Not a bad view if you can get it, right? And thanks to the kind people at Goodyear, I got it. That's right, I hitched a ride in the Goodyear Blimp! Now I can check that off my list of things to do before I die.
It happened the Friday before the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. The blimp was in town to promote Goodyear's "Support Our Troops" initiative, and how can you NOT get behind that.
So what was the ride like?
Well, for starters the capsule you sit in is small. Really small. It only holds seven people, six comfortably, and there's no bathroom, which is notable because the blimp isn't fast. It took them about 10 hours to pilot it from its home in Carson, Calif. – yes, if you've ever been on the 405 south of Los Angeles, you've seen it parked there — to Phoenix. No stops. (Our pilot told us there is a "tube" to take of business, but that's about as far as I went for details.) The blimp actually travels with a team of pilots and a grounds crew (which goes by car) who scurry to grab ropes dangling from the nose in order to tie it down when it lands.
Anyway, it travels about 30 mph, is certified to fly up to 10,000 feet, though they say it's not particularly safe to go that high, and can stay in the air a long, long time, which is why TV networks love to have the blimp at games and, presumably, the interminable Coke 600. And it's loud, though not uncomfortably so.
The pilot steers the blimp with a pair of foot pedals, and uses a sort of vertical steering wheel on their right — sort of like a one-wheeled wheel chair — to make the blimp pitch up and down. Move the wheel back and it goes up, move it forward and it goes down.
When it goes up, it's steep. When it goes down, you're staring almost straight at the ground. Oh, and the windows are open. So no, if heights aren't your thing, it's probably not for you.
Flashing above the front dashboard was the message scrolling on the outside of the blimp. Unfortunately it's programmed on the ground, so I didn't get the opportunity to ask for a "Junior Update" from the sky.
We were up for about an hour, which might have been a little too long. But hey, I got to ride in the Goodyear Blimp.
Thanks Goodyear, and remember, folks, always support the troops.