Neutrik parties on World Pride flight
Monday, 2 September 2019
neutrikParty time at 35,000ft
UK/USA - Celebrating World Pride in New York on the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Autograph’s special events department was charged with providing the inflight sound system on Virgin Atlantic’s celebratory Pride Flight (VS69) from London to New York. Neutrik’s Xirium Pro made it all possible.
Revellers, celebrities, DJs, drag queens and assorted entertainers aboard an Airbus A330 at 35,000ft was a special event which presented some very special challenges - to be met by head of special events Andrew Hedges, who headed up the project design, and David Prosser and Adam ‘Fabulous’ Taylor who engineered the event in the air.
“Production company One Green Bean approached Autograph to facilitate DJs and other entertainment onboard the flight,” says Hedges. “The brief was for ‘a big party atmosphere’. At the same time Virgin Atlantic’s engineering team presented us with paperwork covering the rules and stipulations as to what was and what was not permitted onboard a civil aviation flight, ensuring that whatever equipment we were going to use would in no way interfere with the operational safety of the plane.”
Among other things, this prohibited fixing anything to the structure of the aircraft and the use of cable runs in the cabin. Signal transmission to any PA speakers therefore had to be wireless but restricted to within the 5GHz wi-fi band, to prevent potential interference with the aircraft’s own wireless communications, and ruling out use of conventional mobile RF systems. With no suitable mains power available throughout the cabin, the system had to be self-powered, fully portable and completely stowed away during take-off and ascent, and descent and landing.
Transmitting uncompressed high-resolution audio in the 5GHz band, Xirium Pro offered a potential professional solution. “We had used it on one occasion before, on a theatre production,” continues Hedges, “which bore little relation to the requirements of this project, with an airplane full of people congaing up and down the aisle.” XIRIUM PRO operating instructions stipulate line-of-sight operation. “It is the only available product with very low latency operating in the 5GHz band, and the receiver units have a 10-hour battery life,” adds Prosser. “But effectively operating in a cylindrical tube full of people, there would be little or no line of sight to the receivers.”
On the day of the event it was entirely down to Prosser and Adam ‘Fabulous’ Taylor to get the system aboard and stowed for take-off, to break it out and set it up, engineer and operate it during the festivities, and break it down and stow it back in the lockers for descent and landing. “A lot of the unknown was in respect of logistics; like getting it all through security, which required special clearance and still raised a few eyebrows,” explains Prosser. “We managed to get onboard ahead of everyone else and get all the kit in the overhead lockers, and to set up a secure wi-fi network point, so as to be able to connect up and monitor the system using iPads, on the 2.4GHz band system control layer.
“Combined with the high-resolution signal quality of the Xirium Pro, the high spec of the FreePlay Lives, relative to their really compact form, meant we were able achieve the sense of a real club sound, as opposed to the probable alternative of using a bunch of small Bluetooth speakers. With a speaker and receiver unit under every fourth or fifth seat it worked well. With the repeater unit halfway down the plane, and the directional receiver antennae pointing up the cabin to get the maximum signal strength, there were no dead spots.
“As an event, it was certainly one of a kind - even in the special events category. It was quite nuts!”
(Jim Evans)

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