co-anchor of ABC News’ “Good Morning America.”
Roberts, also a long-time ESPN sportscaster and author, christened the new airship with the traditional breaking of a bottle against the ship’s gondola at Goodyear’s Wingfoot Lake Hangar in Suffield, Ohio.
“This is incredibly meaningful to my family,” said Roberts. “My great grandfather moved his family from down south to Akron in 1918 to work for Goodyear. Never could he have imagined that one day one of his descendants would be asked to christen the blimp. I'm very honored.”
In addition to her great grandfather, Roberts’ grandfather, William Tolliver, also worked at Goodyear. Her late mother, Lucimarian Roberts, was born in Akron and graduated from East High School – a few blocks from Goodyear’s headquarters. Roberts also has a family connection to aviation through her late father, Lawrence E. Roberts, who served in the United States military for more than 30 years. Col. Roberts was a pilot with the U.S. Army Air Corps’ prestigious Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and later became a flight instructor at the Tuskegee Institute.
“The christening of Wingfoot One begins a new chapter for the Goodyear blimp, one of the world’s most recognizable and enduring brand icons,” said Kramer. “The new blimp renews our commitment to our airship program, builds on our legacy as the leading operator of airships and continues our leadership in providing superior aerial coverage of the most watched news, sports and entertainment events.”
Following the ceremony, Roberts boarded Wingfoot One for its ceremonial first flight. She joins a list of accomplished women who have christened Goodyear blimps, including astronaut Sally Ride (2000) and aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart (1929).
Wingfoot One is the first of a new generation of airships manufactured by Germany’s ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik and assembled by a team of Zeppelin and Goodyear engineers over the past 12 months. It represents the first major structural design change of a Goodyear airship in nearly 70 years. The new blimp features advanced on-board avionics and flight control systems with the capability to travel at faster speeds and hover in place. The spacious passenger gondola will provide an enhanced in-flight experience with sweeping, panoramic windows.
Goodyear will introduce two additional blimps over the next four years as it phases out its two remaining GZ-20 models based in Pompano Beach, Fla., and Carson, Calif. Goodyear’s aerial coverage of marquee events in 2014 includes the NBA Finals, college football’s BCS Championship, the Kentucky Derby, 2014 FIFA World Cup and Daytona 500.
Since 1917, Goodyear has built more than 300 lighter-than-air vehicles for public relations and defense applications, many built at the Wingfoot Lake facility.
For more information about Goodyear, go to www.goodyear.com/corporate.
Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and has been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993.