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Fire at Famed Goodyear Airdock

Friday, May 19, 2006 at 2:28 PM

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Fire broke out in a landmark building in Akron yesterday. The famed Goodyear Airdock, where blimps were built in the early 20th century, appeared to suffer minor damage. It took almost two hours to get the blaze under control. The building has long been a sentimental favorite for Akronites but it also promises to be the site for future jobs. ideastream's Mark Urycki has details.

The big black airdock which lies next to the Akron Fulton Municipal Airport is the stuff of legend. At almost a quarter-mile long and over 200 feet high, it was said that rain clouds would form inside. For decades it was the largest building in the world without internal supports. It has a metal framework with a skin made of cloth and rubber and possibly vinyl. Fire officials weren’t sure of its exact composition. The flames crept along that skin to almost the top of the building but Akron Fire department information office Edward Sturkey says they were able to battle them from above and below.

Edward Sturkey: There’s a catwalk structure inside that allows you to get up in the structure from the inside that helped us to some degree. On the outside of the building is primarily where the fire was - the vast majority of it. So we used master streams from aerial ladders to bring the fire under control from the outside.

Lockheed Martin uses the building now but the only people inside yesterday were contractors renovating it. Sturkey says firefighters were familiar with the odd old structure.

Edward Sturkey: We have an excellent working relationship with Lockheed Martin. They allow us to use that facility for training for our technical rescue people so we are familiar with that building for situations like this. There was pre-planning involved as well as regular inspections by the fire prevention bureau. So you don’t want a thing like to happen but we couldn’t have been more well prepared.

Goodyear used the building to produced blimps for the Navy starting in 1929. Corsair airplanes were built there during World War II.

But the airdock also represents part of the future. Lockheed Martin is preparing to use it to build a new high-altitude airship for coastline surveillance. It’ll be two-and-a-half times as long as today’s Goodyear blimps. In December, the Missile Defense Agency awarded the company a $149 million contract to build a prototype ship. Last summer, Lockheed Martin sold the 77-year-old airdock to the Summit County Port Authority which had agreed to perform an environmental cleanup at the site. Company Spokesman Kate Dunlap.

Kate Dunlap: It is a building that was built in 1929, so there were renovations to the windows, to the interior structure, and just to update to prepare it for the large vehicle that we’ll be building there, the High Altitude Airship. We’ll fit two inside the airdock, so it was general cleanup and renovations to ensure that we’re ready for that program.

Lockheed Martin employs 550 people in Akron now and if the prototype is accepted, more of the giant dirigibles would be ordered and several hundred jobs would be added. Dunlap says the fire has not delayed the project and blimp construction should begin within a year.

Because of defense work at the airdock over the years, it’s been off-limits to the public. But when Goodyear opened it up for a United Way event in 1986, over 100,000 people showed up just to look inside. Although its ownership has changed over the years, most Akronites still refer to it as the Goodyear Airdock. The Fire Department’s Edward Sturkey agreed it isn’t just any old building.

Edward Sturkey: The history is awesome, and so many people are familiar with that and so willing to share. I’m 50 years old. it certainly goes back, well back beyond my time from a practical standpoint. I think about the blimps but there was all kinds of work that went on there for the war effort and things of that nature. But for a lot of people it was really representative of their lives.

The fire attracted onlookers and even private planes circled above to watch. No one was injured in the fire. Mark Urycki, 90.3. 

Additional Information

National Park Services: Goodyear Airdock

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