The Goodyear blimp passed over Rolla late Wednesday afternoon. Owned and operated by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Akron, Ohio, the blimp "America" paid its second visit to Rolla in the past three years to stop over and refuel. "We just like to land here," said Larry Chambers, the blimp's captain.
Published September 4, 1980 in The Rolla Daily News
The Goodyear blimp passed over Rolla late Wednesday afternoon. Owned and operated by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Akron, Ohio, the blimp "America" paid its second visit to Rolla in the past three years to stop over and refuel. "We just like to land here," said Larry Chambers, the blimp's captain. "We like the town and we like to spend the night here." Chambers and the blimp's 19-member crew is on its way to a network television assignment to provide aerial shots of the Notre Dame-Purdue football game Saturday at South Bend, Ind.
It will be the second collegiate game in less than a week for the crew. It also was on hand for Monday's game between Arkansas and Texas in Austin, Tex. The blimp landed at the Rolla National Airport at Vichy about 5:30 last night and took off about 8:15 this morning.
"It's a nice big airport with obviously not a lot of activity so we have plenty of room," said Chambers, one of five pilots traveling with the blimp. Most of the blimp's $1.5 million operational costs goes to its large ground crew, he said. The ground crew usually numbers 22 — five pilots, a public relations representative and 16 crewmen. Moving from city to city, the caravan of vehicles travels by highway, with the blimp flying overhead. A bus serves as a flight center and communications headquarters. A large tractor-trailer truck serves as a mobile maintenance facility, carrying the mooring mast, spare parts and supplementary equipment. A station wagon and sedan round out the vehicles.
"America," one of four Goodyear blimps, attracted a lot of attention as it hovered over Rolla for almost an hour waiting for its ground fleet to catch up with it. Some curious persons drove out to Vichy to watch the huge (192 feet long, 50 feet wide and 59 feet high) blimp land. After it hooked up with its mooring mast, the onlookers walked up for a closer look at the blimp. "This happens almost everywhere we go, especially in the smaller towns where it doesn't usually happen," Chambers said as he prepared to leave the airport for Rolla.
Although it rarely happens, the blimp went largely unnoticed Tuesday night when it landed in McAlester, Okla., Chambers said. A prison escape kept most of the area persons looking on the ground in-stead of in the sky and the blimp landed without attracting much of a crowd. Chambers and his crew are scheduled to land M South Bend, Ind., tomorrow afternoon after a stopover tonight in Champaign, Ill. The blimp's cruising speed is 30-35 m.p.h. with a maximum speed of 50 m.p.h. Power is supplied by twin, six-cylinder 210 h.p. engines.
It’s sausage shape is maintained by 202,700 cubic feet of helium inside the rubber-coated polyester fabric envelope. Named after the yacht that won the first America's Cup, "America" traveled 300 miles yesterday, but Chambers said the daily cruising range varies because of the winds. A good tail wind allows the blimp to move faster while a strong head wind slows it considerably. On the average the crew plans on flying for 8-10 hours a day. Safety is the primary factor in the overall operation, said Chambers who has flown "America" the past three years and Goodyear blimps for the past 12 years. Goodyear blimps have operated for more than 50 years without a single passenger fatality, he noted.
Can Have Six Passengers
The blimp's car can handle six passengers and a pilot, but during television commitments the blimp can handle only three persons — a cameraman, a videoman and a pilot. Although seen mainly during nationally televised football games and the World Series, the blimps are used for other things, such as openings of Goodyear stores and flying over county and state fairs Chambers said.
“It’s all free whatever we do. It’s all by invitation and Goodyear decides where we go,” he said.