Model Aviation: The Aviator H-1 Racer
As filming began on Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award winning movie, The Aviator, he was faced with a serious dilemma in how to accurately portray the airplanes and flying scenes in the film without having the original airplanes as subjects. Of the original planes needed for the major flying sequences in the film, one was no longer in existence (the XF-11 crashed) and the other two, the Hughes H1 Racer and the Spruce Goose, were on permanent display in museums, unable to fly. Digitally recreating flying airplanes is a notoriously expensive and time-consuming job and even after all the computer finishing work and digital special effects are done, the airplanes look unrealistic. They never really convince the viewer that the airplanes are “real”.
Chris Brigham, Executive Producer on The Aviator, frustrated at having to “settle” for the expensive and unconvincing digital effects route for the flying scenes, decided that it was time to try something that had never been done before. Create the largest scale flying models ever built. For this monumental challenge he contacted Joe Bok, whose company Aero Telemetry, designs and builds large unmanned airplanes. Howard Hughes’ aircraft would need to be reproduced and flown convincingly enough to sell the movie critics and viewers that the flying sequences in the movie are “real”. This sounds simple, but these airplanes were so big (with wingspans up to 30 feet, that the size classification would put them in the FAA Experimental Aircraft Category.