SoCal Connected on KCET

I Am Los Angeles: The Spirit of America

Original Airdate June 21, 2013; Updated May 28, 2014

David Bowling: My first time ever seeing the Goodyear blimp I was about 9 years old. I chased it for about a mile and a half on my bike because it was so rare and so neat and I think that’s what stops people out here. Even people who have lived here for years. Even stop by during the weekends sometime and stare at it. My name is David Bowling, I’m a senior pilot with Goodyear’s Spirit of America. There’s a lot of history with the name Spirit of America. The reason we chose Spirit of America was we were rebuilding this ship in 2002 just after the 9/11 2001 terrorist attacks. The mother of a first responder actually helped to christen this airship and we named it the Spirit of America because it symbolized the rebuilding of our nation after the attacks. I come from a long line of engineers. My father was a truck driver, my uncle was a train engineer, so we’ve always had a fascination with machinery and making things operate. So for me, flying, and operating an aircraft was that much of a challenge. I thought that was like the pinnacle of technology as far as engineering goes. It seems different when you look at it. The majesty of it. It’s pretty awesome, but it’s a throwback to a bygone era. It’s almost like a flying museum. It’s flying history, actually. It harkens back to a simpler time. Movies were made about it. It’s..there’s even books have been written that have spoken about the Goodyear blimp, so it’s so rare that people come out just to see it. And because it’s a romantic era. There’s only three in the entire country. If you see one, even for 10 minutes, it’s a special 10 minutes. But I’s as American as apple pie, as American as the Goodyear blimp. I mean, you can basically put the two and two together. The Goodyear blimp has always been kind of American products, and we’ve always built our ships up in Ohio. We’ve always worked hard to maintain a good tradition throughout our company. I think the Goodyear blimp airship definitely carries on that tradition. You know, they always ask me, how did you get to become an airship pilot? If you asked me back in college or told me..I would have laughed you out of the room. But you know, life is kind of funny like that. You get opportunities sometimes that are presented to you, sometimes you take them, sometimes you don’t. I was lucky to have this opportunity presented in front of me. When I was 17, I thought I’d be flying a hotshot fighter or something like that. But I gotta tell you this is ..for me the best reward I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t trade it for anything like that again. This is for me, as good as it gets.

Since 2012, KCET has been featuring the work of journalist and filmmaker Joris Debeij through Departures, the station's interactive documentary project about the social history of Los Angeles. "I Am Los Angeles" is Debeij's portrait series that showcases the unique people and their ideas that make L.A. what it is.

Spirit of America pilot David Bowling is a lucky man. For the past few years, he's had the chance to pilot one of three rare Goodyear Blimps from the 1920s. 

Bowling recalls seeing a Goodyear Blimp for the first time in the sky when he was about nine years old. From there, he was smitten. 

It never crossed his mind that he would someday fly one of the most iconic floating beauties in the world. Watch Bowling's childhood dream come to life in this compelling short documentary.

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