In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t really visit the USS Intrepid to see an aircraft carrier because we had been to the USS Midway in San Diego only a year before. I actually went to see the rather special aeroplane that is exhibited alongside it and is part of the same museum.
This all came about because we ended up with a bonus weekend away this year; Stacey was working in Linden, NJ and I could use some AirMiles to fly out and we could then spend the weekend in New York City. I flew in on the Thursday and, as Stacey had to work the Friday, I had the day to do a couple of things she had already done, as well as something like this which wasn’t of much interest to her.
I started my travels at Linden train station, and so got to experience the weird and wonderful way ticketing works on this line, with my ticket being “confiscated” and a different ticket for my seating block being slid into the clips that were on every seat. Later the ticket inspector came along and collected these too, leaving me hoping I didn’t need any evidence of buying a ticket from that point on. I am sure there is a logic to it, but it did seem to be an odd exercise that I’ve not witnessed anywhere else. I also found it interesting that the seats can face in either direction and it must be someone’s job at each end of the line to walk the train and flip them all around so you always travel facing the direction the train heads in.
Arriving at Penn Station, I walked to the Intrepid Museum; the subway doesn’t go particularly close, but it’s not a very long walk, even in the scorching heat. Arriving at the museum, you can’t miss it – the aircraft carrier is huge. I was also reminded of why we plan our trips and buy our tickets in advance when I skipped the queue of people outside the Visitor Centre, was soon through the metal detector, and then skipped the even longer line of people waiting to buy their tickets. If you have a tour booked you do need to exchange your online ticket for a lanyard with a timed ticket at the desk at the very end of the ticket lines. I didn’t realise this and had to come back later to do so.
USS Intrepid – Flight Deck
Having saved at least 30 minutes of queuing, I headed outside but with hindsight I should have visited the Growler submarine as the queue was short then because I ended up not visiting it as the queue was much longer later and my stomach was its own Growler. Instead I headed up the stairs and out onto the deck of the carrier where there is a collection of aircraft to view.
I then headed to the bridge area of the ship, which gives a great view of the entire carrier and the aircraft displayed on it.
Having visited USS Midway the year before, it was interesting to see the difference in size of the two vessels, even though they were commissioned just two years apart. USS Midway seems to have more of the ship to explore than USS Intrepid, but they are both similar in many ways. If I had to choose on the basis of seeing a carrier I would choose USS Midway, but if you want to see Concorde and a space shuttle, then USS Intrepid is the only choice. Of course your choice might just be determined by which coast of the USA you are visiting!
USS Intrepid VS USS Midway
CV-11 <-Designation-> CV-41
Essex <-Class-> Midway
41,200 tons <-Displacement-> 74,000 tons
1943 <-Commissioned-> 1945
1974 <-Decommissioned-> 1992
USS Intrepid was commissioned in time to see active service in World War II and stayed in service during the Vietnam war before being decommissioned in 1992. The ship survived five kamikaze attacks as well as a Torpedo strike and was used by NASA as a recovery vessel.
You can’t get to the stern of the carrier because of the shuttle pavilion that covers that entire end, so you can’t get a view across the Hudson, which is a shame. I’d paid the extra to go into the pavilion and the print-at-home ticket gains you direct access. We’d seen the shuttle Endeavour in Los Angeles, but the Enterprise was the original prototype so whilst it never actually went to space, it was the original concept that proved all the systems would work, especially for landing as a glider.
There are plenty of artifacts around the edges of the room, together with mission information and information about the two shuttles that were lost. The main attraction, however, is the shuttle itself which fills the pavilion. A nice touch here, that wasn’t in Los Angeles, are the stairs at the cockpit end which allow you an impressive nose-to-nose view of the shuttle.
USS Intrepid – Hangar Deck
Heading down onto the Hangar Deck, there are plenty of permanent and temporary exhibits to explore, including all the way forward and into the fo’c’sle where you should look out for some graffiti drawn by the crew. Then you can come back through a couple of ready rooms and crew quarters to the enormous hangar deck where the planes were stored when not on deck. Also displayed here are one of the propellers off the ship, the ship’s bell, and a huge Lego model of the aircraft carrier amongst many other artifacts and exhibits.
Although it wasn’t yet time for my tour, I left Intrepid and wandered over to see Concorde. The museum have set up tables and chairs underneath the plane, so I took a couple of minutes to relax and have a drink under the fastest and most expensive sun-shade in the world whilst gazing across the Hudson river.
Also back here, tucked against the side of the quay, is a piece of the World Trade Centre which was placed here as a memorial to the events of the day, as well as to the USS Intrepid that was pressed into service as emergency office space for various agencies who were suddenly homeless. It feels stuck in a corner and should be more prominently positioned in my view, but if you head towards Concorde, go right up to the river then head left and you’ll find it.
As the time for my tour approached, it seemed I might not be in the right place, despite being next to what I had come to see. I headed back to the visitor centre and sure enough I was not only in the wrong spot (the tour starts in the hangar of Intrepid) but also needed to exchange my print-at-home ticket for a souvenir lanyard and timed ticket. Quickly done, and with the tour starting shortly, I headed to the hangar and was there in plenty of time. I wasn’t the only person who made this mistake as enroute to Concorde my tour group met up with the last member of the tour who was waiting patiently by the plane as I had been!
The tour guide gathered us all together and used a tablet to show various pictures on a large TV screen while talking about the history of the plane, its origins, how it came to be, its service and, of course, the crash. He was very enthusiastic about this topic and, like myself, had never flown on Concorde, but was still in awe of it. They only allow 20 people on the tour so it’s easy to hear the guide and see what he is showing you and ask questions if you have any.
Once he had finished with the history we headed out to the plane itself. You used to be able to enter through the back door and walk through the plane past all the seats sealed away under Perspex, which meant you could walk the narrow corridor from back to front. Unfortunately people couldn’t be trusted to not damage the aircraft and British Airways (who still own all their Concordes that are on display around the world) insisted that Intrepid do something to stop the damage. This is how they came to offer a special tour, rather than just allow people to walk through. The fact that people would damage stuff like this is beyond my comprehension, but you only have to see how many initials are scratched in ancient monuments to realise that some people just can’t be trusted around monuments and historic items like these. The average visitor’s loss is the aficionados gain here though as we now get a much more in depth tour of the plane.
Once on board, only the first 40 (of 100) seats are open (this is so they don’t have to air-condition the entire plane), but with only 20 people on the tour you can all have two seats to yourself. The first thing you’ll notice is that whilst the legroom is decent, it certainly doesn’t compare with modern Business Class, never mind First Class, and four seats across is cosy to say the least. This plane was far more about speed and service, than personal space and comfort. Whilst everybody got seated I started photographing everything from the vents, to the tray table to the view out the tiny tiny windows. This might be the only time I would have taken more pictures somewhere than Stacey!
Our guide then continued to give an interesting talk about the plane and was very proud that this particular Concorde (G-BOAD) was the plane that completed the fastest ever time from New York to London in an astonishing 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds averaging 1,250 mph! This record wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of air traffic control who cleared Concorde to land in the opposite direction to other landing traffic at Heathrow airport so that it didn’t have to turn back on itself.
At the end of the tour, the guide takes people up in two’s and three’s to the cockpit. I ended up in the final group of two and here’s a tip- try and be last because then there is no rush and we must have spent well over ten minutes in the cockpit talking to the guide! He pointed out the usual instruments, along with some of the ones that were unique to Concorde, like the switches to lower the nose for take-off and landing. We also saw the infamous “gap” in the console, which appeared when the plane was going supersonic due to the expansion of the air frame. The last pilots all put their caps in these gaps, which then squashed the hats once the plane landed; the idea was the hats would be there forever more, but sadly, the one in this Concorde has been removed :-(
So is the tour worth it? Well if you think Concorde is ‘just an aeroplane’ then probably not, but if you think it’s not an aeroplane… it’s Concorde, then definitely. I am firmly in the latter category and regret never having flown on Concorde. I used to work under the flight path from Heathrow and people would hear Concorde and go to the window to see it fly over; no-one did that for any other aircraft! The guide was full of enthusiasm about the plane and gave out interesting information about Concorde in general, and about this specific one, including about the aircrew for its record breaking flight.
After the tour I had intended to visit the submarine but the queue was lengthy and they restrict numbers on board at any one time due to the limited space inside, so instead I headed off to find some lunch and find out something else about New York public transport I didn’t know…
To read more about our New York City Weekend Getaway, please feel free to check out these posts:
Next Post: Part 2