Goodyear has let the helium out of the last of its fabled fleet of blimps, but the company's flight program will carry on. About two dozen employees witnessed the deflation early Tuesday of the California-based Spirit of Innovation, the AP reports. Not to worry too much, as blimp fans will still see a familiar form floating over sports events and awards shows: The blimp's replacement, Wingfoot Two, will arrive at Goodyear's airship base in Carson later this year, though that model will be a semi-rigid dirigible. Such aircraft have a frame, so they maintain their shape when the helium is drained; blimps go flat. Wingfoot Two, now in Ohio, will be replaced by another dirigible there when it leaves for Southern California. The company plans to keep calling the new models blimps. "A Goodyear semi-rigid dirigible doesn't roll off the tongue," says company airship historian Eddie Ogden.
The switch to dirigibles offers a similar-looking, cigar-shaped flying machine, but one that's 246 feet long, nearly the length of a football field and 50 feet longer than the old blimps. With room for three engines instead of two, it will be able to hit freeway speeds of over 70mph and turn on a dime. The quieter engines also will provide an advantage in covering golf tournaments, Ogden says, and the ability to hover will allow a pilot to better position the aircraft to capture sporting events. It took about two minutes for the Spirit of Innovation—originally christened Columbia in 1986, before becoming Eagle in 2002, then Innovation in 2006—to deflate, with Goodyear workers watching with mixed emotions. "They've been working with blimps for so long," Ogden says. "But ... this is a step forward." The craft's historic gondola will be shipped to Goodyear's century-old Ohio airship base to be put on permanent display. Other parts are going to museums, and the blimp's gas bag, known as an envelope, is being recycled. (Read more Goodyear stories.)