ASK LOIS: Think you’re seeing less of the Goodyear blimp? There’s a good cause for it

Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS

Q: The blimp hangar in Pompano Beach has been the winter home of one of Goodyear’s airships. It seems as if in the last few years it hasn’t been flying overhead as much as in the past. Am I correct? Is it still based here during winter months? — Dennis Ulmer, Fort Lauderdale

A: Dennis, it does seem like seeing the blimp over the ocean is no longer guaranteed during a South Florida beach visit. But Goodyear spokesman Daniel Smith said the airship is traveling around South Florida as much as ever, just with new objectives.

First, a correction: Pompano Beach is not the winter home of the blimp; it’s one of three year-round blimp bases. The others are in Carson, Calif., and Suffield, Ohio.

So what are blimps, anyway? Goodyear describes them as semi-rigid airships, about the length of a football field, inflated with helium. Historically, they have been used as advertising vehicles and to provide overhead cameras for sporting events, for teams such as the Dolphins, Heat, Marlins and Panthers. There’s also regular soccer, golf and NASCAR coverage.

“In short: if it’s a big event, the Goodyear Blimp is there,” Smith said.

The Pompano Beach-based blimp, named “Wingfoot Two,” employs about 20 people, including pilots, mechanics, broadcast technicians, crewmen and base staff. As for passengers, there are seats for 10 guests and two pilots in a gondola underneath the balloon, known to the blimp crew as “the envelope.”

The blimp travels a lot, but the crew only spends about 100 nights a year away from Pompano Beach, an amount that Smith said hasn’t changed much in the past two decades.

So on the 200-plus nights that the blimp is in South Florida, where does it go besides sporting events? Smith said blimps used to take aerial strolls just to get publicity, but no longer: Now its focus is charity.

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“Though there is no way for a member of the public to simply purchase a ticket to ride the Goodyear Blimp, we instead donate ride certificates to nonprofits throughout South Florida,” he said. “Each year, these certificates raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, all of which is kept directly by those organizations.”

Many of the days at home are spent fulfilling these charity certificate rides. The blimp will fly along the beach about 10 miles in either direction, before turning around and heading back to pick up the next group.

“So although folks outside of this flight path may see the Goodyear Blimp less often, it’s our way to actually increase its impact throughout our community here in South Florida,” Smith said.

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