Bombers and Blimps: An Unlikely Duo

Lucy Feidelson

On May 30, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Scholars Peter Tschirhart introduced Scott A. Wiley, retired United States Air Force (USAF) Colonel, to a group of Colgate students and Hamilton residents. In his talk, Wiley fused two unrelated topics, the evolution of the bomber and the restoration of the Goodyear blimp, in a detailed explanation.

Following Tschirhart’s introduction, Wiley asked the question, “why evolve systems?” to prompt his rapid yet pertinent outline of the bomber aircraft’s transformation and adaptation. Wiley then provided that “real bombing” began with the onset of World War I. As the war progressed, the U.S. realized that strategic bombing would be a key factor in winning wars. In 1920, the U.S. constructed and implemented its first bomber: the Martin MB-2. Not fast or far enough to keep up with or defeat Hitler’s regime and military force, the USAF kept modifying and advancing. 

Wiley then stated that following the Jet Age in the 1950s, the Boeing B-52, a long-range and subsonic strategic bomber, took flight and has been employed ever since. 

“Despite its practicality and functionality, the USAF continued to manufacture new bombers with the mindset of ‘higher, further and faster,’” Wiley said.

Wiley then illustrated the USAF’s developments, evolving from man-operated bombers to intercontinental ballistic missiles. Although the latter are faster and radical in design, manned bombers are still relevant, versatile and formidable. As for the bombers that are no longer relevant: the ones that cannot be updated any further are designated to dumps and museums.

“Bombers and bombs alike must be able to keep up with new technologies and new threats; otherwise, they become outdated and obsolete,” Wiley said.

After his anecdote regarding American bombers, Wiley discussed his refurbishment and partial reconstruction of the infamous Goodyear blimp, most commonly known for its iconic role in the 1977 film “Black Sunday.” The Goodyear blimp, 192 feet long and 83 years old, was the first aircraft to land at the Washington National Airport, as well as the first mechanism for overhead coverage of the Olympics. Wiley plans to return the blimp to its original appearance when it was last aerial in the 1980s, so that it can serve any blimp’s intended purpose: advertisement, televising and “joy rides.” 

Although the repair project has been arduous with the blimp’s numerous missing and damaged parts, Wiley has found immense happiness and merit throughout the process.