SIMI VALLEY, CA––Designed as a “total immersion” into the Presidential decision-making process for fifth to eighth grade students, the Air Force One Discovery Center at the Reagan Presidential Museum and Library has just won a THEA (Themed Entertainment Association) Award for “Best Learning Experience.”
A successful collaboration between Mira Cohen, director of education for the Library, Discovery Center staff and Delicate Electronics Sales in Camarillo, California led by AV System Design Integrator and Project Manager Curtis Kelly, this innovative non-profit exhibit has four permanent sets: the Oval Office; the Command Decision Center, modeled after the USS Ronald Reagan; a White House pressroom; and a real Air Force One simulator, the same one used to train pilots.
The Oval Office is approximately three-quarters the actual size, with replicas of President Reagan's desk, paintings, couches, chairs and statues that filled his office. A sign that reads "It Can Be Done" sits on the corner of the desk. There are flat-screen TVs that present students with problems and possible solutions; the students choose which path to take. Students are then shown a video that includes images of their participation in the process, in the first case involving the crisis in Grenada, a signal event of the Reagan years. At the end, students have the opportunity to analyze and compare their decisions with those of historical figures.
”We had to make the experience as authentic as possible,” Cohen continues, “one where the students are reacting with each other as in the classroom, and with the technology as when they play with video games, but the level of interaction is so multi-layered in this experience both with the technology which is so stimulating, but they're forced to interact with each other as well as a team as if they were part of the White House staff or the press corps.”
Discovery Project center personnel and Kelly worked from a detailed scenario to best determine exactly what equipment was required and how it would be deployed in the 5,000 square foot space beneath Air Force One.
As Kelly explains, “We worked through the script line by line how to sequence the video, audio and lighting. We had to be creative and it was pretty challenging which we solved when our programmer Michael Block came up with a para-linear programming approach to make a Crestron system talk to an Alcorn McBride in a very unique way. ”The plane is the real 707 simulator made by Boeing and Link Systems that the pilots used to train to fly the plane,” Kelly explains. “We integrated the simulator into a false fuselage that attaches onto the back of it, and we installed drop-down screens in it. Inside we have shakers under the seats and Nu-Tech Air Craft Instruments, a company in Augusta, Kansas, connected Microsoft Flight SIM to the flight controls and we integrated to the software. So the audio from the SIM server is fed into our system with our audio processor and it's automatically ducked and mixed into the program.
“In each room there’s a camera recording the students at work. When they’re done, sitting in this jet simulator as if they were flying back to the Reagan Museum, they can watch the actual archival news footage on their drop-down screens with ‘News Flash’ snippets of themselves in it, automatically switched in like B-roll. It’s great to hear the kids say, ‘Cool, that’s me!’”
The sophisticated Video system includes Sony CCD cameras, Sharp and LG LCD Displays, Pioneer V5000 DVD players, Kramer Video Distribution Amplifiers, an Alcorn McBride Binloop, Crestron 12 x 8 Video Matrix Switcher, Magenta Research transmitters and receivers, and Fast Forward Systems DVRs.
Audio speakers include 24 zoned ElectroVoice EVID 8.2 coaxial ceiling speakers, six EV EVID 4.2 and four EV EVID 10.2 subwoofers.
The complex Control system includes a Crestron Pro 2 control processor, Crestron 6L Touch panels, an Alcorn McBride V16 Show Controller and DMX Machine, RE Smith CAS Code Activated Switches and Middle Atlantic Products power sequencing. Middle Atlantic WRK and DWR Series rack enclosures are also used.
All of this technology brings the fundamental decision, to invade or not to invade Grenada, a decision faced by President Reagan in 1983, into high relief with dramatic impact. As Kelly sums up, “It's a decision being made in the Oval Office, acted upon in the Command Decision Center, and questioned by the White House press corps. Throw in British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's vehement opposition and a flight to Grenada on Air Force One, and a slice of history from 1983 really comes alive!”