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Blimp headed to Hobbs for stopover

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Blimp headed to Hobbs for stopover

Even without a Major League Baseball or football game in town, residents of Hobbs will see a rare event late Saturday afternoon and early Sunday morning.

The pilot of Goodyear Blimp Wing-foot Two, one of the company’s newest blimps, having left Deming early Saturday morning, will set the large airship down in the Lea County Regional Airport’s secured area for an overnight stay.

Technically an airship, not a blimp — although Goodyear officials say they encourage continuing the blimp moniker for cultural reasons — the vessel is traveling from its home base in Carson, Calif., near Los Angeles to Suffield, Ohio, near Akron.

Spirit of Innovation, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company’s last true blimp (of non-rigid airship), was retired on March 14, 2017.

Florida-based airship spokesman Dan Smith explained, “There’s just some annual maintenance the ship has to go through that’s just easier to do at our hangar (in Ohio). It gives us a great opportunity to go across the country.”

Smith said Goodyear currently has three blimps with hangars in Florida, California and Ohio. Smith’s beginning this trip from the California hangar.

Announcing plans to host the visit this weekend, Lea County assistant manager Corey Needham, also in charge of airports, said, “During this journey, the airship will require to be moored at strategic locations along its route. These include Tucson, Deming, Hobbs, and Fort Worth among other locations in the Midwest.”

At more than 246 feet long and almost 65 feet wide, Wingfoot Two stretches nearly the length of a football field. The blimp’s top speed is 73 mph. Its three vectoring engines allow for excellent maneuverability and an aluminum and carbon fiber semi-rigid frame supports an envelope with the capacity to hold nearly 300,000 cubic feet of helium, the equivalent of more than 25 million baseballs, Needham said.

“Spectators wishing to view the airship can do so via US 62/180, airport entrance road, or the terminal parking lot,” he said.

The Goodyear Blimp website specified rides are only by invitation and must be confirmed in advance. Needham added the short duration of the stay in Hobbs also would prohibit giving rides.

“They’re going to be coming in late in the afternoon Saturday and they’ll be leaving early Sunday morning,” Needham said. “They just told me (the landing) will be between 4-8 p.m. depending on the winds.” An early start on Sunday is due to a planned effort to make it to Fort Worth in one day.

Local preparations for the stopover were simple, Needham said. After finding a 300-foot radius circle strong enough to handle the mooring vehicle, he said locals sent the proposal to Goodyear.

“They flew their ground team down. They evaluated the site and said it looked great. And we’ve been a go since then,” he said. “We have the security they desire. We also have an industry more used to aviation. They travel with a caravan of support vehicles. … They’re really self-sustaining. We provide a spot for them and they take care of everything else.”

The reason for a 300-foot radius circle has to do with the weather and the nature of the blimp.

“It’s like a big windsock. Whichever way the wind goes, it goes when it’s moored,” Needham said.

Smith said the flight crew and others are excited about stopping in Hobbs and elsewhere.

“This thing doesn’t do us any good when we’re on the ground,” he said. “We like to fly. We like to see the country. We’re ambassadors for Goodyear, so the more of the country we get to see, the more people who get to see the blimp, whether it’s flying overhead or moored in a city like Hobbs.”

Smith was speaking of both older people who are nostalgic, having seen it as kids, and the younger generations who get to have the experience for the first time.

“You get to see the wonder across every age,” he said. “It’s a really unique thing. We’re excited to bring it to Hobbs. We’ll see you on Saturday.”

Curtis Wynne may be contacted at reporter3@hobbsnews.com .

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