One of Goodyear's three blimps is making the Daytona 500 its final sporting event.
The Spirit of Goodyear is retiring after Sunday's race after over 41,000 hours of flight time since being introduced in 2000. It's at Daytona International Speedway with the Spirit of Innovation, which was brought into service in 2006 and will provide aerial footage of the race.
And if you've ever wondered, the blimp doesn't have brakes. We had a chance to take the final passenger ride in the Spirit of Goodyear on Wednesday before its retirement and landing the blimp is a simple and manpower-heavy event.
The ground crew in support of the blimp forms a "V" as a target for the blimp to land in with the wind at it's back. Since the blimp has no brakes, the pilot lands the blimp approximately 50 feet in front of the crew and the people on the ground grab the tethers of the blimp to hold it in place once it slows. Our pilot, Adam Basaran, compared it to docking a boat in the open water.
Once in the air, it was a very smooth ride as we floated above Florida's east coast. The max speed of the Spirit of Goodyear is approximately 40-45 MPH, though that can be impacted by a headwind. While in Daytona, the blimp is based south of the track at New Smyrna Beach Airport, and a south breeze meant a return leg of a trek to the track would take a while.
The Spirit of Goodyear is guided by a wheel to the pilot's right and rudders. While Innovation, who we flew next to for a little bit, does not have pedals.
The blimp is full of helium and has forward and aft ballonets full of air, which help maintain the pressure in the blimp. Before landing, the pilot must balance the two ballonets, as temperature changes in the atmosphere can manipulate the pressure levels. Once the blimp is balanced, the pilot sets the blimp into the wind and guides it down into the pocket.
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