On Saturday, Aug. 23, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s newest blimp, Wingfoot One, was christened by Robin Roberts, award-winning co-anchor of ABC News’ Good Morning America, former ESPN sportscaster and author. The ceremony took place at Goodyear’s Wingfoot Lake Hangar in Mogadore, Ohio.
Wingfoot One is the first of its kind manufactured by Germany’s ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik and assembled by a team of Zeppelin and Goodyear engineers over the past 12 months. It’s 50 ft. longer than the previous blimp and about 15 ft. wider. Its max speed is 73 mph and can seat up to 12 people plus 2 crew members.
More than 2,000 people attended the christening, where Roberts christened the new airship with the traditional breaking of a bottle against the ship’s gondola. Among those in attendance were U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Tom Sawyer, U.S. Congressmen Jim Renacci and Zack Milkovich, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Dr. Scott Scarborough, president of the University of Akron; and community partners including. Also in attendance was Akron resident Charlotte White, winner of the Goodyear ‘Name the Blimp’ contest.
Addressing those in attendance, Goodyear Chairman and CEO Richard J. Kramer said, “Today’s new blimp is a renewal of both our airship program and the blimp itself. Its structure is the first complete redesign since the 1940s and skillfully combines both the long history of our airships and the newest in innovation.”
The GMA co-anchor was chosen by Goodyear because of her family’s Akron roots. In 1918, Roberts’ great-grandfather, George Suddeth, a preacher from Alabama, was recruited from his home in by Goodyear to move to Akron and work for the tire manufacturer. Before she christened the airship, Roberts reminisced of her time growing up in Akron and walking to the old hangar for mornings like this.
“I feel my family, I feel my great-grandfather,” said Roberts. “Knowing the history of my family and that I’m the first in my family to receive this honor, I’ll be a little bit teary-eyed during the flight.”
Kramer, while introducing Roberts, spoke about the connection the Goodyear blimp has to its Akron community.
“The Goodyear blimp inspires a connection to something bigger…It inspires possibility…It inspires a connection to everyone who puts their trust in the Goodyear name. And it inspires a connection to our home…so people of all ages can look to the skies… and say with pride, ‘That’s our blimp.’”
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 and aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.
Goodyear announced that it 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. The company plans to introduce the next airship in 2016 and the third airship in 2018.
“Driving brand equity is important to Goodyear and what does that for us is the Goodyear blimp,” said Kramer. “It’s a global icon.”
Goodyear has not yet announced which sporting event Wingfoot One will cover first.