Over the last few years, Boeing has sold off much of its Huntington Beach property and shifted many jobs to Seal Beach, Long Beach and Los Angeles but its water immersion tank, where scenes from “Star Trek IV” were filmed, remains in Surf City.
The tank, which reportedly is 70 feet in diameter, 35 feet deep and holds one million gallons of fresh water, has been used to train astronauts to live under zero gravity conditions (weightlessness). More recently, it was used in the development of an underwater drone prototype unmanned submarine (Echo Voyager) that can gather intelligence. The 51-foot-long sub reportedly can reach depths of 11,000 feet and has a range of 6,500 nautical miles. In 2019, Boeing won a $43 million US Navy contract to build a fleet of massive drone subs.
In 1985, that tank, then part of McDonnell Douglas, was used in the Star Trek movie, directed by Leonard Nimoy. In the film, which earned over $133 million and 4 Oscar nominations, Nimoy (Spock) communicates with a whale. The whales, some as large as 30 feet, were motorized models built by Industrial Light & Magic. They were edited with sequences filmed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
“It was so exciting, having a Star Trek movie filmed here,” said Gloria Eichler, who worked there at the time. “It was really fun seeing our facility in the film.”
Eichler, whose husband Ken retired from McDonnell Douglas, said the Huntington Beach underwater tank also was used in the Kevin Costner film, “Waterworld.”
“A bunch of us used to go down and try and catch a glimpse of Costner, but we never saw him,” she said sadly.