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Assistant Pilot in Charge for
"Spirit of Goodyear"
1. What is a pilot?
A pilot is a person that is able to take control of an aircraft, have the aircraft lift off the ground, keep it airborne, and land back on the ground safely.
2. What is the best part of your job?
The part of my job that I like the most is giving people a ride in the blimp. After many years of flying, I realized that each time I took people up on a flight, that they were having an experience that they would remember the rest of their lives and I was the person that was able to give them that memory. I then realized that there are not a lot of jobs out there that give a person the opportunity to do just that.Putting that big kid smile on a grown man or woman's face is a real accomplishment. For most adults, there is not much that really gets their attention any more. Flying in the blimp is a very unique experience. Many times I hear "that was the most exciting thing I have ever done!"
3. What is the most difficult aspect of your career choice?
When I started this job many years ago, I was looking forward to the traveling that went with the job. I love going new places and seeing new things and meeting new people.As the years went by and I got married, the travel was becoming a problem. The travel also limits your ability to participate in local events where you live. I still love to travel but it has a price.
4. Describe a typical day at your job.
It would be nice if there was such a thing as a typical day. That would give us some ability to have a schedule that we could get used to. At the same time, not having a routine helps to keep life from getting too routine and boring. If we are doing a TV event, we may not start the day until 5PM and finish sometime after midnight. If we are doing passenger flights, we may start at 10AM or we may start at 3PM. If it is a travel day, we will probably start at 9AM. Every day, I start with checking the weather for the day. If the weather for the day looks good for flying all day, that is great. If we have too much wind to get it out of the hangar,that would be a problem. If it is raining, we can not fly. I also need to check what the weather along the route is supposed to be as well. If we are doing passengers, how far away do they live and how much notice do they need if we need to cancel the flight? There is a lot of planning that goes into scheduling and operating the blimp.The days that the weather cooperates doing passengers, we start the day with a safety meeting of all the pilots and crew members. The days activities are announced and any safety issues are discussed. We then go out and prepare to take the ship out of the hangar. If all goes well, we start to move the ship in about 5 min. A blimp has a crew of 22 people including a ground handler, tractor driver, two mule drivers, two winch operators, a crew chief, and two trip line personnel. Once the ship is out of the hangar, we drive the mobile mast out to the launching area. When the passengers are loaded, the pilot tells the crew chief to trip him off the mooring mast and he moves into position to lift off with the help of the crew. When the pilot gives the crew chief the signal to go, the pilot brings up the power and the nose line people let go of the lines and off you go. Most passenger flights are 1 hour long and we will do 7 or 8 flights that day. At the end of the day, we land to the crew and they drive out the mooring mast. We then put the nose of the ship into a mast head at the top of the mast. We then drive the mast and ship to the front of the hangar, pull the ship around so that we can back it in and close the hangar doors.
5. Do you have a memory you'd like to share with young people concerning your job that they might find of interest?
Years ago we could fly the blimp at any altitude that we thought was safe.This was because the FAA had given the Goodyear blimps a waiver to do this. I remember flying the Blimp in New Orleans and coming over the Mississippi River. I would then dive the blimp down until we were just a few feet above the water flying along side the big paddle wheelers waving "Hi" to all the passengers. I would do this when we went to St. Louis also. The passengers loved seeing the blimp flying right next to them as they cruised down the river. When we were out in the country, sometimes we would drop down and fly right along side a train as it headed down the tracks. The engineer, the conductor, and all the passengers would give us a great big wave. But my favorite thing was to fly by a school and watch as all the kids come out to wave to us as we circled to say hello. Then, the next school along the road would get a call and they might be outside waiting for us. As more blimps came along, some of the novelty of seeing a blimp was gone,too. Also, the FAA decided that flying that low for all the blimps might not be a good idea and now we have to stay up high like the planes do.
6. What are the necessary skills/ degrees needed for your work?
Being a Goodyear Blimp pilot is much more than just flying the blimp. We are looking for people with a 4 year degree, a Commercial,Instrument and multi engine pilots license, good PR skills, leadership ability, and a strong desire to travel. The pilots are the managers of the operation as well as the coordinators of the travel for 22 people. Having a good mechanical background helps also as we have a tractor trailer, a bus, and two vans that go with us wherever we go. Between the blimp and all the vehicles, there is always maintenance to do.
7. Did anything when you were young or in school help spark your interest in your pursuing your career choice of being a pilot for a blimp?
To be honest, no. I only know of one of our pilots that thought about this as a career choice when he was in college or sometime before.The rest of us were looking for flying jobs when this opportunity came along and we had the right qualifications, at the right time, at the right place.
8. Any suggestions for young people who might be interested in your career? How can they begin now to get prepared for your career?
The best advise that I would give anyone would be to get that four year degree with the pilots licenses as part of a degree program. There are several universities that offer this type of program. Find someone on a blimp operation that you can keep in touch and maybe, try and go for a ride in a blimp.
9. Anything else you'd like to share about your career choice?
From the standpoint of a pilot,flying an airship is very unique. When the ship is in the air, it is very relaxing. The airship is soooo big and visible that all the other planes are going to see it and you do not need to worry about any one not seeing you and running into you. It is also a very smooth ride. It never gets bumpy. It can go up and down a lot sometimes, but this is a smooth up and down. You never have to worry about is falling out of the sky because even if you ran out of fuel, it would still float! This is why we tell people that show a lot of fear of going on the blimp that it is the safest thing in the sky. The part that is a challenge, and the part that we spend 75-80% of our time training a new pilot to do, is landing an airship. Every landing is different. We do not land on runways most of the time. Most of the time we land in the grass where the ground crew is lined up to catch us. The wind is the biggest factor for us to deal with. If the wind is very steady from one direction, it makes it much easier. If the wind is changing directions a lot, it can be very challenging. Think of the whole side of the blimp as a sail. If you do not have the nose of the ship, right into the wind, the wind will hit the side of the bag and start to push the ship sideways until you get it back into the wind. A big part of the ground crews job is to help the pilot keep the ship into the wind while it is on the ground. Some days it is a challenge for all of us. With that said, the job is great!
Learn about Blimps: Goodyear Blimp