Will Intrepid Love and Honor Space Shuttle Enterprise?
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.
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.