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"We're five miles southeast of the airport at 200 feet," Esh reports.
"You're at what altitude?" the tower asks incredulously.
"We're at 200 feet," Esh repeats. "We would like to proceed through your zone northbound along the beach."
"Roger," the tower answers. "That is approved."
As the blimp moves through the Fort Lauderdale control zone, back in Miami Mr. Albert Royce, president of the Royce Chemical Company of East Rutherford, N.J., is seated aboard a 727 jet, ready for takeoff and fully confident that, in almost no time at all, the plane will carry him to a safe landing in either Newark or Havana. As Royce's jet roars into the sky, 20 miles to the northeast, Marcia Esh, the wife of Goodyear Pilot Dick Esh, is motoring with her 2�-year-old daughter Melissa up Florida's Sunshine State Parkway in a sassy red Chevrolet Impala Super Sport. Even if little Melissa dawdles as usual over lunch, Marcia is confident that she will get to Jacksonville well before her husband Dick gets down out of the sky in the poky blimp.
One hour later, Marcia Esh has covered 60 miles in her Chevrolet. In the same period National Airlines has carried passenger Albert Royce 560 miles, and the spaceship Apollo has brought Astronauts Borman, Lovell and Anders 3,950 miles closer to home. In the same hour the blimp Mayflower has crawled 29 miles up the Florida coast.
Although in spirit it is a gypsy, a blimp possesses some of the ingrained reluctance of an ordinary jackass and the stubbornness of an Andean llama. There is no way, simply no way, of making it go faster or of making it carry more than it is accustomed to carry. The blimp Mayflower is 160 feet long and has a maximum diameter of 51 feet. Under usual conditions, the 147,300 cubic feet of helium in its envelope can lift about 9,200 pounds. Since the envelope itself, and the cabin slung under it, plus the two 150-horsepower engines and all the fixed instrumentation and other essentials weigh about 7,700 pounds, the useful lift of the huge beast is 1,600 pounds at most.
Pilot Joe Whelan, adequately dressed for flying, weighs 230 pounds, and Pilot Dick Esh weighs 170. The weight allowance remaining for fuel, baggage and passengers, therefore, is about 1,200 pounds. On the journey to Jacksonville, Whelan and Esh had one nonpaying passenger aboard: 28-year-old James Newcombe, a former third-string University of Georgia football player, who is employed by Goodyear as advance planner and field manager of the Mayflower. Although Jim Newcombe has the same sort of uncontained zeal for blimping that devout Moslems have for Mecca, he unfortunately weighs 220 pounds. Because there was also about 200 pounds of excess baggage aboard, the Mayflower was obliged to leave Miami with only 125 gallons (roughly 750 pounds) of gasoline in her tank—not enough to make it safely to Jacksonville without a fuel stop at Fort Pierce.
In this miraculous age, when a run-of-the-mill, 48-ton commercial superjet can carry more than 14 tons of paying passengers and luggage, why, for heaven's sake, is the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company still fooling around with slow gasbags that carry so little and cost $600,000 a year to operate?
Why? Because there is a great deal of value to be derived from displaying a very large and very appealing object that moves very slowly in an age when everything else is going so fast that it is little more than a blur. Although by comparison to everything else traveling through the air, the Goodyear blimp is truly a featherweight of mediocre ability, it packs quite a wallop emotionally. By its very shape and easy manner in the sky the blimp suggests contentment to people who in this frantic day have almost forgotten how good it is simply to loiter and linger. As long as there is a blimp in the sky, people will be waving up at it, photographing it and wanting to ride in it. On the losing side of football stadiums, gloomy spectators will glance up to the blimp for solace and reassurance. Winners will see it as a serene omen. And as long as people feel that way, the name Goodyear will be unforgettable.