Air Force Space and Missile Museum
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Searchlight

Searchlight

Display location: Hangar C, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Type: Searchlight AN/TVS-3
Serial Number: 107
Rating: 800 million candlepower
Bulb: Short-arc Zenon
Power Requirements: 34 volts DC @ 295 amps - 43 volts DC @ 465 amps
Manufacturer: Strong Electric Corporation
Agency: U.S. Air Force, NASA

Searchlights like this one have illuminated rockets and launch pads at the Cape since the earliest days. Rocket development at the Cape required an around-the-clock work schedule and searchlights such as these provided light to allow work into the hours of darkness.

The earliest searchlights used at the Cape were large trailer-mounted war surplus arc lamps designed to sweep the skies for incoming enemy aircraft. This searchlight is a second-generation style that replaced the early arc lamps in the late 1960's with a smaller, but equally powerful, light source. The second-generation searchlights have been replaced with new, even more compact high-intensity searchlights.

Anyone who has ever seen a launch at the Cape can verify that each generation of searchlight was capable of illuminating a launch pad and its rocket well enough to be seen for tens of miles. A warning prominently displayed inside the control panel reads "WARNING: Do not operate the searchlight with front door open or serious injury to skin and eyes will result. Looking directly into searchlight with the arc burning will cause temporary blindness."

This example of the second-generation searchlight was manufactured by the Strong Electric Company of Toledo, Ohio and delivered under contract in 1967. It consisted of two major assemblies, the searchlight with military designation MX-7999/TVS-3 and the trailer with military designation V-416/TVS-3. Together these two assemblies made up the Searchlight AN/TVS-3.

The manufacturer, Strong Electric Corporation, was founded in 1926 and became the most highly respected manufacturer of theater stage lighting. They also manufactured aircraft mounted anti-submarine searchlights, outdoor lights for the Olympic Games, Las Vegas hotels, auditoriums, and of course launch pads, including those for the Apollo Moon missions. The most famous product of Strong Electric was the "Super Trouper" stage spotlight that, with upgrades, is still in high demand to this day. The singing group "ABBA" even recorded a song "Super Trouper" which speaks to the special powers of that device.

The searchlight on display was used to light launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station until it was obtained by the museum in 2013.

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First generation searchlights in action for an Atlas launch