It’s not a bird, or a plane. It’s the Goodyear Blimp, and plenty of Pittsburghers have seen it in the skies lately.
The 246-foot airship flew over Heinz Field on Nov. 8 for the Monday Night Football matchup between the Steelers and the Bears. Before flying back to Akron, it stopped at Allegheny County Airport, where airship staff gave Blue Sky News an up-close look at the iconic aircraft.
“The airship is one big bag of helium,” said Ronald Heaps, the blimp’s lead ground support mechanic. “It has a carbon fiber and aluminum frame inside.”
While the flight crew operates the blimp in the air, a fleet of seven vehicles and crew support it on the ground, including a mechanic shop on wheels.
“We have aircraft technicians that take care of the airship; we have electronic technicians to take care of the sign on the side,” said Heaps.
Goodyear currently operates three blimps in the U.S: Wingfoot One, Two and Three. They are primarily used for sporting events, including the Daytona 500 and the PGA Championship.
Without helium, an empty blimp weighs almost 20,000 lbs., according to the Goodyear website, with the gondola accounting for more than 2,600 lbs.
For the crew, the Goodyear Blimp is a ticket for travel, visiting cities across the U.S. and even other countries.
“I love my job. Every time you watch that thing take off and see it in the air, you know it just puts a smile on all our faces,” said Charles Shankle, the blimp’s manager of ground ops.