Goodyear Tyre & Rubber Co.
Airship work started at the Akron, Ohio, plant of the company in 1910, when engineer P. W. Litchfield began developing the specialised techniques required for the manufacture of rubberised fabric. After visiting Europe to see the latest airships flying at the time, he returned to America to start the construction of the company's first envelope, which was completed in July 1911. With a total capacity of 375,000 cu ft, it was made for Melvin Vaniman's ill-fated airship "Akron" which attempted to fly across the Atlantic in July 1912.
As a result of negotiations, which began in 1922 between Goodyear and Luftschiffbau-Zeppelin, the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation was formed on December 14, 1923. From then on, Goodyear's major effort was directed towards the design of rigid airships for naval and commercial use, but it was to be several years before an airship of this type was laid down by the, new company.
Total airship production by the company up to 1923 was 37, of which 26 were for the U.S. Navy, 7 for the U.S. Army, and 4 commercial.
On December 5, 1939, to reflect the company's growing interest in other fields of aeronautical work, the corporate name was changed again, this time to the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation. With America's entry into WW II, a great expansion began of the U.S. Navy's airship service, with 200 airships being authorised in June, 1942.
"GZ" stands for Goodyear-Zeppelin, stemming from the partnership Goodyear had with the German company when both were building airships together. However these models came many years after this partnership had dissolved during the start of World War II. The GZ-1 was the USS Akron (ZRS-4), the U.S. Navy's fourth rigid airship used for several tests including as a flying "aircraft carrier".
Between September, 1941 and April, 1944, Goodyear delivered 130 K-Class, 10 L-Class, 7 G-Class, and 4 M-Class airships to the Navy. These joined 4 K, 3 L, 1 G, and two ex-Army ships already in service, plus five Goodyear fleet ships, to make the largest airship fleet ever assembled by any nation. They were used extensively along the eastern and western seaboards of the United States, in Central and South American waters, and from 1944 in the Mediterranean area. The ZP squadrons, the first being commissioned at Lakehurst on January 2, 1942, (ZP-12), were organised into Fleet Airship Wings, of which there were five.
As recently as 1967, Goodyear carried out an evaluation programme for the U.S. Naval Air Development Center in which a series of rigid and non-rigid designs were examined for operational cost and performance potential. Amongst the designs considered were 45 million cubic feet rigids operating at speeds up to 210 m.p.h., which were found to be totally practical from a technical point of view.
As a further reflection of Goodyear's expanding interest in aeronautics and space research, the company name was changed once more on July 1, 1963, to become the Goodyear Aerospace Corporation. With this change, airship operations were transferred to Goodyear Tire & Rubber public relations, with Aerospace being responsible for engineering, maintenance and development of the fleet. During this period the company were operating two airships, namely, the Type GZ-19As "Mayflower", based at Miami, Florida, and "Columbia" at Los Angeles, California, during the winter months, both airships going on nationwide tour each summer. These ships were of 147,000 cu.ft. capacity and powered by two 175 h.p. Continental engines.