Developed under the roof of Creative Services Bureau with the Leonardo, a science and technology museum in downtown Salt Lake City.
In the summer of 2015 the Leonardo (a science and technology museum in Salt Lake City) approached me and my partner Matias Alvarez at Creative Services Bureau about developing an original, 10,000 square foot exhibition about Man's pursuit of flight. The timeline was short and the expectation was high. We eagerly jumped on board and quickly conceived an idea. This 3D rendering By Mike Smith shows the main gallery space.
One of my strong first instincts was to find a dreamy, almost spiritual way to illustrate the dreams millennia of human beings yearning to fly, from the first Mesopotamian gods up to the New Horizons Pluto probe. Thus the Tunnel Of Dreams was conceived. A backlit blueprint of how we engineered ourselves into the air. The tunnel focuses down on a television in a 1969 period American living room that plays a loop of the Apollo 11 moon landing - a shrine to one of flight's greatest moments.
The central focal point of the exhibit needed to be a large aircraft that hung over the gallery space. The design philosophy of the exhibition came down to one word - "permission". Visitors would be allowed to walk on and into this main asset. Matias Alvarez and I went shopping for this prize at the famous boneyards in Tucson. Here is our mothballed C-131 Samaritan being prepared for it's trip north.
After exhaustive research on what sort of plane would be the best fit for our building and allow the optimal flow of visitors, we settled on the Post WWII flying ambulance, the C-131. The aircraft we chose was in Navy service for 30 years before being sold for salvage in 1985.
Our first look inside our C-131.
Weeks later the full fuselage arrived at the CSB shop in Salt Lake City.
Weeks after the fuselage the massive wing arrived. At 105' long it was the largest legal load allowable on US interstates.
With all the pieces of the C-131 at last inside our shop we were able to begin modifying it to move to it's permanent home.
Matt Huff of Williams engines (a member of the FLIGHT advisory board) asked what else we might need for out exhibit. I told him an ejector seat would be an excellent way for visitors to understand engineering at high speed and the stakes involved. He emailed a few days later to say he found one, in a Mig-21 Soviet fighter Plane, and would we like the whole thing? My answer was a resounding "Da!"
With the edition of the Mig our shop was getting crowded.
After the massive effort of the retrofitting, movement and installation, FLIGHT was ready to open. The sign and entry vestibule lead visitors into exhibit.
The entry vestibule offers a tantalizing peek into the main gallery. We chose the huge vertical stabilizer of the C-131 as an artful curved barrier that pairs beautifully with the graceful arch of the Tunnel of Dreams entrance.
Frequent CSB collaborator and illustrator Christian England works on one of the almost 200 original illustrations for the Tunnel of Dreams entry portal.
The glowing Tunnel of dreams offers visitors an overture of 5,000 years of the human endeavor to fly. Pains were taken to cover all cultures and regions of the earth in early history, and all periods and methods of air travel from the 18th century forward.
The busy aviation dreamscape flows forward from ancient to cutting edge, with all illustrations yearning upward toward the tunnel's ceiling of constellations.
Two children watch intently as Neil Armstrong takes his first historic steps. An 8 minute loop of the network footage plays on the period appropriate Zenith, all watched over by a portrait of JFK. We consulted astronomers who gave us the North American starscape and phase of the moon for July 20th, 1969 at 10 pm Eastern Standard Time, which we duplicated outside the living room windows.
My partner Matias Alvarez and I in the final stretch of installation.
As floor space in the exhibit was limited, we found the only place we could put the Mig-21 was up. And so we did. It fit almost perfectly, with a bit of it's nose and a wing tip just peeking into the second floor galleries.
The busy airspace of FLIGHT's main gallery.
Back outside, there are a number of artifacts and interactives to engage visitors.
Once up either of the stairways or the ADA lift, visitors are free to experience the stripped-down C-131 interior.
The cockpit is truly where our philosophy of permission is most on display. Visitors are free to climb in, grab the yoke and flip the dizzying array of switches and knobs this old, analog aircraft has to offer.
One of our favorite interactives is this giant propeller set donated by Skywest airlines. We designed a housing and interface that allows visitors to give it a whirl and see how much wind they can generate.
Our customized simulator set-ups were the perfect match for the highly sophisticated flight simulator programs donated by Rockwell Collins.
We felt that rather than trying to reproduce a traditional cockpit for the simulators, a more open design would make it a communal rather than an individual experience. Our triple ring housing with fighter-pilots seats kept the cool factor while being open and letting groups of friends enjoy the installation together.
The Leonardo divided the pioneers of FLIGHT into three categories - Aviators, Explorers and Innovators. As many people were more than one of these, the idea of a Venn diagram occurred to us as an instructive display of this rich history.
Skywest airlines generously donated airline seats, with which we created a theater. Programming for the theater will vary, but for daily use it plays an amazing compilation of historic flops compiled by film maker and CSB collaborator Conor Provenzano.
Another view of the theater.
As a family oriented institution, the Leonardo is always concerned for the needs of younger visitors. The section on animal flight was a natural place for parents and young ones to rest and play. Split circular screens play amazing, super-slow motion animal flight footage.
Minimal casework was designed and built for the incredible assets donated to the exhibit. The Williams Jet Belt was capable of flying for 20 minutes. This prototype actually flew in 1966.
An F-16 flight suit stands out briskly in it's aviation orange case.
Williams Engines donated this jet engine rotor set.
We felt that the countless parts and pieces that make up an aircraft, and the professionals that make, install, maintain and operate them needed some discussion. The Skywest parts wall celebrates the quotidian and the mundane that make possible the miracle of flight.
Flight is accomplished by three different methods - Aerodynamic, Buoyant, and Ballistic. We conceived three themed kiosks for the presentation of this information. Here is the ballistic kiosk.
Here is the Buoyant kiosk.
A view past the aerodynamic kiosk toward ballistic.
This is another of several beautiful film clips put together by CSB collaborator Conor Provenzano.
The stairways aren' the only exit from the C-131.
Before opening, the Leonardo wanted some kind of "coming soon" teaser to raise public awareness of FLIGHT. We quickly designed and built this photo-op for visitors to climb onto and share via social media.
FLIGHT was conceived and executed in well under a year. It was an amazing group effort in a short period on a very tight budget.
As the designers of the exhibition, we at Creative Services Bureau are grateful to all our partners - The Leonardo, Merit Medical, Jacobsen Construction, Baer Welding, BHB engineering, 360 Scenery, Vision Graphics, Skywest and many more.
Most especially we want to thank our dedicated CSB team - Johnny, Aaron, Doug, Christian, Brandon, Moey, Mark, Brian, Matias Jr, Rich, Richard, Adam, Rocky, Clark, Dallas, David, Sergei, Joe and many more as well.