As I drive down the 405 freeway toward the Goodyear Blimp Base in Gardena, Calif., I can’t help but think that, in 20 minutes, I'll be in an aircraft flying at half my driving speed. Not only that, I'll be in one of the world’s most recognizable aircraft with one of aviation’s most recognizable heroes, Mike Melvill, pilot/astronaut of Scaled Composites’ X Prize–winning SpaceShipOne.
After arriving at the base, I watched a crew of 20 ground handlers maneuver the gigantic machine as it prepares for takeoff. A highly orchestrated series of events occur to get the ship balanced, positioned and launched into the Southern California sky.
During takeoff, Captain Jon Conrad advanced the two Continental O-360 motors to full power, and we literally rocketed into the sky with a 30-degree climb angle. I never would've thought that I'd be impressed by a blimp’s performance, but man, this was a steep climb! Even Melvill, who literally rocketed into space at 2,000 mph, was impressed!
Once we were airborne and stabilized, Conrad relinquished control of the ship to Melvill, who was giddy to pilot the airship. Like a true test pilot, Melvill completed a mini flight test and evaluated the airships controls and response. You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
After about 20 minutes of enviously watching Melvill, it was my turn. I hopped into the left seat of N10A and grabbed ahold of the blimp’s massive pitch control, which is a large wheel located on the right-hand side of the pilot seat. It almost looks and feels like you’re pushing a wheelchair around when you move the elevator control. The rudder is controlled by a set of rudder pedals that require a significant amount of force and patience to use.
I too was giddy. I spend most of my time behind the controls of jets flying above 400 mph; never would I have thought that going so slow would be so much fun.
Sadly, after 20 minutes it was time to land. Conrad slid back into the captain’s seat, and we prepared for arrival. This is where he earns his keep. Landing the airship is by no means a trivial task as evidenced by the amount of control inputs he put in to gently bring the massive machine to a soft and safe landing back in Gardena. After we deplaned, or rather “deblimped," Melvill, his wife Sally and I all looked back in awe of the greatest slow-flying machine ever made—which we just flew!
When I got back to my car, I looked at my car tires. Sadly, they weren’t Goodyear tires. As I drove home, I noticed a little imbalance in the steering wheel. Thirty minutes later, I was at the auto store...buying four brand-new Goodyear tires.
|Goodyear Aviation Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary|
In 1909 Goodyear introduced the first tire built for aviation use. The Goodyear Wing Aeroplane Tire was built by the company's engineers to be lightweight, help resist punctures and be easy to remove.