The Goodyear Blimp made a surprise visit over UCF’s main campus on Feb. 17, circling 1,000 feet overhead and drawing the attention of students and staff below. The famed airship was in Central Florida to provide aerial video coverage of Speed Week races at Daytona International Speedway.

Doug Grassian, public relations manager for Goodyear and a UCF alumnus, arranged for a group from UCF to ride in the blimp. Journalism instructor Rick Brunson and three of his students, Chelsea St. John, Maria Parada and Christy Phillips, were joined by Tom Messina, executive director of the UCF Alumni Association. The group drove to Flagler County Airport in Palm Coast to board The Spirit of Innovation, one of three airships in Goodyear’s fleet. The 192-foot-long helium-filled blimp lifted off and ascended at a 30-degree angle before leveling off. The craft then cruised easily and breezily at about 1,000 feet at 35 mph for the 60-mile trip to UCF.  Capt. Matthew St. John, one of only 60 licensed airship pilots in the world, flew the craft and served as an entertaining host. The passengers in the gondola took turns riding in the co-pilot seat, oohing and ahhing at the sights below.

“I like I-4 much better from up here,’’ Brunson said jokingly.

Once they arrived at UCF, the group got a bird’s eye view of the distinctive, circular main campus, hovering above for about a half-hour to capture photos and video. The students are part of Brunson’s Magazine Editing & Production class, and their work will appear in the upcoming, inaugural issue of Centric Magazine.

“This was an opportunity of a lifetime,’’ said student Maria Parada, who will be writing about the experience for the magazine. “It was amazing.’’

Brunson, 50, recalls watching the Goodyear Blimp on television as it circled over America’s most famous stadiums covering games for ABC’s “Monday Night Football.’’

“Never would I imagine that I’d be able to one day ride on the Goodyear Blimp,’’ Brunson said. “I mean, it was not even on my bucket list because it would never be within the realm of possibility. You can’t even buy a trip on the Goodyear Blimp.’’

Messina, who directs the 175,000-member alumni association and graduated from UCF in 1984, was awestruck.

“I’ve seen aerial shots of UCF before, but never like this, from up here,’’ Messina said. “It really is a beautiful campus.’’ 

Grassian, who graduated from UCF’s Nicholson School with a master of arts in Communication in 2004, said the trip is part of Goodyear’s outreach to schools and universities.

“Goodyear is attempting to integrate the blimp into schools’ educational processes,’’ Grassian said. “The hope is that students of all ages will be able to learn through the blimp. This time it was journalism. But there’s math and science behind the blimp. And the whole wonder of it can help create an opportunity for students to learn and for schools to meet their educational goals.’’