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Project Throwback: The Pterodactyl Airline

One of our favorite ways to celebrate 30 Years of Innovation is our Project Throwbacks! Looking in depth at some of our earliest work is a great way to both reminisce and show how Entech Innovative Engineering developed into what is today.

We will be focusing on one of our earliest themed entertainment projects – The Pterodactyl Airline! This was created for Universal Studios Hollywood Flintstones Show which opened in the Panasonic Theater after The Star Trek Adventure moved on in 1994. The Pterodactyl Airline, a truly complex element, “flew” over the audience carrying performers playing the roles of Fred, Barner, Wilma and Betty from their home in Bedrock to “Hollyrock” where Fred was to be a big star. The Pterodactyl Airline was a critical show action element making the quality and durability of the design and construction essential to public safety during performances. At the same time, the creative representation had to be believable within the story of the show.

The Flintstones Pterodactyl Air Show Action system was our second time working with Universal Studios and we were sub-contracted with Adirondack Studios for this element within the larger context of the show which Adirondack provided. The Pterodactyl Air element was by far the most complex show action piece in the show and therefore we were asked to technically design, engineer, fabricate, install and commission the system.

Managing Partner John Marhoefer with "The Bird"

As with any complex system there were a number of challenges, not the least of them was the extremely short time frame for accomplishing the work. Furthermore, the system was incredibly safety critical as the ‘Bird’ as it came to be called was required to carry four actors out over the audience. Additionally, the Bird was required to roll out from backstage and be hooked up to the overhead carriage system reliably, safely and quickly and then unhooked and stowed for the next act. The bird itself was highly animated with an on-board pneumatic system with a number of head and eye movements as well as flapping wings. The wings themselves were capable of being folded for storage much like the jets on modern day aircraft carriers. To top off the animation, an animatronic Dino figure emerged from the trunk on the back of the bird. There were on the order of a half dozen animated features on the bird itself!

Managing Partner John Marhoefer recalls the challenges of fabrication, stating “We were 30 years younger than we are now and the machinery we were building was large and very complex for us at that time. We were very careful about making sure we tested each step along the way and against the backdrop of the limited time frame for this project, doing so was stressful especially when tests showed that changes to the design were required.”

The challenge of installing the system was exacerbated by the fact that it was going into an existing building with little as-built information. Because of this the overhead track system was designed to accommodate a wide range of conditions that were expected to be encountered.

Marhoefer continues saying “It defies the imagination that something like this could be built in such a time frame for that price today.....Wheeling the bird out from backstage, hooking to the overhead winch carriage, loading the actors onto the Bird and having it take off and circle over the audience........! Yeah that was something special.”

Years later the Flintstones Show was decommissioned. Several years after that the Bird itself was spotted over in an amusement park in Europe, in a “movie boneyard", which serves as a testament to how nice a piece the Bird was! The Pterodactyl Airline proved to be the first in a long line of what Entech Innovative would come to specialize in: complex, engineered, iconic elements other companies avoid or are not sure how to create.

Original Commercial for the show featuring the airline:

Entire Stage Show with The Bird featured at 13 minutes:


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