Some people in the northern Monmouth County area stepped out of their homes on windy Monday evening around 6 p.m., drawn to find the source of a mechanical motor sound that kept growing louder and louder.
There up in the sky, against the slate gray, stormy clouds was a remarkable sight. A big fat Goodyear blimp appeared to be flying low enough to scrape the treetops and cellphone towers.
"People are not accustomed to seeing something so low," said Goodyear Public Relations Manager Ed Ogden in Akron, Ohio, where the Spirit of Goodyear is kept. "But we can fly as low as 1,000 and 1,200 feet. It's one of the attractions of an airship. You can wave at people, and they can wave back."
The Spirit of Goodyear is one of three Goodyear blimps. (The other two are based in Florida and California.) The 192-foot long, 55 foot tall blimp was in town for the American League Championship Series baseball game at Yankees Stadium in New York, where it provided aerial images for Turner Broadcast System (TBS.) On Sunday it was grounded.
On Monday the pilots waited for some rainstorms to end before taking off from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, Long Island for a relatively short jaunt over to Solberg Airport in Readington, NJ. On Tuesday it was headed to Somerset Pa.
The reason why it made such a clackety racket over Monmouth County is because its two 210-horsepower piston engines were "fighting a headwind," Ogden said. "When we went to New York, we probably passed over the same area but there was no wind, so the sound wouldn't have been noticeable," he said.
Airships can fly anywhere from 1000 to 3,000 feet. Ogden said they are time-tested aircraft with professional in-flight instrumentation, and can be flown at night and in any weather by the pilot. The cabin is the size of a minivan and seats six plus the pilot. The efficient engine runs on aviation fuel and can stay aloft for up to 16 hours. The typical speed is 55 mph.
"Some people think we deflate them and drive them to their destination, but these are solid aircraft," he said. The Spirit of Goodyear has been flying since 2000, and is estimated to be valued around $3 million, he said.