The Goodyear Blimp’s Houston history

In 1917, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company produced its first airships for the military.

Two years later, the company decided to build some for themselves. In 1930, blimps began carrying lighted signs for their messaging. January 1,1955 lighted signs were replaced with TV equipment allowing the blimp to transmit live television pictures from the Tournament of Roses Parade. Goodyear officially became a broadcast outlet in the sky.

Early blimps were kept in a hangar near Goodyear’s home base in Akron, Ohio, but without precise weather predicting technology, cross-country flights were risky. So in 1969, Goodyear closed the Akron hangar and moved its new blimp headquarters to our fair weathered Lone Star State just off I-45 and Cypresswood in Spring.

Not only did the blimp televise Texas sporting events, but it became ingrained in our Houston community. Partnering with our station on a number of citywide events including our ABC 13 Share Your Christmas food drive.

The blimp also helped us make a live local TV production history.

“We have done TV and we have done night sign, but we haven’t combined a moving night sign with TV before until this,” an unidentified pilot told channel 13 back in April of 1990.

Helium buoyed the old blimps so weight mattered. Blimps could carry either passengers, or lighted signs or TV equipment – but not all of them. By removing seats, carpet and passengers, the blimp was the star of our channel 13 Night of a Thousand Lights Crackdown on Drugs TV event.

With constantly evolving technology, came constantly evolving blimp designs.

I got a chance to ride in that blimp about 40 years ago. The modern one is much bigger, much more luxurious and seems to be quieter and faster.

Older models only reached about 50 miles an hour.

“We can fly the top end speeds about 70 miles an hour,” said pilot Adam Basaran.

The engines are actually aircraft engines modified somewhat.

“They have about 200 horsepower each, they’re gear driven,” added Basaran. “They’re also hoooked to a propeller system that can move and rotate so we can take off the land like a helicopter which is a big difference from the maneuverability that we had in the past.”

The blimp’s twenty year Texas reign ended when weather predicting technology improved. In 1992, Goodyear moved blimp headquarters back to Ohio. But not without one last big hurrah before dismantling the hangar in Spring. Phil Collins and Genesis were allowed to use the empty blimp base to rehearse for their We Can’t Dance world tour.

A fitting farewell celebrating our time with a quintessential American experience.

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