At sports events, the best seat not in the house is generally found in a Goodyear blimp. Television, at least, has tried to make that point on many occasions.
The big airships have become fixtures at major events like the Rose and Orange Bowls, and seldom surprise anyone when they silently cruise by at baseball games or golf tournaments.
A call to the Goodyear News Bureau in Akron, Ohio, turns up a somewhat sketchy history of the blimp's sports involvement. Before TV, the dirigibles were used mainly as floating billboards at auto races, according to blimp coordinator Skip Scherer. Television didn't press the ships into service until 1960, and then only after a crane-hoisted camera slipped into the ocean before the start of a Miami regatta. Since then, the networks have frequently used blimps to get what Scherer calls ''beauty shots.'' These often-breathtaking, panoramic views show stadiums in the context of their surroundings, and at night can make them appear as glowing diadems on a twinkling, urban landscape.
Networks seldom utilize blimp-eye views for actual game coverage, but Scherer says today's long-range camera lenses make such use possible. ''They can zero in on a single player if they want to,'' he says. ''In fact, during last year's baseball All-Star Game in Cleveland, there was an overhead sequence showing one batter striking out.''
Over land, a blimp's minimum altitude is 1,000 feet, which is about five times as high as the roof of domed stadiums. They can fly over the playing field, an advantage small aircraft generally don't have because of safety regulations.
There are actually three Goodyear blimps in the United States, one each stationed in Houston, Los Angeles, and Pompano Beach, Fla. Only about a quarter of their flight time is spent at 40 or 50 sporting events a year.
The equipment they carry is heavy enough that the helium-filled envelopes can't get off the ground in a high-altitude city like Denver. Blimps aren't used to cover events in desert locations because of violent weather changes.