Just Above Sunset
August 7, 2005 - Up, Up and Away...

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Up, up and away…

By Bob Patterson


Imagine how exciting a rollercoaster ride would be if there were no rails to hold the car on course.  Add to that, the fact that there isn't a solid structure holding you up off the ground.  There is no restraint holding you into your seat.  Would that be a thrill ride or not?  Next add some moments of serene tranquility that come close to a religious experience.  That gives you a hint about what it's like to ride on the Goodyear blimp.


The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company is celebrating their 80th year of operating a blimp and on August 4, members of the Just Above Sunset online magazine staff rode along on one of their excursions in the skies above Los Angeles.


When the blimp initially lifts off, it's like going up a few stories in an elevator that is on the outside of a building.  Then, suddenly the pilot puts the aircraft into a climb that is astonishing.  Afterwards the pilot says that the reason was because he was trying to avoid "pointy things" such as the mast to which it had just been secured.  It was said the degree of climb was 30 percent but it felt a bit steeper than that.  It was noisier than riding in a WWII bomber.


The pilot climbed to around 1800 feet of altitude and headed down toward Long Beach and the Queen Mary.


Below the streets of the city look like something that is part of an HO train layout, but it has a life of its own.  Next to the pilot's seat there is a wheel that makes it look like he is in a wheelchair.  That's what he uses to control the climb and descent. 


For a writer who has experienced flying in a small helicopter, a single engine airplane, a B-17 G, and several jet airlines, it was a unique and memorable experience.  While cruising, the ride is smooth and even (cue the time honored cliché) majestic because they usually travel at 30 mph.  (Bursts of speed up to 50 mph are possible.)  Travel on an ocean liner was more tumultuous than this blimp trip.  When climbing and descending, the ride is more exhilarating than some amusement park rides.


A Piper Cub has to maintain a certain amount of speed to remain airborne and so a passenger will see a constant relentless change of scenery, but the blimp pilot doesn't have to worry about the "stall out speed" factor and can proceed at a very slow pace.  The passengers have time to study the small details of the terrain and can (if they are familiar with the geography below) orient themselves and concentrate on absorbing the impressions that they are gathering.


It is easy to imagine that a return to extended travel by this method would appeal to a clientele that appreciates luxury.  Recently a German firm has worked with reviving Zeppelins. 


A blimp is a rubber balloon that has no frame.  Zeppelins have internal structures (similar to a skeleton.)   The dictionary says the word dirigible means that the aircraft can be directed or steered.  Some fact finding preparation for the trip, found a site that informs readers that the word blimp originated when an officer inspecting one of the very first blimps poked the rubber craft with his finger and he used the resulting sound to give the machine a name.  It was also learned that the Navy slang term for pilots qualified to fly blimps is "gas baggers."


Kids who want to set their sights on becoming a blimp pilot should realize such a goal will require a great deal of preparation because the best candidates have a college education and already have pilot training that includes instrument, Multiple Engine (ME), and commercial ratings.  When the rookie is ready, the FAA has only two examiners who can issue the students their license to fly a blimp.


All the passengers on our particular trip noted the high esprit d'corps of the airbase employees and remarked about the high level of satisfaction with their job that they exhibited.


In addition to the JAS writer and photographer, the other passengers on the first flight on Thursday August 4, 2005, were Wayne and Phyllis Rickert, and Ron and Sue Poulson. They had placed the winning bid on the tickets at a charity auction that benefited the Multiple Sclerosis Society. 


Folks who have done some scuba or free diving might appreciate the metaphor that riding in the Goodyear blimp is analogous to snorkeling in the sky. 


The unique assignment challenges a writer's ability to accurately describe the experience.  Perhaps one of the folks who work at the blimp base has written a book about it?  A search of the Amazon web site for books about the Goodyear Blimp was unproductive.


Web surfers can find other sites with more information about blimps...  The Spirit of America - a Zeppelin museum and a new attempt to revive travel by Zeppelins or a site about Zeppelins.


Writers are advised that they should learn that travel is more than just getting from Place A to Place B.  In today's hectic world, it was very reassuring to find out that sometimes just going from Place A (the blimp airbase) and returning to Place A an hour later, can be a marvelous experience per se and will be remembered for a long, long time as one of the best assignments ever.



Copyright © 2005 – Robert Patterson

Email the author at worldslaziestjournalist@yahoo.com




Goodyear Blimp Ground Crew
The ground crew send us off...


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....