I Get Paid For This…
A Goodyear blimp pilot who takes people on their ‘bucket list’ flights and enjoys an aerial front-row seat at amazing red carpet and sporting events. Interview by Yayeri van Baarsen
Tell us about your job…
I’m an airship pilot and fly the Goodyear Blimp. It’s a very rare job, which is one of the best parts of it. I also love the constant variety – one day we may be flying passengers, the next covering a red carpet event like the Grammys, and after that we might go on a cross-country flight to cover a NASCAR race. Flying the Goodyear Blimp often includes television aerial coverage or passenger flights.
We start our day by gathering weather information, assessing fuel loads and safety concerns, and briefing the passengers. I particularly enjoy the charity flights as our passengers are so excited to ride in the blimp – it’s often a ‘bucket list’ item for them. That excitement is a constant reminder of how unique and awesome my job is. The main difference between flying an aeroplane and an airship is the landing. The recently retired GZ-20 blimp, Spirit of Innovation, needed a crew of 12-15 to launch and land. With Wingfoot One and Wingfoot Two, technological advances mean that a smaller crew can be used, as pilots now have more control over manoeuvrability.
Ground crew are essential to our operations. On approach, it’s really important for the pilot to be precise in altitude and speed, to eliminate risk to the landing crew. As the airship slows down to its approach speed of 10kt or below, it loses a large proportion of aerodynamic control, so that’s our most critical flight phase. With our new-technology airships it’s much easier to retain control.
However, the GZ-20A will always be my favourite – I’m lucky to have flown this historic model of blimp for over five years. It’s seat-of-your-pants flying – all feel, with no numbers to follow or charts to memorise. You develop a style and create a skill no one else has – every blimp pilot flies the ship in their own way.
How did you get into flying?
I knew I wanted to be a pilot at the age of 15. My parents exposed me to all kinds of adventures, and on one family holiday we flew out of the country. I loved the sights, smells, sounds and culture we experienced, and knew then that I wanted to see the world. What better way to do that than to fly myself?
I started working towards that in 2005 and moved from Oregon to San Diego as weather can slow down training in the Pacific Northwest. In San Diego, the flight classes were accelerated so I got my private licence after just two months.
What training did you have?
Once I earned my PPL, I focused on getting my Instrument and Commercial ratings. Completing my Certified Flight Instructor and Certified Instrument Instructor Ratings led to a position with American Flyers in Santa Monica, where I taught for three years.
Next, I moved on to a charter operation in Juneau, Alaska. Being a bush pilot was by far one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. Without that I might not be in the same place today, as my Alaska experience enabled me to secure an interview with Goodyear.
What’s been your most memorable flight?
I was lucky enough to fly a formation flight with two GZ-20 model blimps in Pompano Beach. It’s rare for two airships to be in a single location, let alone covering the same event.
On that day, Spirit of Innovation and Spirit of Goodyear flew to a NASCAR race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. We flew over crystal-blue waters, through a bright blue sky with unrestricted visibility, low winds and smooth air: a perfect day in southern Florida.
Do you get to fly much outside work?
Outside of blimp flying, I also instruct at the Sling Flying Club in Torrance, California, with a focus on Light Sport Aircraft and ratings. It’s fun to fly an aeroplane for a change and I particularly enjoy the Sling, which I occasionally fly out to Catalina Island.
What’s the most valuable career advice you’ve received?
It was, “Work really hard, take as many opportunities as you can, don’t be afraid of change, and try everything.” When I was just starting out, I had a very different career route planned, but as time passed, my opinions, experiences, ideas and opportunities changed.
Taylor Deen is one of five pilots who will captain Goodyear Blimp Wingfoot Two when it’s transferred from Ohio to its California base in the autumn of 2017.
Started work 17 November 2011
Now flying Goodyear GZ-20A blimp, Spirit of Innovation; Zeppelin NT airships, Wingfoot One and Wingfoot Two
Favourite GZ-20A Goodyear Blimp
Hours at job start 2,250
Hours now 4,100