Blimps: Big, Beautiful & Everywhere You Look

What good are they? Well, they make people smile and dogs bark. Isn't that good enough?

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In case you haven't noticed, blimps are hot these days. They have marquee names, make appearances, draw crowds. It's true not just of Goodyear blimps but of nearly two dozen others as well, floating over everything from the Kentucky Derby to domed football stadiums to frog-jumping contests. What's it all about? Promotion, of course. Nothing promotes a spectacle better than a spectacle. Blimps offer TV networks aerial photography at no cost, and the blimps' clients get valuable on-air exposure.

Visionaries see a future for airships that goes far beyond advertising. In the past the craft played an important military role, and for a time transatlantic travel on luxurious dirigibles like the Graf Zeppelin was the way to go. Now plans are in the works to bring airships back for passenger travel, tourist trips, heavy-duty cargo assignments and even police work and border patrols.

Today it's almost impossible to hitch a ride on a blimp, but writer Charles Barnard finagled an invitation from Goodyear to go aloft in the Spirit of Akron, at more than 200 feet long the largest airship flying in the United States today. Barnard learned a lot about blimps from the Goodyear team in Ohio, and discovered for himself, when pilot Pat Henry took him up in Spirit, why manning the controls of a blimp is unlike any other kind of flying.

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