Situated on a promontory overlooking the Pentagon, the United States Air Force Memorial takes its place in the ranks of the capital city’s key monuments. Lighting is an essential aspect of establishing the nighttime identity of each of these structures. At the Air Force Memorial, three stainless-steel spires evoke the precision and weightlessness of flight. Illuminated with a variation in intensity, the sweeping curves of the arcs are accentuated, and their tips brilliantly lit. Illumination appears to emanate from within the monument itself, caressing the slender forms and bursting into the night sky.
Lighting for the memorial is a highly technical challenge. Each spire has a differently-sized triangular footprint, varying in proportion and height. Their surface area tapers dramatically to tips that are 23 cm (9”) wide, and sway up to 46 cm (18”) in the wind. Moreover, the convex contours of the arcs turn away from the center of the monument, necessitating a peripheral lighting strategy.
An additional challenge is posed by the monument’s location on the commercial flight path to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. To meet Federal Aviation Association (FAA) requirements, red beacons would typically need to be placed at the tip of each spire, to alert approaching pilots. Upon a close reading of the guidelines, a creative interpretation allowed for the upper portions of the spires to be brightly lit to aviation regulation levels, as an alternative to the red beacons.
Luminaires concealed behind granite walls provide the main lighting for the monument. The lights have precise narrow beam, deep-set optics and integral cross baffles to minimize potential glare for pilots. Completing the lighting, luminaires near the base of the spires are cleanly detailed into the granite paving. Instead of an even wash of light, the overall illumination brightens in a calibrated gradient to subtly accentuate the curving tips.
Granite inscription walls flanking the spires are lit by in-grade wall-washers, housed behind custom-fabricated stainless steel hoods that minimize glare and match the material of the spires. In the central viewing area, oversized glass pavers in the form of an Air Force Star logo are backlit by LEDs, that generate an ambient glow of light.
To meet the National Capital Planning Commission’s and Fine Arts Commission’s exacting standards, the project’s rigorous technical lighting requirements are balanced with its overall aesthetics. Longevity, ease of maintenance, and meeting FAA requirements were important considerations in developing the details of the lighting design. Fully integrated non-exposed cables are used, minimizing maintenance problems. Instead of the standard polyester powder coat, the luminaires are treated with a corrosion resistant finish used by the automobile industry. This ensures that the lighting will keep up its performance and appearance over time.