This article discusses the preparation, planning, and execution efforts of Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum staff and other teams involved in getting the Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise to new pavilion. Getting the Intrepid ready and ensuring the Enterprise would be safely transported posed an enormous task that involved more than a year of planning, hundreds of people, thousands of hours of effort, and a list of government agencies, companies, and contractors. The addition of the Enterprise and the opening of the Space Shuttle Pavilion on July 19 are an expansion of Intrepid’s space connection. Enterprise’s journey to the Intrepid began in December 2008 when NASA was considering where to place the orbiters after the space shuttle program ended. All that were involved in the preparation, planning, and execution of Enterprise’s trip to the Intrepid could see that their challenging work, expertise, and dedication to the task contributed to a perfect, three-wire carrier landing.
More than a year of planning and a team numbering in the hundreds brought the prototype space shuttle to a flight deck in New York.
The staff of the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum is used to responding to all types of questions from the guests touring the World War II era aircraft carrier, and a frequent one is, “How did you get the planes onto the deck?” With the arrival this past June of the Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise, a DC-9 size, 150,000-pound spacecraft, it was more than an academic question for Matt Woods. Woods, the museum’s senior vice president for facilities, engineering, and security, led the team that planned and executed the delivery of the Enterprise to the museum. Getting the Intrepid ready and ensuring the Enterprise would be safely transported posed an enormous task that involved more than a year of planning, hundreds of people, thousands of hours of effort, and a list of government agencies, companies, and contractors.
First commissioned in August 1943 as CV-11, the Essex class U.S.S. Intrepid now serves as a museum. Situated on Manhattan’s west side at Pier 86 on the Hudson River, the museum is in its thirtieth year of operation. More than one million visitors a year tour the facility, which includes a collection of 27 aircraft, the submarine U.S.S. Growler, and the British Airways Concorde supersonic transport Alpha-Delta.
The addition of the Enterprise and the opening of the Space Shuttle Pavilion on July 19 are an expansion of Intrepid’s space connection. Intrepid served as the primary recovery vessel for the Mercury Aurora 7 flight in 1962 and the Gemini 3 flight in 1965. It has a direct connection to the Enterprise. Retired Vice Admiral Richard H. Truly, a former NASA administrator and astronaut, served aboard the Intrepid flying F-8 Crusaders. He would later pilot the Enterprise during one of its initial flight tests.
Enterprise’s journey to the Intrepid began in December 2008 when NASA was considering where to place the orbiters after the space shuttle program ended. A qualifying museum needed to be near an airport with a 10,000-foot runway in order to take delivery, and it needed to house the orbiter in an environmentally controlled facility. The Intrepid became one of 21 museums that applied to receive one of the three retiring orbiters: Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis.
On April 12, 2011, the thirtieth anniversary of the shuttle program’s first flight, NASA announced the winners. Discovery would go to the Smithsonian Institution, specifically to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar- Hazy Center in Virginia. Endeavour would be displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, and Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
Enterprise had been on display since 2003 at the Udvar- Hazy Center, and with the acquisition of Discovery, the Smithsonian returned Enterprise to NASA.
Enterprise, designated OV-101, was the first version of the shuttle. Although “OV” stands for “orbiter vehicle,” it was equipped only for testing in the atmosphere. It was originally named Constitution in honor of the U.S. Bicentennial, but 100,000 fans of TV’s Star Trek series requested naming it for the show’s starship.
The Enterprise lacked many of the features needed to make it spaceworthy. Missing were key components such as the main engines, the orbiter maneuvering system pods, structural supports for payload, an airlock, crew support items, and avionics for space flight. The thermal protection system tiles were simulated using white and black polyurethane foam, and the nose cap and wing leading edges were made of fiberglass instead of reinforced carbon-carbon.
Though it never traveled into space, the Enterprise played a crucial role in the development of the space shuttle program. Between February and October 1977 NASA conducted approach and landing tests with the Enterprise. The tests validated the shuttle’s design, demonstrating its airworthiness and its ability to land as a glider. NASA also used the Enterprise for vibration tests and fit-and-function checks on the shuttle launch pads at the Kennedy Space Center and Vanden- berg Air Force Base in California. NASA retired the Enterprise in 1985 and turned it over to the Smithsonian.
Getting Enterprise ready for the move started before its new home was determined. It had been in the climate-controlled hangar of the Udvar-Hazy Center, but before that, it spent about eighteen years in open hangars and at times outside. NASA had to ensure the craft was safe to make the ferry flight on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified 747. Enterprise’s last previous ride was in 1985, when it was delivered to the Smithsonian.
In March 2010 NASA sent a team of technicians from the United Space Alliance, the contractor that maintained and processed the shuttle fleet, to the Udvar-Hazy Center to inspect the Enterprise. The team examined the vehicle, especially the structural components, including attach points used to lift the vehicle and to mount it to the carrier aircraft, and the thrust structure, which carries the load from the attach points.
In order to inspect many of the structural areas without having to disassemble any components, the team used non-destructive evaluation processes. One approach involved using a special dye solution that settles into minute cracks and appears under black light. In another test, self-induced eddy currents were used to look for microcracks in the metal that the unaided eye cannot detect. The biggest problem found during the inspection was corrosion at the orbiter’s forward attach point, the arrowhead fitting.
Another key preparation centered on the inspection of the polyurethane foam used to simulate the thermal protection tiles. The team wanted to ensure that the foam tiles were still permanently bonded to the aluminum skin of the shuttle. The inspection involved a series of “pull tests” in fifteen key locations on Enterprise’s belly. Circular holes were drilled into test tiles down to the structural skin. A calibrated force gauge was attached and 2 pounds per square inch of pressure was applied to test the integrity of the bonding.
In all the team spent more than 1,000 hours inspecting Enterprise and found no “show-stoppers.” Klint Combs, United Space Alliance’s manager for orbiter handling and mechanisms, reported, “It’s in pretty good shape.” The main issue was minor corrosion, which was easily repairable. With the structural inspection completed, the team would return to conduct some additional tests and make the necessary repairs to certify the Enterprise fit to be moved.
One important test was the cycling of the landing gear. The gear needed to be retracted when Enterprise was ferried, and it needed to be extended when Enterprise arrived at its new home. This meant filling the system with hydraulic fluid and working against gravity to raise the gear.
The final preparations for Enterprisers flight started with the installation of the approach and landing test article pods, which simulated orbiter maneuvering pods. These model pods replaced weaker replicas made of wood and fiberglass used while Enterprise was on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center. The pods took approximately three days to install.
The last task involved the installation of the tail-cone. Tail-cones were used on all ferry flights to cover the main engine and orbital maneuvering pod nozzles. This helped reduce aerodynamic drag and turbulence, and extended the range of the carrier aircraft.
While Enterprise was being cleared for flight, the question of where to put it was being addressed by the Intrepid’s senior leadership. Finding a spot for a DC-9 size vehicle at a New York City pier would not be easy. Long-term, the museum plans to construct an annex near the pier to house the Enterprise. Building a new facility would take time, and that would not answer the immediate question of where to locate Enterprise when NASA delivered it in April.
Housing Enterprise temporarily in a hangar at the John F. Kennedy International Airport was considered but deemed unacceptable. The goal was to give the public easy access to view Enterprise. The decision was made to place the Enterprise on the Intrepid’s flight deck.
Considering Enterprise’s size and weight was that possible? Would there be enough space to erect an environmentally controlled structure around Enterprise to meet NASA’s requirement?
Determining the answers fell to Matt Woods. Woods targeted the aft portion of the flight deck. This location had the most surface area and also provided access to the river for the floating crane that would be needed to lift the Enterprise onto the deck. Woods conducted some initial “back of the napkin” calculations and determined the deck could support the Enterprise.
According to Woods, “The aft portion of the deck was used for 50,000-pound aircraft landing at 4 to 5 g’s, or dynamic loads up to 250,000 pounds. Handling the 150,000-pound static load of the Enterprise would not be a major issue.”
Still, Woods and his team conducted a complete structural and stress analysis of the deck and supporting structure. And they made several visits to the Udvar-Hazy Center to take measurements that would help determine the exact placement of Enterprise on the deck. The Enterprise’s nose would be positioned facing aft toward the stern and located on the centerline of the ship, not of the flight deck. Enterprisee s main gear, which carried most of the load, was positioned near a deck vent, which was structurally strong. As an added measure of engineering safety, Woods engaged AMSEC, a naval architecture and marine engineering firm, to strengthen several of the steel deck’s key frames surrounding the shuttle’s location.
With the location determined, the Intrepid staff still had a challenge. Like any operational aircraft carrier, even one turned into a museum, space is limited. To make room for the Enterprise several aircraft had already been repositioned, but there would not be enough space to maintain the current collection.
According to Eric Boehm, curator of aviation and aircraft restoration, “The only way to make deck space was to move three airplanes off.”
In April, workers used a crane to lift a Supermarine Scimitar F.1 (a British Royal Navy fighter bomber), a Douglas F3D-2 (F-10) Skyknight, and a Mikoyan Gurevich MIG-15 aircraft onto a barge for transportation to the Empire State Aerosci- ences Museum in Glenville, N.Y. "It’s hard to see them go,” Boehm said, "but if s for the greater good. We’re going to get Enterprise.”
With the Enterprise certified for flight and its new home being prepared, the next step would be to ferry the shuttle to JFK.
For normal operations, NASA developed a mate-demate device to mount an orbiter on an aircraft. The orbiter was towed into the device; a sling was attached to the fuselage, and the vehicle was lifted. The airplane would then be towed into position under the orbiter, which was then lowered and attached to the support assemblies on the carrier aircraft’s fuselage.
There were two of the devices of this sort, one at Edwards Air Force Base in California and the other at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Because Enterprise was at Dulles International Airport, NASA used a mobile system, which uses two large cranes, a sling similar to those used in the stationary mate-demate devices, and four stabilizing masts to prevent lateral movement. It requires 45 people to perform the operation, which typically takes about 10 hours.
The mobile system had been used last in 1985 to deliver the Enterprise to the Smithsonian. Since that time the components had been stored in cargo containers at Kennedy Space Center. After 25 years, there were no technicians experienced in using the equipment.
In preparation for the delivery of Discovery, Enterprise, and Endeavour, which would require use of the mobile system, NASA held a practice session in August 2011 at KSC.
The practice did not involve lifting an actual orbiter.
Stephanie Stilson, NASA flow director for orbiter transition and retirement, who would direct the delivery of all the orbiters, said, "The practice was aimed at getting our processes and procedures down and getting the team familiar with the equipment.” The team’s first actual use of the system occurred when Discovery was ferried to the Udvar-Hazy Center in April 2012. The same system would be used to lift Enterprise onto the aircraft.
Following Enterprise’s arrival at JFK, it would be moved by barge to the Intrepid on the Hudson River and then craned onto the flight deck. Woods said NASA officials ’were at first a little skeptical of the plan.”
But he didn’t have just a proposal on paper. "We’ve done this,” Woods said. “We know how to do it.”
The Intrepid had a demonstrated record of getting other aircraft in its collection to the museum in the same fashion. The barge and crane method moved the 170,000-pound Concorde Alpha-Delta twice: once in November 2003 when it first arrived at the museum and again in 2008, when it was brought back from a temporary site in Brooklyn, where it stayed while the Intrepid and Pier 86 were refurbished. Convinced by that record, NASA signed off.
To get the job done Woods enlisted Weeks Marine, a marine construction company headquartered in Cranford, N.J. Weeks Marine specializes in moving large objects like aircraft and boats, and its history of working with Intrepid includes moving the Concorde. Weeks Marine salvaged the U.S. Airways flight 1549 out of the Hudson River after it made its emergency landing in January 2009.
Weeks Marine first examined tides and obstacles to plan the course the barge would follow. From Jamaica Bay at JFK the Enterprise would need to pass under several bridges to reach the Hudson River on its trip to Intrepid.
The South Channel Subway and Cross Bay Veterans Memorial bridges presented the most challenges. The subway bridge is a “swing” railroad bridge that provides a 100-foot horizontal clearance, not much wider than Enterprisers 78-foot wingspan. The Cross Bay Bridge was even tighter, with only a 3- to 4-foot vertical clearance for the Enterprisers tail.
The plan as described by Jason Marchioni, heavy lift manager for Weeks Marine, was to “pull the barge out to Jamaica Bay and wait for five hours until low water, and then we’ll start to transit out underneath the bridges.”
The craning operation presented more challenges. Throughout the more than 30 years of the shuttle program, orbiters had only been lifted by the mate-demate device or the mobile system, which used two cranes. Only one crane would lift Enterprise onto the Intrepid flight deck. The NASA sling would still be used, since that was the only way to lift the vehicle. In order to do it with only one crane, Woods had a specially designed sling and spreader built to attach to the NASA sling.
The crane that would perform the lift was the Weeks 533, an engineering marvel in its own right. It has a 500-ton capacity and a boom almost 300 feet tall. The crane sits on a 300 x 100 foot barge and has a 120-foot center of rotation. In preparation for the lift, Marchioni and his team spent more than six months studying NASA documentation and conducting rigging studies to ensure the lift would be completed safely.
With all of the preparation and planning completed, the shuttle’s final journey began on April 20 when a NASA and United Space Alliance team mated it to the 747, the same aircraft that carried Enterprise during the tests in 1977. The Enterprise had been scheduled to depart for JFK on Monday, April 23. But forecasts for the departure date and a few days after called for rain in both Washington and New York. Flying through rain at a 350 mph cruising speed had the potential to damage the Enterprise’s foam tiles. NASA and Intrepid officials decided to postpone the delivery until the weather forecast improved.
The rain did come, and while waiting at Dulles for better weather, the 747 and Enterprise were in the open. Enterprise has a series of vents along the fuselage that equalize the air pressure during flights. Displaying impromptu ingenuity, the delivery team made a trip to a local hardware store, and using “foam board covered with aluminum sheeting, weather stripping, and wood,” they fashioned covers for the vents to keep the rain out. The weather forecast improved, and Enterprise departed for JFK on Friday, April 27.
The plane kept a straight flight plan from Dulles to JFK, but before landing it carried Enterprise in a flyover tribute for the residents of New York and the surrounding area. First, flying past the Statue of Liberty, it flew up the Hudson past the World Trade Center site and over the Intrepid before turning near the George Washington Bridge toward JFK. The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft touched down at 11:22 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time and was greeted by more than 1,500 guests invited to witness Enterprise’s arrival.
It would be several more weeks before the Enterprise would be demated from the 747. The mobile system and the cranes, 20 truckloads in all, had to be moved from Dulles to JFK. During that time the aircraft and Enterprise were parked under a large open-ended hangar. The demating process finally commenced on May 12.
To assist with craning the Enterprise onto the barge, Woods had pedestals manufactured that used retired attachment fittings from the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. The pedestals were set on a Goldhofer trailer, and when the Enterprise was lowered onto the trailer, it rested on the pedestals, which were bolted to the shuttle. According to Woods, “This allowed us to simply lower Enterprise onto the barge without alignment issues.”
The craning onto the barge was completed on June 2, and on Sunday, June 3, when the tide was right, the Enterprise began its voyage to the Intrepid.
Even with all the planning there was still the unexpected. As the Enterprise passed through the South Channel Subway Bridge, a 35 mph microburst of wind caught it, and the foam protective layer of the wingtip rubbed against one of the bridge’s wood piling bumpers. There was some easily repairable cosmetic damage, but it demonstrated to everyone involved that they still had far to go and many more tasks to complete before the Enterprise made it safely to Intrepid.
During the evening of June 3, Enterprise spent the night at a Weeks Marine dock in Port Elizabeth, N.J. The plan was to complete the journey on the morning of June 5. Bad weather was forecast again and the final leg was postponed until June 6.
With clear skies that morning, Enterprise set sail for the last few miles of its journey. It passed the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center, and continued up the Hudson River finally reaching the Intrepid at 11:30 a.m. The Weeks 533 crane, on a separate barge, trailed closely behind. Thousands of people lined the New Jersey and New York waterfronts to view Enterprise as it sailed by.
Crews at the Intrepid prepared the Enterprise for the final lift. The preparations, which included installing the lift sling, took about four hours. Finally, Weeks 533 effortlessly lifted the Enterprise and safely positioned it on the deck in less than half an hour.
With the Enterprise in place, crews worked to secure it to the deck. The final phase was raising the climate-controlled, pressurized fabric shelter that would protect Enterprise and serve as the Space Shuttle Pavilion. This was completed on June 21, and the Pavilion was ready for its public opening on July 19.
All that were involved in the preparation, planning, and execution of Enterprise’s trip to the Intrepid could see that their hard work, expertise, and dedication to the task contributed to a perfect, three-wire carrier landing.