AKRON, Ohio — When you think about Akron, some of the first things that may come to mind are LeBron James, the rubber industry/tires and the iconic Goodyear blimps.
The storied history of the airships that make people stop and stare is certainly not lost on Alan Weston, the CEO of Lighter Than Air, which is leasing space in the historic Akron Airdock and has big plans that include bringing back airship building.
"It's here in Akron that Goodyear has built over 400 airships since 1917. That is more than any other company than any other country in the world," Weston said during remarks Thursday to leaders of the city, county, and the University of Akron, along with members of the media.
Weston and other employees of LTA outlined some of their plans to once again build airships in the airdock which opened in 1929.
LTA officials showed off a shiny "baby airship"— about 50-feet-long— that is able to fly inside the airdock. As big as it is, it's only a scale model for what's to come, according to engineer Denny Carter.
"It's used in order to really do experiments with flight control. That's its main purpose," Carter said. "It's electric propulsion and has lithium batteries in it. It has controlled motors on the back and thrust motors on the side."
LTA is working on building much bigger airships— Pathfinder 1 in California and Pathfinder 3 in Akron. They will be used for humanitarian efforts, Weston said.
A huge test section of the airframe for the eventual Pathfinder 3 is currently under construction. It will be about 600 feet long and measure around 100 feet in diameter. It will have nearly 100 tons of lift.
"The flight tubes I think show up today or tomorrow and we're going to use that to build more test sections that are more flight-like and we are planning on starting to build the flight vehicle later this year," Weston said.
Weston believes humanitarian efforts through the airships will be revolutionary. The CEO said the airships will be able to make it to remote areas following disasters. Initial flights are expected to take place in the United States.
"It will deliver medicine and foot and other kinds of aid. The airship can also act, with the right electronics, as a floating cellphone tower and it can do that for weeks," Weston explained.
While those flights could still be several years away, LTA employees are anxious to look to the future while also honoring Akron's history with blimps.
"Because of their earlier efforts, we are going to be able to build airships that are faster, they're safer, more environmentally friendly and have greater capabilities than any other airship built before," Weston said.