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Life is slower when you fly in a blimp

When you're in a blimp, there is no "flyover country."

If you're in a passenger jet at 35,000 feet doing 500 mph, the ground is a patchwork of green and brown and blue with all but the largest features merging into an indistinguishable mosaic.

From a blimp, doing about 35 mph several hundred feet from the ground, you see people and cars and can count the number of truck trailers in the Silver-Line Plastics parking lot. You can watch traffic move down Lee Boulevard, see the people pulled over on the roadside to take your picture and, maybe, see a herd of bison at the Comanche Buffalo Co. pasture. 

And that's just fine with the folks who fly the Wingfoot Two, Goodyear's newest blimp that stopped by the company's tire plant in Lawton last week on its way to home base in Southern California.

There are basically two types of flyers. Some want to get where they're going as quickly as possible and may like to see what the Earth looks like from way up there  or not. For flyers who just want to see the world the way a hawk does, taking in every little detail and not worrying about how long it's going to take, riding in a blimp is the way to go.

And that's especially true of Goodyear's new generation of blimps. The new airships can accommodate more passengers and have larger  ginormous, in fact  windows that allow you to see just about everything that's out there. Taking panoramic photos is a cinch. But don't hang your cellphone out the window: The pilots make it very clear that they won't be stopping to pick up your iPhone that's fallen a thousand feet to the prairie.

And it's not just the sights; on a jetliner, the roar of the engines and pressurization of the cabin create a muffled acoustic background. Wingfoot Two is so quiet you can have a conversation from 6 or 8 or 10 feet away. The only time there's noise is when the motors are asked to do some especially demanding task, like maneuvering or taking off or landing, or when the airship is being winched into place on its mooring mast.

While flying in a blimp is, well, down to earth in a nostalgic way, there's nothing low tech about the new models. For decades pilots controlled their aircraft with a mixture of skill and brute force, their feet pressing on pedals and their right hands on an enormous wheel.

"It's physical work," pilot Jim Maloney said on that trip. Because of that, the blimp usually changed pilots about every hour. 

That's all gone. A cockpit in the new blimp is a panorama of digital displays and camera screens, and digital controls have taken the muscle out of the equation.

"Control and maneuverability is very much a mental workout for the pilot," said Wingfoot Two pilot Michael Dougherty, a 10-year veteran of the Goodyear blimp fleet, "whereas it was more physical with the old ones."

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