The Galactica Shuttle was built in early 1978 by Martin-Marietta (now Lockheed-Martin) for the pilot of the series “Battlestar Galactica.” Its primary use in the series was to shuttle large groups of people between the many fleet ships and down to the surface of planets. In addition to its use in front of the camera, savvy producers had a large loading ramp and cargo area built into the ship and that could be used to haul filmmaking equipment when the crew shot on location outside of the studio.
After “Battlestar Galactica” was cancelled in 1979, the shuttle made appearances in several other Universal TV series, including “Galactica 1980” and “Buck Rogers.” In 1982 while hauling crew and equipment to Palmdale, CA for the filming of the TV series “Manimal,” the shuttle hit some power lines and crashed on the south side of Mt. Wilson. Although no one was killed in the crash and the shuttle sustained only minor damage, the resulting lawsuit grounded the shuttle by making it too expensive to insure.
In 1984 it was stored on the side of the road near Park Lake on the Universal Studios back lot. The public was able to see the shuttle on the studio tour but being outside exposed to the elements took a toll on the ship.
Universal Studios was sold to the Seagram Company Ltd. in the mid-1990s, but by 2000, after acquiring other entertainment companies (including MCA, Polygram, and Deutsche Grammophon), Seagram was in serious need of cash. Seagram’s head Edgar Bronfman Jr. sold off many of the studio’s assets, including the rusting (and now non-flight-worthy) shuttle. Internet millionaire and Hollywood memorabilia collector Glen Macintosh purchased the Shuttle at auction for less than five thousand dollars, the low price based on the Shuttle’s relative obscurity and its poor condition. (In addition, shortly after the purchase, Macintosh discovered that some unknown persons with access to the Universal Studios back lot had gained access to the Shuttle’s cargo bay and had created a makeshift living space inside. A filthy mattress was found in the bay, surrounded by empty beer bottles and drug paraphernalia.)
Thankfully, Macintosh has restored the Shuttle to its original condition and has graciously allowed us to display it in the air show. Pilot Silvio Baretta states, “it’s not an elegant ship to fly, but it’s steady and reliable. The wraparound windows make for excellent visibility from the cockpit. You gotta watch out for wind though, especially when landing.”
Another crowd favorite at the Air Show is the Viper from Battlestar Galactica. In 1978, the legendary Hughes Aircraft built four flying versions of the Vipers at the Heartland Hanger, located at the Van Nuys Airport. All four are still in flying condition, although the trouble-prone “turbo-booster” (an effect featured often in the show) has been removed from all of them.
We are happy to display three of the original Vipers here in the Air Show. (The fourth Viper was re-fitted to allow a second rider for the series “Galactica 1980” and is currently in the hands of a private collector.)
The controls of the Viper closely match the instruments for the Grumman Tomcat F-14. This was done deliberately so that Navy pilots familiar with the controls of the Tomcat could be hired to fly the Viper and perform the elaborate stunts needed for the show. All of the Vipers shown in the original series were based out of the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, near Ridgecrest, CA.
The reliable Vipers have been in constant use since the demise of the series, appearing at various functions in and around L.A. Their most famous appearance since the series ended is probably their dramatic flyover at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, as stunt pilot Bill Suitor arrived using a jet pack.