On July 29, Rockefeller Center produced, with General Electric, GE Presents: Centennial of Flight, an ambitious exhibit commemorating the centennial of the Wright Brothers' first flight. LD Herrick Goldman designed the exhibit, which covered various locations around the center and included an opening-night gala event with performances by Patti LaBelle and Skitch Henderson.

The exhibit had five distinct areas. Most prominent was the front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which featured a 75' high replica of a Redstone rocket with a Mercury capsule on top. Complementing the rocket on the ground were an F-16 fighter, a Harrier jump jet, a combat-tested Predator Drone, and an Apollo capsule. On the North Plaza in front of the GE building was a 200' tent that featured exhibits by GE, the FAA, the US Air Force, and NASA. This tent was dominated by GE's newest jet engine, which powers the Boeing 777. On the South Plaza by NBC there was a 160' tent that featured a P-51 Mustang fighter, a Fokker Tri-Plane and a 1912 Deperdussin racer, as well as an exact replica of the original 1903 Wright Flyer. In a nearby lobby was found a piece of a Mylar Solar Sail that will be launched into space to test future propulsion possibilities using the sun for energy. On the concourse by the skating rink was a display of more than 40 model planes by a local hobbyist. Each area had its own specific lighting needs and design elements.

The main plaza was lit so that even on an overcast day the planes and rocket were highlighted. “We put eight Arri 2.5kW Arrisun HMIs on the rooftops of 10 and 45 Rock and cross-lit them,” says Goldman. “We also included two PAR bars with VNSP lamps to highlight the orange Plexiglas® informational panels that were fabricated by Design + Build of New Jersey. To highlight the centerpiece of the exhibit we uplit the Redstone with Arri 4kW HMIs so that it glowed at night against the darker facade of Rockefeller Center. I approached this and every area as if we were in a museum so that the audience could get a clear view of each piece. Each area had a distinct concept within this vision.”

Goldman approached the North Tent more like an indoor science museum; just to make things complicated, each exhibitor arrived with his or her own setup and most of them were unable to communicate proper plans to the lighting crew before arrival. To cover a variety of requirements, Goldman says, “We installed truss down the length of the tent and on the side with ETC Source Four PAR bars and some Source Four ellipsoidals to highlight banners. We adapted our plot to feature each exhibit as it was installed. Often we would do a walk-through to discover a 12' model had appeared overnight and we had to add some fixtures or adjust focus.”

The South Tent presented its own set of challenges. “We had to anticipate where each plane was going to end up, as it was impossible to access the roof of the tent after they were in place,” says Goldman. “We lit the South Tent with HMIs and [Vari-Lite] VL5 Arcs. The South Plaza is where The Today Show shoots and the producers had informed me that they wanted to do location set-ups in the tent. Also, most people would visit the exhibit during daylight hours and I didn't want them to feel like they were walking into a dark museum, but more like the planes were in their “natural” environment. At one point, we toyed with the idea of fog blowing through the tent to give the feel of clouds. We had to do away with that concept due to security concerns. There were 12 VL5 Arcs spaced around the tent that I used to blend and tone the planes. On the silver-gray P-51, the Arcs perfectly matched the HMIs on the other side and brushed down the side of the plane. For the bright red World War I-era Fokker we supported the beautiful paint job with red from the VLs and elsewhere similar effects were used. The VL5s held their own quite well against the 16 1.2kW HMIs in the tent.”

The Solar Sail was a challenge, as the group that sponsored it wanted custom gobos projected on it; however, it was bathed in sunlight 70% of the time. “We found that you could project logos on crinkly Mylar but you needed to be at just the right angle to view them,” says Goldman. “This worked fine on one side by the stairs and we decided to ceiling-project the logos on the other side. All projections used Selecon MSR zoom ellipsoidals. They were bright enough to deal with the sunlight bouncing into the lobby. At the base of the sail were four High End Systems x.Spots that projected a subtle color roll onto the sail and were run by wireless DMX from a City Theatrical WDS Wireless Dimming System. The DMX came from the [Flying Pig Systems] Wholehog 500, which was 150' away in the south tent. The WDS proved reliable even in the hostile RF environment of NBC.”

“On the Concourse we had a 40' × 12' × 10' high truss structure where we used 14 [High End Systems] Studio Beam PCs to color the white ceiling above and to bounce light onto the brightly colored scale models below. We also used 16 Color Kinetics ColorBlasts® to uplight the undersides of the planes. These were all run by a Hog 500 that cycled through various looks to highlight the different models at different angles over a 20-minute period.”

On the morning of July 29, there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Astronaut Neil Armstrong, which was lit with three Arri 2.5kW Fresnels for television coverage. That evening there was an opening night-gala with Patti LaBelle in the Channel Garden on the Fifth Avenue side of the skating rink. “We used eight VL2416 wash fixtures. The party began at 7pm and the stage was still in direct sunlight,” says Goldman. “Even then the 2416s in open white were able to punch through and highlight the stage. As the evening went on and Rockefeller Center cast its premature dusk on the garden we were able to use the 2416s' more saturated colors and enhance the performance. The image of Patti performing in a dark blue dress with the brightly lit white rocket as a backdrop was exactly what the client wanted.”

Other key personnel were Pat Alapa, production electrician and owner of PCA Audio NJ, who headed the IATSE Local 1 crew; Charlie DeVerna of Tara Productions, and programmer Michael Corvino. Goldman cites their tireless work over a period of 20-hour days to get this complicated and ambitious event off the ground. Scenery and fabrication was done by Design + Build of New Jersey. Lighting gear was provided by High Output, Boston. The Vari-Lite units came from VLPS, NJ. Scaffolding and truss were supplied by GSD Long Island, and the City Theatrical Wireless Dimming System was supplied by Ron Fogel & Associates. The exhibit ran through mid-August