A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

 April 2012    

Movie Stunt Flying


( This BD-5 belongs to David Mischke, Seedro Woolley, Washington.)

Most of the articles you read every month in this column contain all factual material.  But some of what I write requires a lot of imagination, like flying under the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years, probably since seeing the 1983 James Bond movie, Octopussy.  No doubt every pilot can recall the opening scene where Bond flies the tiny jet through a hangar door and out the other end while being chased by a surface-to-air missile.   The missile follows him into the hangar but detonates inside, killing the soldiers who were trying to kill or capture the hero. 

( To view that scene:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5SV1wuemhM&feature=related  )

Was the stunt real or a Hollywood trick done with blue-screen backgrounds and special effects?  Both methods were used.  The aircraft was indeed a real plane, a BD-5J micro jet.  Most pilots are familiar with the tiny jet, built as a kit back in the ‘70’s by engineer/designer Jim Bede.  This particular jet was owned by aviator/stunt-pilot J.W. “Corkey” Fornof, a man with quite a history of flying and for his work in the movie stunt business. 

When I saw the movie and was told it was a real plane with a real pilot that flew through that hangar, I wondered what kind of crazy person would, or could, do such a stunt.  I looked up Fornof’s resume, and it is indeed impressive.  Here’s the kind of pilot every movie director would like to have working on his set. 

John William “Corkey” Fornof has flown over 15,000 hours in close to 300 different types of airplanes.  His career has taken him around the world doing airshows and working in the movie production field. He’s developed the skill, imagination and talent to design workable flying stunts.  In other words, when a producer and/or director needs a special flying stunt to fit a scene, they call on Fornof to come up with the ideas and make them work.

 Another part of his experience is having flown stunts for every major air show in the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, Mexico and South Africa.  Among other credits, he’s a stunt pilot, aviation technical advisor, script consultant and writer.  Just a few of the movies he has been involved with in one way or another include Six Days Seven Nights, Face Off, Congo, Heavens Prisoners, Jurassic Park and several James Bond flicks.  He’s been the stand-in pilot for Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford and John Travolta to name a few.

The Octopussy scene where the jet flies through the hangar is a clever combination of special effects and actually flying through it.  The scene when watched now, in 2012 appears somewhat fake and a little rudimentary.  But remember, it was done in 1982 or 1983, and I would think the special effects industry in the movies has come a long way in the past thirty years.  However, it was a thriller even back then.  Movies shot today are a bit over-done in my opinion.  When I see a movie with flying scenes, I can’t help but think of Star Wars, where everything is moving so fast, it is simply impossible to avoid smashing into oncoming airplanes, space ships or space debris.  Not too convincing or realistic.  So it’s particularly amazing that back in the day, Corkey Fornof actually did the deed.  He flew the little jet right through the hangar at close to 180 miles per hour.  Incidentally, that was the fastest he thought he could get away with, given the compressing of the air inside the building and the possibility of blowing out doors and windows, perhaps even collapsing the structure.  He had just six feet of space above and below the little jet, which would have appeared to be a tiny space to be putting an aircraft  into at that kind of speed. 

Meantime, the Lions Gate Bridge, for those readers who have not been to Vancouver and seen it, has a ship’s clearance of about 200 feet.  The entire structure is over a mile long, with two giant suspension towers supporting the bridge deck.  Those towers offer a span of fifteen hundred feet between them.  So the area available to fly through is 200 by 1,500 feet.  Not much of a challenge.  But not even the float planes that come and go through the area are allowed to fly under the bridge.  The day I flew through the massive hole, it was in a simulator, and just for the fun of it.  But as I said, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.  Now I’ll look for a little barn or hangar somewhere on the simulator and try what Corkey Fornof does for real.  For me, it will take a lot of practice.  Better on the sim, than for real.  This should be good. 

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