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May 2, 2012

Will Intrepid Love and Honor Space Shuttle Enterprise?

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By: Phil Derner Jr.
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In preparation for its flight to New York, Space Shuttle Enterprise is mounted to the top of the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at Dulles Airport early Friday morning. (Photo by NASA/Bill Ingals)
In preparation for its flight to New York, Space Shuttle Enterprise is mounted to the top of the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at Dulles Airport early Friday morning. (Photo by NASA/Bill Ingals)
NYCAviation was recently refused media credentials for the arrival of Space Shuttle Enterprise at JFK by the Intrepid Museum, after years of working with and promoting their museum. Unless you had a local press pass or were a “paying” member, they weren’t letting you in, regardless of general media participation. It was the most recent installment of disappointments to the enthusiast world by the museum, and this long journey brought us right back to where we started with them 4 years ago.

I remember when the Space Shuttle debate was going strong. Where will the retired Space Shuttles go and why? Who deserves it? With a very finite number of Shuttles in existence, it was a given that several important cities, sites and museums would just end up losing and feeling snubbed.

But, man, did I want a Shuttle in New York. To be able to cruise up and down the West Side to see a Shuttle sitting on or beside the Intrepid aircraft carrier would just be an amazing sight every single time. I remember speaking with former Intrepid Museum President Bill White, who asked NYCAviation for assistance in gathering petition signatures to bring a shuttle to NY since the Intrepid’s social media presence was very weak and virtually non-existent at the time. We pushed it hard on Twitter, Facebook and our forums and got signatures by the thousands. When I was on the committee for the the Airliners International enthusiast convention that took place in the NYC-area in 2010, not only were we urging the tourists that the event brought to the area to visit the Intrepid, we were also having people sign the petition right at the convention (though Intrepid refused to offer much of any discount to the mass of visitors unlike everyone else that we had partnered with).

This was not our first time involved with the Intrepid. Back in 2008, the Intrepid was in the midst of a much-needed renovation. The carrier deck was literally splintering, and aircraft artifacts were becoming damaged, some literally rotting from neglect. One of many examples including the trainer aircraft of the SR-71 Blackbird showing noticeable and significant rust along its wings and landing gear. The renovation was for public relations as well, as many were concerned with their reputation of aircraft handling, which would come up again around Space Shuttle petition time.

The Concorde was left unprotected and alone to lose its nose and be abused during Intrepid renovation in 2008.

With that in mind, timing was poor for what happened next. A recent addition to the museum, a British Airways Concorde (registered G-BOAD) was being displayed outside of a sports facility in Brooklyn during the aircraft carrier’s makeover. The aircraft was left completely unattended and unprotected, and it didn’t take long before a truck ripped off Concorde’s signature pointed nose off, which was extended over an active roadway. An NYCAviation member found this and took photos within hours, and we were quickly receiving calls from media agencies around the world asking us about it, and soon came into contact with the Intrepid for the first time. Not only was did the aircraft sustain this major nose damage, but children from the sports facility were playing around the aircraft; climbing on its tires and using the aircraft as a wall to throw footballs and other toys off of. There was visible damage all around the aircraft.

We worked closely with the Intrepid to keep an eye on the aircraft for the duration of its stay at FBF. We assigned a team of members to visit the site every few days to make sure that the newly-hired security was present (they weren’t always) and that there was no more day-to-day abuse (also not perfect), and reported it all back to Bill White, who was actually quite friendly toward us throughout.

I had strong concerns, as did everyone, about the future safety of the Concorde and other artifacts there from that point forward. But I was given my word from Mr. White that things would be different, that the goal of Intrepid was to let the world see aviation history up close, personal, and in good condition.

I accepted that and did my best to pass that message on to others regardless of my concern because, what choice did we have? They were going to have these artifacts anyway. Bill White gave me his word to work with the enthusiast world, and I turned around to interviews and message boards worldwide to pass along the message that “This was an isolated incident and their history of artifact mistreatment is over.” I hope I was right.

Fast forward to 2011. Intrepid was already a Space Shuttle winner, and I was excited to show off the new and improved facility to my Florida-native pilot girlfriend who has a strong love for aviation and space!

Frankly, it was disappointing. Admission for two adults was a staggering $48. We walked in to find that some artifacts I wanted to see again (the large Iwo Jima statue and the fuselage section from American Flight 11) were gone, even though there was still ample space for them both. We also wandered slowly through the museum in about half an hour, and stood at the bow of the ship saying “Is that it?” as we looked as the maps of the place. Worst of all, that fifty bucks admission doesn’t even give you access to the Concorde… you have to pay more for that!

I apologized to my girlfriend. I felt embarrassed that this is where a Space Shuttle was ending up, and that I had helped gather signatures to get it here. Aside from plucking some astronauts out of the ocean when in active service, the only space related item at the museum was a Mercury capsule mock-up… hardly enough to be called a “space” museum to me. I felt guilty for Houston and other places that lost out on a Shuttle. And I felt partially personally responsible.

I’d also like to point out that this same week, I took her to the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale, Long Island. That, my friends, is an aviation history museum with a highly impressive space exhibit that includes what would have been the actual Apollo 18 lunar module among many other amazing pieces that took our breaths away. Have a look.

So more recently when the Intrepid refused NYCAviation media access to the shuttle’s arrival (not a huge deal since we were there anyway through other means), I wasn’t surprised. Though our news coverage has been good enough for the likes of CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC and almost anyone else you can name that we’ve dealt with over the years, we weren’t relevant enough to the Intrepid because we are apparently just simple enthusiasts to them…that are not PAYING members, by their emphasis. Our thousands of petition signatures were of apparently of no value and brought no gratitude.

The Intrepid was chosen to receive a shuttle because of location and the attention it would get from tourists, not because of its pseudo-space museum status and certainly not because of their reputation of aircraft care. It still looks as though the Intrepid’s goal is the almighty buck, versus sharing in the passion of aviation with the rest of us. Also of relevance is that the original proposal for Enterprise has the aircraft in a glass dome, but now is planned to be white bubble instead, because God forbid someone be able to look at it from the street without paying (what I expect to be even higher) admission! (EDIT: According to their website, the cost of general admission with Enterprise and Concorde access, will be $50 per person)

So after years of trusting, protecting and supporting Intrepid for the sake of aviation history, I can no longer hide my opinions. I can only hope that Enterprise will be safe and loved. If only the Hayden Planetarium or the Cradle of Aviation could have been able to take it, I know it would be in better, more well-intentioned hands. We’ll have to wait and see what happens, and I hope it won’t be too late.

Also worth noting: The Intrepid Museum was struck by a cruise ship last week, the morning of the Enterprise flyby, in fact. The ship smacked into the pier just a few feet from the Concorde. Not their fault, and there was reportedly no damage, but it raises the question of how safe a location Intrepid is for priceless artifacts like a space shuttle. Here’s the video…

Phil Derner is Founder and Co-Owner of NYCAviation.com. Growing up watching planes across the water from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, his passion for aviation grew with the hobby of aviation photography, and led to him becoming an aircraft dispatcher.


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=22803707 Darin Gilchrist

    My biggest concern is that the shuttle will be OUTSIDE. What will even 5 years of sun, snow, sun, salt water, sun, and city acid rain do to the exterior? (Not to mention exposure to the sun.) 

    • longacre

      While on the deck of the Intrepid it will be covered by a tennis-court style inflatable bubble, which should protect it from most environmental hazards (though who knows what might happen in a bad wind storm). In a few years it will be moved to a permanent structure across the street.

  • Elias Friedman

    The only point of having the Enterprise at the Intrepid is for it to be visible from the West Side Highway and the Hudson River. If they’re going to put it inside an opaque structure, then it would indeed be better off at the Hayden Planetarium; that would keep it farther from the corrosive salt air and above the hurricane flood zone, not to mention more accessible via subway and being in the hands of people who understand conservation!

  • ChiliFF45

    I had no idea admission to the Intrepid was so high. I’ve always said I plan to visit the next time I go to NYC, but $50? There are a lot of other things I can do with that money, like rent a car for the day and drive out to Long Island for the Cradle of Aviation museum. The Midway museum in San Diego (similar to Intrepid, 60 exhibits and 25 aircraft) is $20.

    • http://twitter.com/PhilDernerJr PhilDernerJr

      According to their site, general admission, and access to Concorde and Shuttle will be $64 per person. I’ll check to confirm.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WJBENRIGKIC4QC6LWLYPSW3OGI R

    Considering how poorly the museum takes care of their artifacts thank goodness the Enterprise isn’t a “real” shuttle, as it didn’t really shuttle anything into space.

    Then, the museum isn’t well suited as a real aviation venue as it so confined and in a high rent district.  What they should do is build a beautiful multi-level glass enclosed pier allowing inside storage and display, and on top a multi-level shopping, parking and office complex to help offset the cost.  The Intrepid can be moved elsewhere for proper care, or delisted from its historic landmark status and sold for scrap.

    Otherwise, visitors are better off taking going down to DC’s wonderful Smithsonian… especially the Hazy at Dulles.

  • xsquatchx

     ”It still looks as though the Intrepid’s goal is the almighty buck,
    versus sharing in the passion of aviation with the rest of us.”

    umm…. without ‘the almighty buck’  there is no ‘sharing a passion of aviation’.  you have to pay the bills

    sorry, but this rant seems sad and petty

    • http://twitter.com/PhilDernerJr PhilDernerJr

      Sad and petty citing a long and publicly-known history of mistreatment toward their artifacts and exhorbitant admission costs? It’s track record. What’s petty about it?

      It’s one of, if not the, most expensive museums in NYC, with little in return in terms of attractions. I think with general admission, Enterprise and Concorde access…it’s $64 per person. The idea for being in NYC was to make it accessible, not a profit-generator or tourist trap.

    • http://twitter.com/PhilDernerJr PhilDernerJr

      In addition, I’d also like to add that they are a .org, and therefore not supposed to be a for-profit business.

      I’ll even make a correction that it sems all-access is $50 per person. Sad to force people to pay so much for access to something so important that our taxes also paid for….lining the pockets of a facility that couldn’t care less about enthusiasts.

    • Elias Friedman

      Fifty bucks is crazy expensive especially considering that much bigger and better museums with active research and conservation programs (e.g. American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Historical Society, etc,) often only have “suggested” admission prices and one can in fact see most of their exhibits for free! The other museums are in much higher rent districts – there’s nothing near the Intrepid in far West Midtown, even H&H Bagels is gone if I’m not mistaken! I doubt the city’s really charging them much for the use of the pier, and their research/conservation is shamefully minimal to non-existent – what ARE they doing with the money?

  • speedbird1

    The Intrepid staff is usually far from helpful. I often go to the pier which is free to visit. In past years, I could by-pass the long line of tourists waiting to purchase tickets. Now, I am told I I I I must wait on the ticket line although I get no ticket I am forced to give-up my photo ID to get Museum now $24 does not include Concorde entry; that’s an additional $25 plus a huge fee for entrance to see the Shuttle, which won’t be visible from its tent. Over $75 in fees! I recall when I received an invitation to see the ceremony opening the Concorde exhibit; I was refused admission unless I purchased a general admission; so their record for price-gouging is nothing new.