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Nautilus provides Lighting and Control for the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum


Bombers, jet fighters, helicopters, missiles, a Mercury space capsule and other substantial artifacts are strategically placed throughout a museum the length of one and a half football fields.  There is an installation schedule interrupted by a twenty-mile move from Stanton Island to Pier 86 in Midtown Manhattan.

A hard deadline is set due to a week’s worth of special events attended by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, military brass and celebrities.  Those were a few of the challenges Nautilus Entertainment Design encountered when they were contracted to work with LightSource and Display Dynamics to provide lighting and control system designs for the refurbished Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum.

The Essex-class aircraft carrier of the United States Navy, the USS Intrepid was first launched in 1943, served in three wars as well as a recovery ship for the Mercury and Gemini space programs. The Intrepid, decommissioned in 1974, was opened in 1982 as a museum in New York City. Closed in 2006, it was first towed to Bayonne, New Jersey for 23 months of repair, then to Staten Island for refurbishment and finally back to its home at Pier 86 in October, 2008.

For Nautilus lighting designer Don Hill the biggest challenge was working within a hull that is over 60 years old.

 “The Intrepid was refitted several times over the course of its active duty. One look at the ceiling of the hanger decks revealed a confusing mixture of old and new, active and inactive systems for HVAC, electrical, plumbing, etc, ” stated Hill.  “There were no reflected ceiling plans available so the work was based on our initial site survey, many emails and phone conversations and lots of dead reckoning during installation.  Also considering the size of the exhibit space, approximately 48, 000 sq. ft. extending the entire length of the ship, the guessing game was raised exponentially.”

To light the exhibits of aircraft and other artifacts, NED designed a pipe grid hanging on regular intervals throughout the space with a broad distribution of dimmable circuits ensures that the lighting can be readily adapted as exhibits are changed over time.  A variety of conventional theatrical-style fixtures were used to be consistent with the museum’s existing inventory of ETC S4 Jrs, AR111 spot lights, PAR 38s and PAR 56s. The new dimmers are two ETC Sensor SR48 Dimmer Racks with dual 2.4k dimmer modules. They are used in conjunction with existing Strand and ETC Smartpack dimmers, all controlled with a Pharos lighting controller.
The 280-foot long exhibit display cases were a particular challenge. Sealed to protect artifacts from dust and moisture, the only access was in the removal of a 200-pound glass pane. To solve several problems, a conventional low-voltage track light system with high-output Bruck Ledra LED MR-16 lamps was used. The advantages were less heat, longer lamp life (35, 000 hours versus halogens 2, 000 hours) and no UV radiation which was perfect for lighting museum artifacts prone to fading or deterioration.

For Nautilus’s Brian Pratt, the designer of the master control system of all the museum elements, specifying an AMX system was the key in giving flexibility to the museum for straightforward ease-of-use while allowing ample expansion capability for the addition of exhibits in the future.

“The major challenges on this project were the large number of different systems and content providers and the very tight time-frame, ” stated Pratt.  “Flexibility and simplicity were required due to changes and refinements of other designers’ systems and the need for it to be operated by museum staff. With the flexibility of the AMX control system and great support from our installer and programmers at BlueWater Technologies, we were able to adapt to system changes as they occurred.  Home Run Electric was great in getting the systems up and running which is no small task when working with wiring on a WWII aircraft carrier.”

The AMX system controls the ETC Pharos lighting control system, an Alcorn McBride Video Bin-loop (which provides all the video and audio playback on ten different LCD screens including two video projectors) sixty different relays and contactors which provides power and control to different interactive exhibit kiosks and displays, the audio system plus a show that runs every half-hour.

“The system allows the exhibition department to set up presets using a touch screen to individually pick and choose combinations of museum components to be in “on” or “off” mode and to set various lighting conditions, ” Pratt continued. “This way they can set up the usual operational presets; open, cleaning, closed and for special events. The system also provides the ability to perform manual overrides so when a VIP is getting a tour of the museum, each show, exhibit or kiosk can be individually started just when the VIP arrives.”

The displays were by Display Dynamics ( ) and the lighting and labor vendor was LightSource ( ).

With over 30 years of experience, Nautilus Entertainment Design has worked internationally with owners, architects, directors and producers to create one-of-a-kind, world-class entertainment facilities and lighting design on land and at sea. Just a few of its services include entertainment systems such as audio, video, projection, rigging, stage mechanics, special effects, control systems and broadcast systems.

NED draws on a depth of experience in a wide range of lighting and systems design from television spectaculars to the corporate theater/sales meetings. The company has been involved in theater consulting for a wide range of entertainment facilities such as multimedia, fine arts performance, Las Vegas-type showrooms, cabarets, dance clubs and discos, as well as fountain lighting design and architectural lighting for all types of public spaces. NED’s website is at:

Contact:  +1-858-456-6395  Website:

Images (Photographer Credit: Susanna Harris)

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