Historical Akron: Blimp City – The Goodyear Airdock

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by Katie Jackson

A giant black slug on the horizon of Route 224 holds a mysterious history which is as essentially Akron as the hum that used to fill the sky from its former resident.

Photo courtesy of Tim Fitzwater
Photo courtesy of Tim Fitzwater

The Goodyear Airdock was built in 1929 by Detroit architect Albert Kahn. Completed at a cost of $2.2 million, it was the largest building in the world without an interior support structure. The Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation commissioned the building for development and construction of lighter-than-air dirigibles. The first two airships to be constructed at the site were the USS Akron in 1931, and its sister ship, USS Macon in 1933. When World War II broke out, the building was used for airship production and storage. After the Navy’s ZPG-3W was constructed in 1960, marking the last airship to be built in the Airdock, the space was used as the photographic division of Goodyear Aerospace Corporation.

In 1987 military contractor the Loral Corporation purchased Goodyear Aerospace, and by proxy, the Goodyear Airdock. When the Loral Corporation was purchased by Lockheed Martin in 1996, the Goodyear Airdock became a part of their campus.

The building’s unique shape measures in at 1,175 feet long, 325 feet wide, 221 feet high, and is supported by 13 enormous steel arches. This equates to around 364,000 square feet, or an area larger than 8 football fields. At each end of the building there are two semi-spherical doors which roll on wheels and specially designed railroad tracks, allowing the structure to open and close. Weighing in at 600 tons each, they require their own power system and are fastened closed with hollow pins that measure 17 inches in diameter. In 1980 the Goodyear Airdock was designated a Historical Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society for Civil Engineers.

The Airdock is so vast and large that it literally is a building with it’s own weather system. Yes, you read that right. Rumor has it that with just the right humidity and temperature change, condensation occurs to mimic a rain storm within the building. And that’s not its only odd association.

Blimps in Airdock 1973 (photo courtesy of National Register collection)
Blimps in Airdock 1973 (photo courtesy of National Register collection)

If you buy into conspiracy theories, the Goodyear Airdock has plenty of its own, particularly due to its military contractor ownership. Several times over the course of the past two decades there have been fires reported within the structure, mostly rumored to be the destruction of UFOs. And in 2011, Lockheed Martin conducted a test flight for a new airship model, High Altitude Long Endurance Demonstrator (or HALE-D, for short). The mysterious silver airship ran into “technical issues” however, and caught fire in a heavily wooded area outside of Pittsburgh. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, personnel from Lockheed Martin arrived on the scene prior to firefighters to extinguish the flames and clean up whatever remained.

Regardless of whether the X-Files-esque rumors are true, one thing is for certain: the Goodyear Airdock is a one-of-a-kind structure that can only be found in Akron, and certainly a key piece in the history of our beloved Blimp mascot.

 

 

                   

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