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ZEPPELINS to replace Goodyear blimps in American skies

'It's a new kind of BLIMP. Yes a blimp, blimp, la la la I'm not listening'

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The first of the new, hi-tech German-made zeppelins which will replace the iconic Goodyear blimps in the skies above the USA has been unveiled at the Goodyear airship base in Ohio.

The zeppelin in question is a "Neue Technologie" (NT) type produced by the modern-day German company descended from the Graf von Zeppelin's original 19th-century venture. Unlike the current Goodyear ships, it is not a blimp: its envelope does not maintain its shape solely by internal pressurisation. Rather, an NT ship has a partial internal structure of GRP and aramid, connecting its gondola, control surfaces and propulsion. It is thus technically a semi-rigid ship, not a blimp, though it seems unlikely that people will stop using the term "Goodyear blimp" and Goodyear themselves describe it as a "state of the art blimp".

“The completion of the new blimp marks the beginning of a new era for our airship program,” Goodyear SVP Paul Fitzhenry stubbornly insisted on saying in tinned quotes issued today.

Goodyear, though today it maintains just three ships for publicity and aerial camera work, has an illustrious history in the airship world. It collaborated with the Zeppelin company between the world wars to build two of the gigantic fully-rigid ships of that era, the US Navy flying aircraft carriers Akron and Macon. The firm also built hundreds of smaller blimps for the US forces, which stayed in service through World War II and into the early Cold War.

When the US Navy blimp fleet disappeared, Goodyear reverted to being a tyre company, with just a trio of publicity ships left. Meanwhile in Germany the Zeppelin company had closed down. Its remaining funds were left in trust with the instruction that they could never be used for anything but the building of airships.

In the 1980s, it seemed that the money might have built itself up to the point of making the Zeppelin company viable again and the NT ships duly appeared. It was hoped in 1990 that as many as 80 might be sold, but in fact only three went into service: one at Zeppelin home base in Friedrichshafen, one in Japan and one in California - though that ship, the Eureka, went out of service in 2012 on failing to find a new sponsor.

Now, however, another three Zeppelin NTs will take to the air: so it's a good day for airship enthusiasts, even if they will probably be annoyed at seeing a semi-rigid zeppelin so obdurately described as a blimp.

There's more from Goodyear on the new "blimp" here. The company aims to choose a name for the ship by means of a public contest.

There's also a handy factsheet here (pdf) comparing new Zeppelin NTs to the current Goodyear blimps. ®

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