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Friday, September 23, 2011

Goodyear Blimp Visits Tallahassee

Blimp pilot Mandy Martin

Blimp at Tallahassee Airport

APPROXIMATELY 1,000 FEET ABOVE TALLAHASSEE — As the Goodyear Blimp cruises leisurely above Doak Campbell Stadium, pilot Mandy Martin glances to her right and soaks up the amazement of her passengers.

"Not bad, huh?" Martin says with a wry smile. "Low and slow. You get to enjoy everything at this speed."

And when she says everything, she means everything.

Cruising at a speed of about 25 mph, the blimp provides its passengers — only about six at a time — a breathtaking and steady view at less than 1,500 feet. And with the use of high-tech camera and satellite equipment, the blimp's crew is able to share those images with millions of television viewers at home.

For more than 85 years, the Goodyear Blimp — there actually are four of them in operation today — has sailed above Super Bowls, golf tournaments, parades and countless other high-profile events. And this weekend, the icon was visible almost constantly in the air above Tallahassee.

On Friday, the blimp's crew provided a handful of tours for local media, including the Tallahassee Democrat. On Saturday, it made one trip up as part of ESPN's "College GameDay" broadcast and another for the actual game between No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 5 Florida State.

Martin, a native of North Port, served nine years in the U.S. Air Force and was a fixed-wing pilot before being trained to fly blimps four years ago. She was one of four pilots on the 20-person crew that made its way to Tallahassee at the end of a month-long journey around the country.

Goodyear, which uses the blimps as marketing tools for its industry-leading line of tires, provides free aerial coverage of events such as Saturday's game in exchange for on-air promotion.

About the blimp

• The Goodyear Blimp is 192 feet long, 50 feet wide and 59 1/2-feet wide.

• The main portion of the blimp, which is called the "envelope," is filled with helium.

• An "elevator wheel," which sits to the right of the captain's chair, allows the pilot to adjust the blimp's altitude. Rudder pedals are used to move the ship right and left.

• The blimp that made its way to Tallahassee actually is named, "The Spirit of Innovation," and it is based in Pompano Beach.

• Flights on the Goodyear Blimp are by invitation only.

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