The First “Goodyear Blimp” – Pilgrim of 1925

The first Goodyear blimp used for advertising was Pilgrim, which was also the first blimp to fly with safe helium rather than flammable hydrogen.

First flight of Pilgrim, 1925

First flight of Pilgrim, 1925

The unnamed ship made its first flight on June 3, 1925, inflated with hydrogen. On July 17, 1925, it took to the air with helium, and on July 18, 1925, the blimp was christened Pilgrim by Florence Litchfield, wife of Goodyear executive and lighter-than-air advocate Paul Litchfield.

Pilgrim as illustrated by Flight magazine; May 6, 1926

Pilgrim as illustrated by Flight magazine; May 6, 1926

The blimp was originally fitted with a 47,700 cu. ft. envelope (D-94) and was not registered with the Department of Commerce, and therefore had no registration number.

In April, 1929, Pilgrim was fitted with a larger, 55,000 cu. ft. envelope (D-122) and registered as NC-9A.

Pilgrim's car is now on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum (photo: Dan Grossman, Airships.net)

Pilgrim’s car is now on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum (photo: Dan Grossman, Airships.net)

Pilgrim’s car was built of a magnesium-coated steel-tube framework covered with thin metal sheeting. The car was small but luxuriously appointed with mahogany veneer blue mohair velour upholstery, and had seats for one pilot and two passengers, with a small cockpit at the rear for a mechanic to tend the engine.

Goodyear Blimp Pilgrim's Cabin

Pilgrim’s cabin (photo: Goodyear)

Yachts in the Sky

Pilgrim was the first of Goodyear’s planned “Air Yachts.” Goodyear executive Paul Litchfield believed blimps could “serve a similar purpose for persons living inland as do yachts for those living along the seacoast” as he explained in the Goodyear book The Story of the Airship (Hugh Allen, 1931).

Flight magazine referred to Pilgrim as “A New American Sporting Dirigible” and noted:

“It is claimed that there is a great future for this type of and its mooring masts should be found at country clubs, private estates, etc., while the holding of airship regattas””in the same way that motor boat and yachting clubs now have similar events””can also be held with success. Personally, we think this small “blimp” type of airship possesses great possibilities from the sporting point of view, as is the case with ballooning””although, of course, ” blimping ” conies out a trifle more expensive.

Flight Magazine, May 6, 1929.

Technical Innovations: Helium, Catenary Curtain, and Taxi Wheel 

Pilgrim introduced a number of important innovations. Perhaps most importantly, Pilgrim was the first blimp to fly with safe helium rather than flammable hydrogen. Originally inflated with hydrogen when it first flew at Akron, Ohio, on June 3, 1925, Pilgrim was re-inflated with helium the next month and made its first flight with helium on July 17, 1925. Every Goodyear blimp since Pilgrim has used helium.

Pilgrim was also the first blimp to have its control car entirely supported by an internal catenary curtain and cables, and flush with the envelope. Previous blimp cars were suspended beneath the envelope to keep the engine away from the flammable hydrogen, attached by cables secured to finger patches or looped around the envelope. The catenary system employed by Pilgrim became the standard for all future blimps.

Goodyear Patent 1800174, showing catenary curtain for blimp.

Goodyear Patent 1800174, showing catenary curtain.

blimp catenary curtain

Interior of a later blimp, showing the catenary curtain.

Originally fitted with a bumper bag, Pilgrim’s car was later modified with the addition of a taxi wheel, which was employed on her fleet-mates as well. Pilgrim was also equipped with a portable mooring mast to allow it to land in any flat level field of sufficient size.

Goodyear Blimp Pilgrim fitted with taxi wheel

Pilgrim fitted with taxi wheel (photo: Goodyear)

Pilgrim was unusual in having a small rigid keel (a 21 ft. long triangular magnesium section that was laced on the inside of the envelope after the ship is inflated), a feature that was not repeated on future blimps.

A Distinguished Career

When Pilgrim was retired on December 30, 1931, it had made 4,765 flights, carried 5,355 passengers, flown a total of 2,880 hours, and covered 94,974 miles.

 Pilgrim Dimensions, Specifications, and Performance

Pilgrim (I)
First flight (hydrogen): June 3, 1925
First flight (helium): July 17, 1925
Volume:  47,700 cu. ft. (Envelope D-94)
Length:  105.5 ft.
Maximum diameter:  31 ft.
Engines: 1 Lawrence air-cooled radial (60 hp)
Max speed: 50 mph
Cruising Speed: 40 mph

Pilgrim Specifications as reported by Flight magazine; May 6, 1926

Pilgrim I Specifications as reported by Flight magazine; May 6, 1926

Pilgrim was deflated in June, 1928 and its car (C-35) was fitted with a new, larger envelope:

Pilgrim (II) (NC-9-A)
Launched: April 19, 1929,
Volume: 55,000 cu. ft. (Envelope D-122)
Length:  110 ft.
Maximum diameter:  32 ft.
Engines: 1 Lawrence air-cooled radial (60 hp)
Max speed: 50 mph
Cruising Speed: 40 mph

 

Goodyear Blimp Pilgrim - cigarette card

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