- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - The next generation of the well-known Goodyear blimp is getting ready to take flight as the Ohio-based company moves toward replacing its old fleet of airships with a new trio.

The helium-filled airship, assembled at an Akron-area hangar and unveiled there Friday, is bigger, quicker and more maneuverable than earlier models, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. said.

The 246-foot airship fits 12 passengers and has a semi-rigid internal skeleton, a feature that wasn’t present in earlier models and raises questions about whether it is truly a blimp, though the company still refers to it as such. The structure is covered by a silver, balloon-like body emblazoned with Goodyear’s yellow logo on a blue background.

It can travel at up to 73 mph and has custom computer-controlled avionics, an upgrade from the manual flight system used by the blimp pilots since the 1920s, the company said. It plans to build two more.

A spokesman wouldn’t specify the cost of the new airship, which is expected to provide a longer flight range and better aerial broadcast capabilities for event coverage.

“The completion of the new blimp marks the beginning of a new era for our airship program and reflects Goodyear’s commitment to remaining at the forefront of aerial broadcast coverage and support,” Paul Fitzhenry, Goodyear’s senior vice president for global communications, said in a statement.

The airship is scheduled to start test flights this month and go into service this summer.

It still needs one component: a name. Goodyear is collecting suggestions through a contest on its website until April 4. Whoever submits the chosen name will get to use the blimp for a day, the company said.

Thousands of suggestions were submitted in 2006 when the company named its Spirit of Innovation blimp, which now operates from Pompano Beach, Fla.

That is where the old Ohio blimp, Spirit of Goodyear, retired. It is being decommissioned this year.

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Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, http://www.ohio.com