Pilot vs. Flying Movies

I had the lyrics for part of a song from Top Gun floating through my mind as I started to write a scene, so I hunted up the whole song. I found a decent video using clips from the movie. The lyrics were what I recalled, and I remembered why it was one of my favorite songs from the soundtrack (“Through the Fire” by Larry Greene). The video . . .

*Closes eyes, sighs, gives the sinal salute* I love the flying and the camera work. But the cockpit shots had me talking to the screen.

I’ve flown competition-level aerobatics in a Pitts S2-B and some smaller planes. If you have your shoulder harness on correctly, you cannot, I repeat cannot, come out of the seat the way Maverick does at 1:32-33! You cannot tell me that an F-14 just has a loose lap-belt to secure the pilot to the ejection seat. No. Just N.O. That is soooo Hollywood. Now, I am aware that negative G maneuvers are, let us say, frowned upon in certain jet aircraft, because the systems are just not designed to keep fuel and oil moving the correct ways at less than minus one G. Getting “sucked” up from the seat during negative G maneuvers is not a huge consideration for most military aircraft the way it is in a Pitts and the higher-end, hard-core civilian aerobatics aircraft.

But Judas Priest on flaming pogo sticks, come on. It looks like the pilot has no harness or seat-belt on at all.

And this sort of reaction is why Alma is not allowed to watch aviation films with some people anymore. They do not like the non-stop, under-the-breath grumbling about laws of physics, wrong airplane, it can’t do that, turbine engines don’t accelerate the way some piston planes can, the pilot is a fool, the mechanic is an idiot, that’s not how the landing gear works, wrong airplane, no it can’t do that, helicopters and inverted flight are a very bad combo, supersonic helicopter doesn’t exist . . .

Sort of like a former (he graduated) PhD student who spent all of Master and Commander giving an under-the-breath account of everything wrong. Or a certain prof who was almost escorted out of Apocolypto because she is an expert in the Maya and early Aztec, speaks Mayan, and . . . Well, she also has trouble keeping her vehement expostulations to herself.

At least with the Geology Department’s “Bad Movie Nights,” we had popcorn to throw at the screen and were encouraged to groan, hiss, and howl at the science bloopers.

*The “sinal salute” is when you put one hand blade-wise against each side of your nose because the stupidity/foolishness/obliviousness/jaw-dropping display of studied ignorance has temporarily rendered you incapable of speech.


44 thoughts on “Pilot vs. Flying Movies

  1. Sort of like military combat veterans when they watch war movies.

    “Explosions don’t look like that!”

    “They’re all bunched up! You never do that, because one burst of fire would wipe out your entire patrol!”

    “If you fire the rifle like that, you’ll break your glasses and probably your nose as well!”


  2. “supersonic helicopter doesn’t exist . . .”

    As badly as I wanted an Airwolf, even my teenage self realized that only comic book physics would allow it…..

    • I was addicted to Airwolf for the helicopter. Ditto TopGun. DadRed and I went through and made a list of time cues on the VHS tape, so we could watch all the flying without the other stuff gunking up the fun.

      • I recall many little league practices where we Airwolf advocates spent more time arguing with Blue Thunder heretics than concentrating on baseball.

    • Me too. I always considered Airwolf “spy fantasy”. Excellent spy fantasy, very well grounded in reality, but Airwolf itself… well, it’s like Clockwork Heart, where the only fantastic element is the lighter-than-air metal. But still, fantasy!

      • Airrrrrrwolf.

        One of the greatest moments of my life, in a weird way, was visiting Van Nuys Airport and seeing the old hangar there. Somewhere I have a ridiculously large number of photos of a remodeled hangar, from typical Airwolf angles. (This is actually one of the best parts of visiting LA — you keep running across places you’ve already seen in movies, and then you see what else is around it.)

        Actually, there’s some very nice observations about world politics hidden in Airwolf. I was also surprised to find out how much real stuff that Scarecrow and Mrs King had snuck into a very fluffy adventure show, and I was really shocked to find out how much of Hogan’s Heroes is actually accurate. (Somewhere there’s a very cool webpage about the actual German town of Hammelburg, and how the fictional show managed to sneak in a lot of real geography and prison camp intrigue.)

        It’s like some of the knowledgeable Hollywood/TV writers play a game of hiding their actual knowledge behind the fluffy fun.

        Of course, that’s almost more irritating, because you get annoyed when you realize it could have been more realistic. But sometimes they have good production reasons, and other times, they seem to be avoiding making people sad by using too much realism.

        The producers of JAG were unapologetic about the screen convention of having fighter pilots not wearing masks. They said that it’s been tried, but very few actors can act with just their eyes. Also, if the sound is too realistic, a lot of viewers can’t make out what is being said by the actor. From a budget standpoint, therefore, “we don’t pay our actors not to show their faces.”

        That was an interesting talk, and so was the one where they had the soundtrack guy show a flying scene with realistic sound effects and no music. People asked how Ghibli could get away with its use of silence, and the composer said that a lot of audience testing of US viewers has indicated that they get restless if there’s no music in a fictional film. He thought that it might change, because Americans did tolerate it in Miyazaki movies, but they never had felt confident in doing it for more than a few seconds. (And “they don’t pay me if I don’t write music.”)

        • Looking back at Airwolf as a Cold War series, there is a lot more sneaking around the edges than there appeared to be. I can understand about the masks and such. If, oh, Twelve o’Clock High had been done realistically, it would have been the longest, dullest film ever. (I tried “flying” the B-17 sim game on real-time mode once. Eight hour mission felt more like 20 hours, just because so little happened, punctuated by mildly to really exciting moments.)

          • And if memory served, the opening of _Master and Commander_ is almost twenty minutes of nothing but ship and seas sounds, no music. Which was considered really daring at the time.

  3. I won’t start on all the ways every advanced sensor and laser are used or displayed wrong. “He locked on!” … with a missile alert for a passive IR (no radiation out) missile? REALLY? That idiocy and magically clean displays make me laugh and grit teeth. Same with the optical effects people; reality and sensing through or around things makes it messy for man-portable small gear. Even they should be able to follow the Cargo Cult Picture Guide to “Magic Stuff”.

  4. “Why the hell doesn’t anybody just run at the horse? He’s killing you all! Knock the horse over, the idiot has it broad-side open!”

    And yes, you can knock a horse over by running at him. Picture roughly how you’d run at a horse trying to jump up; it works if there’s a rider, too. Which is why they HAD war-trained horses. (Can take a bull smacking them in the chest, but not a teenage girl running into their side. Horses!)


    I actually love watching movies with subject matter experts. 😀

  5. When Star Wars first came out, a co-worker Navy Vet (flew A-3s in SE Asia during the unpleasantness) was thoroughly impressed by the assemblage of X wing fighters before the final conflict. “They’re dirty! They got that right!”

    Han shot first, and Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself.

    • I saw it at the theater when it came out. I was most impressed by the Millennium Falcon. There was oil running down the hydraulic landing legs, access panels open with wiring hanging out, litter inside… and it wasn’t exactly *reliable* either.

      It didn’t quite make up for the stupid robots (“See-Threepio” and “Artoo-Detoo” in the official novelizations, btw) though. And may Lucas burn in hell for the word “bot”…

      • My daughter sent me a copy of “I Am C3PO” at Christmas. I recommend it. Anthony Daniels, who worked the outfit from inside it, often found himself overlooked because he was inside…and not visible.

    • In the first release of Star Wars, when the Falcon pulls off the Death Star, it turns around by flipping on the axis from port to starboard through the disk. That impressed me, since I had learned that the angular moment through that axis was half the angular moment of the axis through the plane of the disk.

      Of course, they changed it in all the edited releases. They got it right, but couldn’t let it be.

      • And the reason why they got that right in the original was that they had a big heavy model on a pole that they were physically manipulating with their early motion control so they could reproduce the exact same model move for each shot/layer (one lit brightly for the model, one with almost no ambient light to get the various lights and glowy bits, and so on), so they moved the model the easiest way given its actual mass.

        With CGI they just move it the way they think looks coolest.

        And I agree, the original shot was best.

  6. > grumbling about laws of physics

    For me, it’s what I call “video game physics”, where conservation of momentum doesn’t apply. I don’t care how kewl “Gotterdammering Death Ninja VI” is, moves like that would reduce your chartacter to bloody goo. Or giant robots that lift one leg up to take a ten-second-long step, but magically don’t fall over. Or…

  7. Also fun: a helicopter hovering in a nose-down attitude. Yes, rotor well off the horizontal, and just hovering there. I noticed this in one of the modern-era Bond films, but suspect it’s a standard Hollywood thing, because Dramatic Menace.
    (Helicopters and inverted flight… I have the impression some RC models are designed to do that. I think fly-by-computer is involved, along with a rotor design that’s suboptimal for normal operation.)

    • I shudder to think at how bloomin’ complicated the fuel, oil, and hydraulic system of a helicopter certified for inverted flight would be. You have to have flop tubes (short invert) or a system with pressure pumps to keep fluid flows stable. And that’s not even thinking about the aerodynamics of the rotor(s) and how you’d manage that.

    • While I haven’t seen them, I’ve heard about RC choppers that can fly inverted; I’m told a common stunt in the “professional” RC community is to use chopper blades to mow grass while inverted. I assume this only works with electric aircraft…

      • I fiddled with an RC helicopter, but life got in the way. The way the fuel systems and engines are set up, a fuel (or gas) 2-stroke engine would be OK running inverted.

        One of the tougher aspects to learning to fly the RC beast is that hovering is pretty much the first thing you need to do, and it’s rather harder than forward flight.

    • I got a chopper ride out to a missile site one time, and the pilot was complaining that he was being transferred to a B-52 unit. He said B-52s have no similarities to choppers. I told him they DO: both take off nose-down. Though choppers are more nose-down than the Buffs.

  8. Growing up in the fifties and watching way too many westerns, my pet peeves were the infinite repeating firearms and anachronistic use of firearms. A melodrama set in the pre-civil War period (I’m talking about you “Santa Fe Trail”) having every one using Colt Peacemakers and lever action rifles.

    • Long ago, I watched a B time travel movie that started off with a historian examining an authenticated 1800s photograph, but one of the people in the picture was carrying a modern (stainless?) revolver.

      The squishyware refuses to come up with the name of the movie, though.

  9. “Movies and Television Get Things Wrong”!

    That can’t happen!!! [Crazy Grin]

    Back when I would watch History Channel, I’d chuckle at the “re-enactments” of battles/ancient fighting men (especially scenes with Roman Soldiers).

    I’d swear that the History Channel used scenes from sword-and-sandal B-movies. 😆

    • Probably. I get Ancient Warfare magazine, and they have a column of “Rome at the Movies” with low-lights and high-lights – wrong tactics, mixed-up armor, late Imperial armor used in Republic-period films, legions that can march a hundred miles in a day . . .

    • I recall watching a documentary about the Battleship Bismarck — possibly the one that was made when they found the wreck of HMS Hood. They had a long montage of contemporary film clips – that is, wartime combat footage – that played behind the description of the Denmark Straits fight in which Hood was sunk. Right in the middle of the montage was a clip of a battleship firing a full broadside.

      An IOWA-class battleship. That is, an AMERICAN battleship!

      In a documentary about a battle between a German battleship and a British battlecruiser.


      [insert wholly not-safe-for-work rant about how grossly incompetent their historical experts must have been]

  10. I, too, loved Airwolf – thought the ‘copter was cool, but loved Santini/Hawk snarky comments. Didn’t care much for Blue Thunder though.

    • The Blue Thunder movie was OK – the part about the heat seeking missile and the chicken rotisserie place, however, was delightful.

  11. LOL, try watching it with a bunch of Naval Aviators on deployment… THAT was an educational beat down of massive proportions, including screaming at the screen! LOL… And harassment of ‘certain’ individuals that actually flew in the movie for years afterward… 🙂 Also the same for Hunt for Red October. I’m NOT allowed to watch that one in polite company… snerk…

    • *squints*

      If that’s actually a picture of it, it makes perfect sense– and zeal had nothing to do with it. Possibly some passive aggressive commentary on how frequently whoever shelves the books can’t figure out their vowels, much less the rest of the alphabet….

      Picture this:

      Pull books off ONE shelf, pile next to you so they don’t fall over.

      Clean the shelf as it has never been cleaned before.

      Move to next shelf, doing the same, until you reach the end.

      Go back to the start, and put the pile of books back on the now dry shelf, in the order they didn’t fall over in.

      Boom, the books are “rearranged by size”– except not exactly as big of a job as they made that sound. Heck, most of the libraries and book stores that I’ve browsed in lately will have the hard backs sorted by alphabet, then the paperbacks sorted by alphabet, even if they don’t have different sections.

  12. When I was in AF training, our squadrons were just lined up, and then “taller-tapped” anyone shorter than we were, and replaced them.

    That person did that same thing!

  13. I can’t go to movies with characters riding horses at all. I am so bad about muttering about how the they are using the wrong bridle or bit, or saddle, or that the horse is not the right one for the job. I will critique the riding styles, apparel, and the way people are saddling and grooming the horse. Spending over 30 yrs riding and competing has made me way too critical to be around then.

    • I used to comment at Lex’s place from time to time, under my older nom de cyber. His was one of the best blogs, bar none.

  14. Lex–Brilliant writer, I’m sure he was a superb officer. After he was killed, the blog disappeared and could not be restored, but Bill Brandt did great work in finding copies of most of the posts in various places and assembling them at The Lexicans. If anyone here is not familar with Lex’s work, he’s very much worth reading.

  15. I took my dad to go see Master and Commander, because I wuvs him. And I sat next to him and listened to him mutter about historical errors, because it was funny as heck. And since I know a little about Napoleonic stuff because I read Heyer, I also had some mutterings. Fortunately, there was no one sitting right next to us.

    But the musical evening was pretty authentic!

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