MOGADORE, Ohio - If ever there was a driver who looked cool as he tooled through Summit County, it is Jerry Hissem. With a lot of engine power at his disposal, he hung his arm out the window, allowing the breeze from his vehicle's motion to blow through his hair. Sunglasses in place, Hissem was moving at about 30 miles an hour, drawing the stares of probably everyone who saw what he was driving.
Hissem is a pilot of one of the Goodyear blimps. "The Spirit of Goodyear" is housed in Mogadore, near Akron, Ohio, and Hissem throttles the blimp the size of a football field through the skies promoting the Goodyear name. NewsChannel 5 producer Ann Geyser, cameraman Reggie Young, and I thumbed a ride on the blimp, which we saw slowly heading toward us as we stood on the landing zone at the Goodyear blimp facility.
A ground crew of 13 caught ropes that dropped from the nose of the big airship and helped tug down the blimp filled with helium. Most of the crew grabbed bars on the gondola attached to the huge envelope, as it is called. With that, the ship landed. We hopped aboard.
Hissem throttled up and up we lifted. Hissem was busy the entire time, adjusting to the ever-present wind currents. "The smaller air currents change direction of the aircraft," said Hissem as he turned a large wheel at his knee to move the big ship up or down. Foot pedals moved the blimp to the right or left.
Quickly, we reached a thousand feet. At 30 miles an hour, which is cruising speed, Hissem kept the windows open. The ride was as smooth as if we were moving along a freshly-paved asphalt boulevard. Reggie kept his camera rolling as he recorded Hissem's movements as Summit County passed by below us. On a house rooftop in our route were written in large letters "Hi Blimp." Hissem chuckled at the greeting, eagerly pointing it out. "We fly this direction often," he said with a proud smile.
Seated behind Hissem was Ann. She enjoyed the rush of the air swirling through the gondola. She smiled throughout the ride, which lasted about an hour.
Hissem noted it would take about two days to fly from Akron to New York City. "We can't go faster than our landing crew can move on the ground," he noted. "We need them to help land the ship every time." We were not headed beyond the general Summit County area. However, the "Spirit of Goodyear" shows up at many events. It and two other Goodyear blimps based in Florida and California are used solely to promote the company's name.
For decades, the blimps have become mainstays over many high-level sporting events. With live television cameras in the gondola, Goodyear's fleet have given viewers an eagle's eye look at the event below. As Ann, Reggie and I watched Hissem maneuver the big ship through the skies, he pointed out interesting points below, showing various communities and buildings.
"That's Kent State University over in that direction," he noted. This man surprised us all when he said he could not get enough aviation on his job. "I'm building a small two-seater airplane at home right now," said Hissem, who has been a licensed pilot for 22 years. He has flown blimps for Goodyear for 15 years. Hissem is one of 12 pilots the company keeps for its three blimps.
When asked if any blimp pilots ever quit Goodyear to move to other area of life, Hissem grinned, "Ahh, no," he said with pride. "We stay around because we love what we do."
When we landed after our ride through Summit County, Ohio, and scurried off the blimp while the ground crew held the ship in place, another pilot scurried aboard. "We're doing a little pilot instruction here," said Hissem. He watched the big blimp lift off the airfield with another pilot at the controls.
Even far away, the name "Goodyear" painted in yellow on the side of the blimp was evident. Of course, that's why the blimps fly. It keeps Goodyear's name out there. And up there, too.