Pi­lots to be re­trained after Goodyear up­grades fleet of fly­ing ma­chines

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

AKRON, Ohio — When Wil­liam Bayliss is in the air, he wants to make sure he’s the one fly­ing the ma­chine, not the ma­chine fly­ing him. That’s why blimps are more his speed than planes.

Bayliss, one of about only 40 air­ship pi­lots in the world, flies for the Akron-based Goodyear Tire & Rub­ber Co. It’s one of the most dif­fi­cult jobs in avi­a­tion, a po­si­tion so rare and out of fash­ion that there are more astro­nauts in the world. In this realm, there is no au­topi­lot like on tra­di­tional planes.

“They fly all by them­selves,” said Bayliss, a cherubcheeked, sandy-haired 31year-old. “As a pi­lot, you want to fly. You don’t want to watch a com­puter fly.”

Goodyear de­com­mis­sioned the last of its 45-yearold blimps in March and re­placed them with new mod­els that re­quire fresh train­ing. Each pi­lot must fly 100 hours be­fore he or she is ready to go solo. Six have fin­ished, but seven oth­ers, in­clud­ing Bayliss, are in the mid­dle of train­ing.

The shape of the old blimps was main­tained by gas pres­sure. The new mod­els are tech­ni­cally zep­pelins, not blimps, be­cause they have a frame struc­ture that main­tains the ship’s shape. That makes them eas­ier to ma­neu­ver, Goodyear says, ac­knowl­edg­ing the com­pany will still call them blimps.

Tricky to fly

On a sunny Mon­day morn­ing at a grassy field near the Goodyear han­gar, Bayliss clam­bered into the cock­pit for a flight with Michael Dougherty, chief pi­lot in charge of train­ing. As they geared up for liftoff, Bayliss pulled out a check­list and peered up and down the con­trols, left and right around the in­te­rior.

Though the Hin­den­burg disas­ter helped end the air- ship era 80 years ago, Goodyear kept its fleet to advertise its tires over base­ball games and golf cham­pi­onships. The ships drift lazily over sport­ing events, al­low­ing on­board cam­eras to stream aerial footage live to TV net­works.

Air­ships are tricky to fly be­cause they’re light, yet bulky, mak­ing them sus­cepti- ble to bat­ter­ing by wind and rain. Water col­lects on the nearly 2,000 square me­ters of fab­ric mak­ing up the ship’s en­ve­lope, foist­ing it with ex­tra weight.

“It’s re­ally like fly­ing a boat,” Dougherty said. “It’s a learn­ing curve.”

DAKE KANG / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A blimp hov­ers over a grassy field in Akron, Ohio, in the US. The Goodyear Tire com­pany is train­ing pi­lots to fly new air­ships after the com­pany re­tired the last of its old fleet in March.

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