Archive for January, 2010

Ace and the movies

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

After 11,700 hours, “Ace” Beall deserves the nickname. As chief pilot for NASA he flew the Boeing KC–135 “vomit comet” to give astronauts experience in weightlessness (and for the weightless scenes in the movie Apollo 13), taught astronauts to fly the Northrop T–38, and flew the Space Shuttle from California to Florida atop a Boeing 747. While in the U.S. Air Force he flew Lockheed C–141s.

Last August Beall teamed with movie photographer Dylan Goss to film aerial scenes for Up in the Air, the story of a single man who prefers the freedom of constant airline travel to marriage and family. Beall works for Wolfe Air Aviation and provides movie footage you have undoubtedly seen. He had flown the company’s Learjet 25B to gather scenes for Up in the Air, but after it was completed the producers felt they needed to try again. This time Beall used the red Wolfe Air Cessna 337 Skymaster.

It was a hurry-up trip. Goss, the film’s aerial director of photography, and Beall visited eight cities in a week, gathering footage of cities and scenery in between. The producers were waiting. Goss is used to that and has worked for movie companies and advertising agencies since he was 18. In this year’s Super Bowl commercials, an SUV flashed down a pier on Bridgestone tires to do a 180-degree turn that would fling a whale out the back door. That car was chased by Goss in a helicopter down a pier at Bodega Bay, Calif., north of San Francisco.

Goss rarely shoots from anything but a helicopter, sometimes while flying at top speed two feet off the deck in a crab while leaning out the door on a harness, or standing on a helicopter landing gear shooting down on a Lexus for a commercial. If you saw that one, they didn’t actually drop it, even though it looks like they did.

The Skymaster is more difficult for Goss to use. He crouched in the back, looking through tiny windows to operate an externally slung, gyrostabilized camera while wearing an oxygen mask for shots at 15,000 to 18,000 feet. Goss pumped argon gas into the glass sphere containing the camera to keep it from fogging, a trick learned from underwater camera operators. They were never lower than 7,000 feet and spent an average of 45 minutes above cities listed in the movie script, including Wichita, Dallas, Des Moines, St. Louis, Chicago, Omaha, and Kansas City. They shot scenes enroute when presented with an opportunity.

The movie had been edited and locked before their trip, meaning that if an existing aerial scene had been three seconds, then the new one from the Skymaster had to be the same length. When movie producers saw what Beall and Goss had captured, they unlocked the movie and re-edited, especially when it came to the scene at the end floating just above the clouds. “The aerial scenes became like a character in the movie,” Goss said.

Up in the Air is all but played out at your local cinema, but take a look if you still have a chance. You’ll see Ace’s real first name as the credits roll at the end.

Dylan Goss stands on a helicopter landing gear to film a Lexus commercial.

The Red Baron Returns

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

The Red Baron is waiting to fly across cinema screens this spring. You can see the one-minute trailer here. Personally, this is one I have to see. It’ll be worth the $6 popcorn (small) or maybe even a large popcorn (financing available).

You’ll need oxygen just to taxi

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Have you ever flown into Leadville, Colorado’s Lake County Airport, which at 9,927 feet in elevation claims the title of highest public-use airport in North America?

Bragging rights are climbing in China, which plans to build the world’s highest airport–at an elevation of 14,554 feet–in Tibet, Britain’s The Guardian reported. Let’s see, under U.S. regs, at that lofty height pilots will need supplemental oxygen just to taxi; better make sure the bottle is full.  On second thought, never mind; the field elevation is higher than the service ceiling of anything I’ve flown recently.

Construction is planned to begin in 2011, take three years, and cost more than $263 million (in U.S. dollars). The newspaper said the project is part of an effort by China to make air travel accessible to more of its population, through the construction of 97 new airports by 2020.

Lenticular clouds stack up in California

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

This is similar to the photo of lentucular clouds near French Valley Airport northeast of San Diego that I referred to in this month’s AOPA Pilot SkyCatcher story. I thought pilots might like to see it. It was taken by Mike Fizer, our chief photographer, 30 minutes before he took the cover shot for the January Pilot. Here’s a link to the SkyCatcher story . The shot I referred to had the SkyCatcher in the air with this in the background, but the airplane was shaded by a cloud, so the shot wasn’t chosen for the article.