Goodyear Welcomes Wingfoot Three, Celebrates History

Record-breaking pilot Shaesta Waiz ushers in a new era for Goodyear, just as Amelia Earhart did 89 years prior.


Jake Herron

Goodyear’s newest airship graces the airfield at Wingfoot Lake during a celebration-filled day at the historic hangar.

By Jake Herron, Online Editor

During an already historic moment for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, which recently celebrated its 120th anniversary, the Akron-based Fortune 500 corporation welcomed Wingfoot Three to the company’s fleet of airships on Aug. 30, 2018.

The new blimp was christened by record-breaking pilot Shaesta Waiz, exactly 89 years after aviation legend Amelia Earhart did the honors for one of Goodyear’s first commercial blimps, Defender, in 1929, Goodyear CEO Richard Kramer pointed out as he made opening remarks.

The christening took place during a private ceremony within the historic Wingfoot Lake hangar, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year; along with the designation as a state landmark and recognition as the oldest operating airship base in the world, according to Kramer.

Jake Herron
The Wingfoot Lake Airship Base in Suffield Township is the oldest operating airship base in the world. Each Goodyear blimp begins its life here.

In attendance were several honorary guests welcomed by Goodyear, including Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, U.S. Representative Tim Ryan, National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School students and hundreds of Goodyear employees brought from the company’s global headquarters.

The most notable guest, however, was Waiz, 31, who is the youngest female pilot to ever complete a solo flight around the globe. Presenting the official christening bottle was Goodyear’s own Taylor Deen, one of three female blimp pilots in the world.

Jake Herron
Goodyear CEO, Richard Kramer (left) accompanies pilot Shaesta Waiz (right) as she prepares to christen Wingfoot Three.

Moments after Waiz shattered the bottle of champagne over the nose of Wingfoot Three’s gondola, a large mooring truck ferried the airship out to the center of the airfield as several airship operations technicians prepared the blimp for its maiden flight.

Jake Herron
Wingfoot Three is prepared for its maiden flight following its historic christening ceremony. Wingfoot Two, in town for yearly maintenance, sits behind.

Hundreds gathered as pre-flight routines were completed and watched in amazement as the airship lifted off the ground and climbed directly above them into the skies of Akron.

Jake Herron

Once airborne, Waiz was invited to sit in the co-pilot’s seat and take the controls.

“This was my very first time going up on a blimp, and it’s quite the experience,” Waiz said during a press conference following the maiden voyage.

Wingfoot Three made three more flights that day for invited guests and members of the media.

Jake Herron
Wingfoot Three makes a low pass over the Wingfoot Lake hangar as it prepares to land following a series of flights for invited guests and members of the media.

A New Era of Innovation

Wingfoot Three is the third of a new generation of blimps for the rubber giant.

“These innovative airships are perfect symbols of today’s Goodyear, driven by technology with an eye on new horizons,” Kramer said during the ceremony.

Wingfoot One, based in Pompano Beach, Fla., and Wingfoot Two, based in Carson, Calif., took to the skies in 2014 and 2016, respectively. The newest airship will remain at Wingfoot Lake in Suffield Township, Ohio.

The push for a new fleet came in 2011 when Goodyear began to seek a replacement for its aging GZ-20 blimps, a model produced since the 1960s.

After considering options for a replacement, Goodyear announced it was restoring its long-lost partnership with Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, a German airship company they previously worked with to build giant naval airships, including the USS Akron, in the early 20th century before U.S. relations with Germany soured at the start of World War II.

The Wingfoot fleet is derived from the Zeppelin-designed ‘New Technology’ model, which boasts many differences from Goodyear’s original blimps. The most significant difference, however, is that it is technically not a “blimp” due to its light, semi-rigid internal structure, according to design specifications. Goodyear will still affectionately refer to its fleet as blimps though, the company asserts.

This interior frame also allows for the airship’s engines to now be mounted on the sides and rear of the airship, giving crew and passengers in the gondola a quieter ride while boosting performance, according to a group of Goodyear pilots who explained the benefits of flying these new airships.

Jake Herron
The starboard engine on Wingfoot Three. Thanks to a semi-rigid internal structure, the engines can now be mounted on the sides and rear of the airship.

According to statistics shared by Goodyear and Zeppelin, the three 200 horsepower engines propel the airship to a top speed of 73 miles per hour and can swivel to a vertical position to enhance maneuverability, which is crucial during takeoff and landing.

The Zeppelin NT is considerably larger than the GZ-20. It extends to 246.4 feet in length, longer than a Boeing 747.

The gondola has been improved as well. The two-pilot cockpit is now equipped with modern avionic technology along with instruments displayed on large screens, aka “glass cockpit.”

An additional screen displays footage from onboard television cameras, making it easier for pilots and production crews to coordinate that perfect shot for aerial coverage during events that the blimp is flying above, Goodyear pilot Taylor Deen explained. 

Pilots now control flight through the use of sidesticks beside both seats.

Jake Herron
The cockpit of Wingfoot Three, showing the high-tech avionics the new airships have to offer.

The larger cabin also carries 12 passengers in seats much like those found on a typical airliner, with included safety features such as inflatable life vests in the event of a water landing. Passengers roaming the cabin during flight are treated with 360-degree views via wrap-around windows and may lounge on a ‘couch’ located in the rear of the cabin.

Jake Herron
A passenger seat in the cabin of Wingfoot Three during takeoff. The Wingfoot Lake Airship Base can be seen out the window.

As the symbol of the tire and rubber company, the blimp features just as much Goodyear pride on the inside as it so obviously does on the outside.

Upon boarding, passengers are greeted by bright colors of blue and yellow and a massive depiction of the Goodyear logo spanning the entire ceiling. The Wingfoot itself is emblazoned on the headrest of every seat. Keen eyes will also notice that the carpet in the cabin resembles a road traversing the aisle of the gondola.

Jake Herron
The interior of the Goodyear blimp.

Also, for the first time in Goodyear blimp history, there is a bathroom on board.

A Success Story

Wingfoot Three’s christener follows a long line of influential figures who have received the high honor of welcoming new additions to the company’s iconic fleet; dating to the christening of the Pilgrim by Florence Litchfield in 1925.

“Goodyear blimps have been christened by some of history’s most inspirational and accomplished women,” Kramer said.

Born in an Afghanistan refugee camp during the height of the Soviet-Afghan War in 1987, Waiz and her family traveled to the U.S. in hopes of a better life.

Waiz attended an underprivileged school district in Richmond, Calif. where few had the chance to succeed, according to an autobiography on her foundation’s website. Waiz grew up figuring she would simply end up marrying young and starting a family without many career prospects, her autobiography said.

Nevertheless, she went on to become the first member in her family to earn a college degree after studying at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., where she also founded the Women’s Ambassador Program.

Waiz made history early on by becoming the first female certified civilian pilot from Afghanistan.

Jake Herron
Pilot Shaesta Waiz speaks to reporters during a press conference following the maiden flight of Wingfoot Three on Aug. 30, 2018.

In 2014, Waiz founded Dreams Soar, a non-profit organization that shares her story with young people around the world; many who have grown up in situations similar to her own, and inspires them to break down barriers and pursue their dreams.

Through Dreams Soar, Waiz strives to enlighten as many young people, especially women, as possible about the possibilities available to them in the STEM and aviation fields and works to show them anything is possible if they put their mind to it, as she described during the press conference.

An Acquired Passion for Flight

Despite being a skilled, record-breaking pilot, Waiz was once terrified of flight. She recalled hearing stories of horrendous plane crashes on the news when she was young and being convinced that airplanes were dangerous.

That all changed when she boarded a Delta Air Lines flight bound for Florida at the age of 17.

“Even though I was terrified, once the plane did take off and the aircraft started to soar into the sky, I started to find myself being romanced by aviation,” Waiz said of the experience.

It was at that moment that she found her passion.

“Your greatest fear in life can be your greatest passion; and if you don’t go after your fears and conquer them, you may never know.”

Shaesta Waiz

“Your greatest fear in life can be your greatest passion; and if you don’t go after your fears and conquer them, you may never know,” Waiz said confidently.

A Flight Around the World

Inspired by Jerrie Mock, the first woman to successfully complete flying solo around the world in 1964, Waiz decided to undertake the journey herself while educating and inspiring the next generation in the STEM field along the way.

Remembering Mock, who died in 2014, her first stop was Columbus, Ohio; where Mock launched her around-the-world journey 54 years ago.

“I wanted to honor her and everything she had done so many years ago. So, that’s why the first leg of the trip is dedicated to Jerrie,” Waiz said.

Waiz completed her circumnavigational flight in a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza. She departed Daytona Beach International Airport on May 13, 2017 and spent the next 145 days traversing the globe, traveling nearly 25,000 nautical miles and stopping in 22 countries on five continents along the way, reaching 3,000 young people, according to Dreams Soar.

Now that a record-breaking flight is complete and a dream has come true, Waiz said that Dream Soar’s mission will now shift to making sure thousands of new dreams will also come true as a result.

“We’ve inspired these kids, now we need to work on empowering and enabling them”, Waiz said. She hopes to include scholarships and STEM support in the future.

Waiz acknowledged the history of the day, being under the same spotlight as Amelia Earhart 89 years prior. She also acknowledged Ohio’s role in the history of aviation, notability that of her mentor, Jerrie Mock.

In the end, it was a Goodyear blimp that tied all of these things together.

Jake Herron
Goodyear’s newest airship departs Wingfoot Lake as it begins a long career of flying above cities across the nation and inspiring a new generation.

Wingfoot Three will serve as a beacon for me to continue my work, inspiring and celebrating aviation with others,” Waiz said.

Learn more about Sheasta’s story and how you can contribute to Dreams Soar.