The giant hangar prepares for an aviation revolution

Sergey Brin turned Internet search into one of the most valuable companies in the world more than two decades ago. Now he intends to improve on technology that was at its height long before his birth.

Brin and the team of engineers plan to do this by reinventing a much older technology, if improved. A new generation of airships – aircraft that are lighter than aircraft that do not require conventional airfields – will be built in a corner of Ohio that has played a unique role in the history of aviation. Moreover, if built, it would be housed in one of the most iconic structures in America, the Goodyear Airdock in Akron.

Airplanes can help speed up aid delivery in disaster areas, move air cargo at a much lower cost than air freight, and reduce aviation emissions. However, similar projects in the past have struggled to overcome the complex engineering challenges involved, have run out of money, or have left potential clients disappointed.

“A balloon flight is unlike flying any other aircraft because it is lighter than air and floats, rather than sinks, when you put the power to rest,” says Andrea Dilling, airship pilot and director of airship operations at Bryn, LTA Research. “There is also a sense of amazement that people feel when they see a lighter-than-air vehicle in the sky. LTA Research is building a unique airship and I can’t wait to get to the actual plane and fly.”

In the first half of the 20th century, Akron in Ohio was known as the “rubber capital of the world” because it was home to major American tire manufacturers such as arch-rivals Goodyear and Firestone, and quickly became a center of airship development thanks to the links between the two industries.

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Although these industries have since declined, their legacy lives on. About 14 miles (22 kilometers) south of town, Goodyear built the Airship Base at Wingfoot Lake in 1917 which, more than 100 years later, still builds and maintains the company’s airship fleet. This makes it the oldest airship facility in the world, and one of the oldest active aircraft bases.

Likewise, the University of Akron has grown on the background of the tire and airship industry, and its College of Engineering and Polymer Science is one of the best of its kind in the United States. The range of businesses that grew up around it even led to the area being called “Polymer Valley.”

The Goodyear-Zeppelin Airdock, to use its original name, was designed in a wind tunnel, apparently belonging to Flash Gordon, and when built in 1929, it was the world’s largest building without internal supports. Incredibly, the $2.2m (£25m) structure took just seven months to build.

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