Goodyear blimp pilot flies over Bay Area for Super Bowl

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Pilot William Bayliss gave ABC7 News an up-close look at what it takes to fly the world-famous Goodyear Blimp. (KGO-TV)

Coming in for a landing, most pilots would look for a runway. But not William Bayliss; he looks for a crowd of people.

"It takes 15 people to launch and land one of these," he said. "That's not including the pilot."

But perhaps the toughest landing of his career was landing this job flying the world-famous Goodyear Blimp.

"The blimp is the real celebrity, not any of us," he said.

The blimp is lighter than air. Grabbing it and holding it down is a wrestling match. As one passenger climbed on, another hopped off.

"If we took everyone off at the same time, of course, the blimp would float away," said Bayliss.

But for all the awkwardness on the ground, once it takes to the sky it's the smoothest ride there is. And it's green lights all the way.

"We have the right of way over just about any aircraft in the sky," said Bayliss. "They see us way before we see them."

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The blimp has all the technology of a modern airplane. But when you have 1.2 million birthday balloons worth of helium directly above you, flying is a much different experience.

"Sitting next to me, this is what we call the elevator control wheel," said Bayliss. "I've actually had passengers say, 'Are you in a wheelchair?' Which, you know, we kind of call the pilot's seat the wheelchair.

But in fact, the pilot's feet are constantly working to steer the blimp.

"Gotta have strong legs to be a blimp pilot," he said. "To have full deflection it's about 8 inches left and right."

The average speed is around 35 miles per hour. But going slow is what makes it great for cameras.

"Absolutely the best camera platform," said a photographer. "We're the first to do it for aerial coverage. We started in 1955 for the Rose Bowl."

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And for countless other sporting events, including 20 Super Bowls.

Even though since 9/11, no one's allowed to fly over the stadium during the game.

"We're getting the beauty shots for the networks," said the photographer. "You know, downtown, sunsets."

And what do they get in exchange? Priceless advertising seen by millions of fans from the ground and from their living rooms.

"Like to tell people sometimes I'm not much of a pilot anymore, I'm more of a tire salesman," said Bayliss.

ABC7 News is bringing you full coverage of Super Bowl 50. Click here for the latest stories, videos, and photos.
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