Pilots to be retrained after Goodyear upgrades fleet of flying machines
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.”
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.