The Sci-Fi Airshow Museum is proud to display the last surviving example of one of the most iconic spacecraft ever designed: the Boeing “Liberty” X-27-REV (re-entry vehicle.) Designed and built in 1965-1967 as a successor to the cancelled X-22 “Dyna-Soar” re-usable space plane , the vehicle met the same ignominious fate as its predecessor – NASA and Congress cancelled the design in favor of the Apollo capsule. However, instead of being forgotten by all but the most fervent aerospace enthusiasts, its lease (and later purchase) by 20th-Century Fox studios in 1968 for the landmark film “Planet of the Apes” has enshrined it forever in science-fiction history.
In the opening of the original film, a quiet and tranquil sequence takes place inside the ship, traveling (rather fancifully) through hyperspace. (The original Boeing Liberty design, of course, was built only to visit the Moon and then return to Earth.) Three of the four astronauts are already safely tucked away in their stasis chambers. The fourth, Colonel George Taylor (Charlton Heston), preps himself for his own long sleep and wonders out loud about the fate of mankind. Taylor seems to enjoy this comfortable moment being onboard one of the pinnacles of man’s technological achievements – the ship represents safety, strength and intelligence. He enters the stasis chamber and falls asleep.
Suddenly, the astronauts are awakened to find the ship has entered the atmosphere of a nearby planet and crashed into a vast lake. The serenity of the earlier scene is gone – replaced with the sounds of desperate men yelling, water rushing into the cabin and the explosive opening of an escape hatch. As the surviving members of the flight abandon the sinking ship, it’s as if they have been reborn, ripped from the protection of the ship’s womb and thrust into a harsh new reality.
Since much of the spaceship would be hidden below the water after the crash sequence (filmed on the newly-created Lake Powell in Arizona), 20th-Century Fox elected to use only the Liberty re-entry vehicle itself. The second stage, originally designed to place the Liberty on the Moon, was put into storage on the Fox lot.
The phenomenal success of the first film prompted the studio to ask the filmmakers for a sequel that would require another ship to bring more Earth astronauts to the “Planet of the Apes.” In 1970’s “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” the ship is depicted as having crashed in the desert, with a clearly-destroyed secondary stage behind the lander body. Since Boeing’s leasing contract with Fox specified that the vehicle components couldn’t be physically damaged, the Fox art department built a hollow mock-up set, based on the real second stage components. The studio then trucked the real Liberty lander – sprayed with water-soluble paint to look as if it had burned on re-entry – and the artistically-damaged, studio-built second-stage mockup to Red Rock Canyon State Park in California for filming.
(Trivia note: the retractable landing gear for the second stage was designed and constructed by the Boeing sub-contractor Coleman Welding and Iron Works, the same company which built the landing gear for the flying Jupiter 2 saucer used in Irwin Allen’s “Lost in Space” TV series.” Sharp-eyed viewers of both “Beneath” and “Lost in Space” will see the similarities in both sets of landing legs.)
The second “Apes” film did reasonably well financially and soon the producers were once again ramping up for a sequel, which became 1971’s “Escape from the Planet of the Apes.” The idea was proposed to bring a few of the apes back in time to modern-day Los Angeles. The question of how the apes would escape the destruction of the futuristic Earth depicted at the end of “Beneath” would be answered by the use of Taylor’s ship that had sunk in the first film. Because the lower section of the ship was never seen it was surmised that the entire ship, although a bit damp, might be in flyable condition.
(Note that there was an elaborate sequence devised showing the clever apes salvaging the sunken craft and using it to escape the destruction of the future Earth. The idea was abandoned early on in production, but artwork and some of the stock shots of the ship lifting off have survived. The final film begins with the Liberty 2 lander already having splashed down in the ocean, its journey only mentioned in dialog. Again, the Boeing lease precluded putting the actual second stage into the water.)
“Escape from the Planet of the Apes” would be the last feature film in which the Liberty craft would be used, but it would be pulled out of mothballs one more time for the “Planet of the Apes” TV series in 1974. By then, Boeing had sold both the Lander and the Second Stage to Fox and had relinquished all rights to the vehicles.
However, shortly thereafter, 20th-Century Fox auctioned off many of their costumes, props and vehicles, including the Liberty 2 lander and second stage, which was purchased by Disney for possible inclusion in a “Visions of the Future” theme park (which later became EPCOT.) For reasons that are still unclear, the Liberty 2 was never incorporated into the aerospace exhibits, and remained in storage in Florida until the Sci-Fi Airshow Museum purchased all the components in February of 2007.
Since then, the restoration team at the SFA Museum, headed by former aerospace engineer and “Planet of the Apes” expert Greg Grusby, has carefully refurbished both the Liberty 2 Lander and its attendant second stage to their original 1967 glory. However, the SFA Museum has gone several steps further: we’ve strengthened the original fuel lines and rocketry components to use modern-day composites and ceramics, and added microprocessor-controlled gimbaled thrusters, enabling us to actually fuel the Liberty 2 and take it for short vertical “hops” on our testing range!
(Note: please contact our Main Ticket Office to enquire about viewing the next planned launch. A limited number of observers are allowed on our testing range, so book early.)
The SFA Museum is extremely proud to add this iconic spacecraft to our collection, and display it in its complete form – both the sleek lifting-body Liberty vehicle and its powerful, seldom-seen Second Stage. Be sure to not miss this attraction on your next visit!