The Spirit of Goodyear blimp on the day of its last rides in Akron. Photo by Ryan Haidet, WKYC-TV.
AKRON -- Soaring above the Rubber City, its rumbling hum will soon be heading south forever.
The Spirit of Goodyear offered its final rides in Akron on Wednesday morning before it flies to Florida for retirement later this week.
Slideshow | One last ride on Akron's Spirit of Goodyear blimp
WKYC was one of a few media outlets given permission to climb aboard for a ride before the blimp moves to its new home.
Once inside the cabin, which is about the size of a van, the captain equipped all four of us with headsets so we could communicate with one another throughout the duration of our one-hour journey.
With a couple tugs of controls, the pilot pushed us 1,200 feet into the crisp, autumn air.
It was the perfect day for a fond farewell as Mother Nature offered a goodbye kiss to the Spirit of Akron with plenty of sun-soaked skies.
The flight took us from Wingfoot Lake to downtown Akron at approximately 30 mph. Our return flight carried us at 10 mph because of headwinds.
We calmly climbed over multiple noticeable landmarks throughout the Akron area like the Central Interchange, Derby Downs, Springfield High School, Springfield Lake, the Portage Lakes and InfoCision Stadium.
We flew above Triplett Blvd. and hovered over the Haunted Laboratory, formerly the Guggenheim Airship Institute to capture an aerial view of the Goddess of Flight -- a massive sculpture of a winged woman clutching a blimp on the back of the building.
Amazing views spanned from Akron-Canton Airport's runways all the way to the Cleveland skyline where we could see the shimmering top of the Key Tower stretching above a distant haze.
The ground below looked like a painter's enormous canvas filled with brushstrokes of spectacular fall color, while surrounding lakes glistened like liquid diamonds.
It truly is a breathtaking experience.
The Spirit of Goodyear blimp has been held at Goodyear's Wingfoot Lake Hangar since it first debuted 14 years ago.
"The Spirit of Goodyear gave up its hangar space for the construction of the new Goodyear NT airship and has been moored outside the past months," said Nancy Ray, director of Goodyear's global airship program. "With winter on the way and the blimp's retirement coming up, it's time for the Spirit of Goodyear to move south."
The Spirit of Goodyear will join the Spirit of Innovation and operate out of the company's Pompano Beach, Fla. Airship base before it's officially decommissioned in the spring of 2014.
Beginning next year, the company will begin replacing the current fleet of blimps with new state-of-the-art Goodyear NT (New Technology) airships, the first of which is under construction at the Wingfoot Lake Hangar.
"Akron loves the blimp and we love Akron," Ray said. "Our pilots and passengers routinely see countless people step outside of their homes and offices or pull over in their cars to watch the blimp. We wanted to make a last flight to say goodbye and give its fans a chance to wave goodbye to the Spirit of Goodyear."
Goodyear is hoping fans will share their favorite stories, photos or videos of the Spirit of Goodyear on social media, including the blimp's Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/GoodyearBlimp) or on Twitter @GoodyearBlimp.
Christened on March 15, 2000 by America's first woman in space, NASA astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, the Spirit of Goodyear was named to honor the company's worldwide associates. It is the oldest of the tiremaker's three U.S.-based blimps and the first to be replaced by the new Goodyear NT.
The Spirit of Goodyear will depart Akron on Oct. 11, traveling to State College, Pa., to cover the Penn State-Michigan football game for ESPN. Afterward, the airship will work its way south to the company's Florida blimp base.
During its years of service, the Spirit of Goodyear has flown over countless marquee sporting events including Kentucky Derby horse races, top college football matchups and Major League Baseball and NBA playoffs. In 2004, the airship delivered the first-ever, high-definition images from a camera mounted in a blimp during a Monday Night Football contest.
Ray said the company is on schedule with the construction of the new NT airship and it should be ready for test flights in the spring of 2014.
Everything about the new Goodyear NT airship design is larger and more advanced than the current fleet. The current blimp design is 192 ft (58.5 m) long with an envelope volume of 202,700 cu ft (5,735 cu m), while the NT is 246.5 ft (75 m) long with an envelope volume of 297,527 cu ft (8,425 cu m).
During its long operational history, Goodyear has built and operated more than 300 lighter-than-air vehicles since 1917, including two large rigid airships - the U.S.S. Macon and U.S.S. Akron. The Goodyear NT is the first semi-rigid airship to be built in the 95-year history of the Wingfoot Lake Hangar.
So, Spirit of Akron, we bid you farewell.