SALEM - Cool.
You can say a lot of other things about flying in the Goodyear blimp, all superlatives leaning toward awesome, great, fantastic, epic, and even unbelievable.
But cool pretty much hits the mark.
Mickey Weaver shows what she thinks about flying in the Goodyear blimp “Spirit of Goodyear.” She flew over the Salem Super Cruise on Friday. The airship was christened by America’s first woman in space, NASA astronaut Dr. Sally Ride in 2000 and is scheduled to be retired from the fleet in 2014. (Salem News photo by Larry Shields)
For the second straight year, the Goodyear blimp made an appearance at the Salem Super Cruise and this year Mickey Weaver - who serves as Salem Council president and a big Cruise booster- was aboard compliments of Salem Tire's Kyle Cranmer and Jim Stockton, the local Goodyear retailer. Weaver was beside herself after the flight from Suffield to the 8th annual Super Cruise and back in the "Spirit of Goodyear" blimp on Friday.
After Salem Tire arranged for the blimp to be at the Super Cruise, Jim Bonfert, a longtime hot rodder and Salem Super Cruise adviser was set to fly in it but was hospitalized. Asked to fill in, Weaver, who is more than handy with a camera, didn't hesitant.
After signing in at Goodyear Airship Operations in Suffield, she had a chance to speak to "Spirit of Goodyear" senior pilot James Kosmos, Jr., who has over 5,000 hours in the air. Kosmos has piloted fixed wing planes and jets and flown celebrities around but he loves flying the "Spirit of Goodyear" and has logged more than 1,000 hours in blimps. He is one of 15 Goodyear blimp pilots and sees himself as retiring from Goodyear.
Weaver talked with Kosmos as the 192-foot, six-story "Spirit of Goodyear" landed from a earlier morning flight and the ground crew leapt into action.
"I was talking and asking basically what they were supposed to do," Weaver said. "Which tether to grab, what they had to be aware of, what to do in case the blimp kept going, and be mindful of knowing when to run."
After returning to Salem Friday afternoon, Weaver had another flight in a small plane to take pictures in the early evening of the Super Cruise.
She was still sorting through it all on Saturday afternoon but in the morning, while helping with the downtown cleanup after the first full day of the Super Cruise, she recalled standing there and wondering if she had really done that yesterday. "Then I thought of the pictures I took."
It was real and she said, "It's almost something you have to experience to appreciate. It's like no form of flight I've been on and that includes hot air balloons ... which I thought would be similar, but was in fact dissimilar. I think the one thing flying a craft that only goes 35 mph is the tremendous vantage point -to see ahead ... you can follow the roads and see where they intersect and how green it is. It was really different. I really didn't know what to expect."
Even in extremely mild weather like Friday's, what Weaver said might be referred to as a "severely clear" day, the little wind there was came from tree shadows and farmland had an effect on the blimp.
Kosmos continually worked the elevator wheel keeping the nose leveled out and some undulations had a roller-coaster effect. "Up and down, you did feel it," she said adding that the way the gondola (car) is attached to the blimp by cables also caused a swaying and flexing effect.
Once over Salem after a few passes over Quaker City Motorsports Park, Kosmos piloted the "Spirit of Goodyear" over Salem Tire.
Weaver said she was impressed with "how committed those pilots are. He made a point of going over the Goodyear dealers (including Walmart). What a great thing to do, as small as we are compared to L.A. or New York. What he did was so personal. The pilots are very linked into what they're doing and (the fact) that he wants to retire from Goodyear, I loved that. It's something I'll remember the rest of my life and seeing the hospital and knowing Jim was in there, I was hoping he was looking out."
Weaver has flown in planes, hot air balloons and now, the Goodyear blimp.
"If I had one type of flight to take again, I would take the blimp. It's like walking through a park at a very slow pace versus, say, riding a motorcycle through."
For more information on the Goodyear Airship Operations, visit goodyearblimp.com or visit the blimp on Facebook.
Larry Shields can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org