For the 20th Century Fox remake of "Flight of the Phoenix", supervising sound editor Jay Wilkinson faced an unusual challenge. The featured airplane was a WWII vintage C119 "Flying Boxcar" -- and there are very few left in the world that are airworthy. A search for the same or similar plane in the Los Angeles area proved unsatisfactory. The plane used for filming was provided by Hawkins and Powers Aviation based in Greybull, Wyoming. The plane had been flown from Wyoming to Namibia in the southern part of Africa for filming and was now back in Wyoming.

Arranging a plane recording session at Hawkins and Powers would require a bit more logistics and expense than a simple car recording jaunt. Fortunately the director, John Moore, had a real feel for aircraft from this and his previous film "Behind Enemy Lines" and understood the importance of getting a good set of effects recordings on the real plane. With his support we were soon on our way. Our recording crew consisted of Jay Wilkinson, assistant sound editor Skip Longfellow, aerial coordinator David Paris, and myself.

Jay and Skip had prepared a detailed binder full of screenshots and short descriptions of the aerial maneuvers and plane engine effects that needed recording. David Paris would help translate this list into practical "flyable" instructions as he communicated with the pilots via radio. This made my share of the job almost as simple as pointing a mike and pressing "Record."

Back in Los Angeles I would continue to record and design other effects, such as lethal-sounding sandstorm swish bys, bullet whizzes, and interesting little ambient creaks and groans for the plane wreckage, but that was largely solitary work involving some roving recording and Pro Tooling. The plane recording trip was far more interesting and worth a few snapshots.

The Fairchild C119 "Flying Boxcar" was developed during WWII as the C82. Intended as a multipurpose troop carrier, paratrooper and cargo plane that could be used for an invasion of Japan, it fortunately was not needed for that purpose. But this type of plane was used heavily during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. It's a rugged plane built to be relatively simple to maintain and to take a lot of punishment. Its most distinctive feature is the twin boom, twin tail design.

This particular plane has been fitted with an additional jet engine atop the fuselage, useful for takeoffs when the plane is heavily loaded.

You really appreciate how big this plane is when you look up at one of those engines.

Gene Powers, co-founder of Hawkins & Powers, looks out from the cockpit. In addition to restoring and providing aircraft for motion pictures, Hawkins and Powers were pioneers in the use of aircraft for dropping fire retardants to fight forest fires.

Gene shared the flying chores with Steve Dunn, Chief Pilot for Hawkins & Powers. Steve was in Namibia for the filming of aerial scenes, working closely with David Paris, so they knew each other well. (The banter alone between Steve and David was worth the trip.)

The cockpit is a real no-frills affair. (No snack trays or overhead bins on this flight.)

Even so, it seemed everyone was eager to take a turn at the controls. David Paris, best known for his expert piloting of helicopters, takes on the big fixed-wing plane.



Skip Longfellow is clearly enjoying his turn in the pilot's seat. Maybe he's contemplating the relative perks of Pilot versus Assistant Sound Editor.

(By the way, at this point in the proceedings I'm down on the ground coiling several miles of cable. Contemplating the relative perks of Sound Recordist versus Assistant Professor...)

The cargo area of the plane is strictly functional (Jay likened the plane to "a U-Haul with wings.")

We mounted a number of mikes in this rear compartment and suspended them from bungee cords. The bungees served as giant shock mounts so that the mikes didn't pick up vibration directly from the fuselage.

A closer view of one of the mike setups. Here a Rycote zepplin supports a Schoeps MS stereo mike.

In addition to the mikes in the cargo area, we set up two more stereo rigs in the cockpit. For the cockpit I used a couple PZM boundary mikes as well as a pair of EV RE-15 dynamic mikes. The plane interior is quite loud during flight and so dynamic mikes provided a good alternative to the usual condensers.

To record all these inflight mikes we used a 4 track Deva plus an additional stereo DAT recorder. Skip rode aloft to manage those recorders -- which meant that he was extremely busy during these maneuvers.

Here he gets a brief moment just to enjoy a bit of scenery.



Back on the ground, Jay and David Paris would discuss each maneuvers to be covered in each set of fly bys.

Besides "Flight of the Phoenix", David has a long and distinguished list of credits as aerial coordinator and helicopter pilot. Some of the titles include "Minority Report", "Blackhawk Down", "Air Force One", the "X Files" feature, and "Charlie's Angels." (In fact, in that film he has a cameo as "Charlie.")

David in front of four very large propellors as Steve Dunn climbs into the plane.

When they first fired the plane up just to move it down the runway, I wasn't going to miss a chance to record an extra "start and taxi away."

Unfortunately a helicopter happened to come along.

Skip and I getting ready to record some especially good "engine sputters and starts." It was essential to get a variety of angles -- miking from the side would favor the exhaust and give a nice beefy engine sound; miking from in front would favor the propellor and give a thinner sound with more "bite" and clarity to the prop.

During these sessions, I stayed "mobile", using my portable DAT recorder and moving around to different positions and panning my Schoeps mikes with the action. We also set up a number of stationary mikes on stands. One mike is in the foreground, another in the middle distance, and in the distance on the right I am setting up a third mike. In the middle Jay is getting some of the recorders set up.

A closer view of the Shure VP-88 stereo condenser.

A pair of Electrovoice dynamic mikes.

An Audio Technica AT825 stereo condenser. (Alternatively, we also used a pair of Josephson condensers.)

Jay's table was set up with two Sony DAT recorders and, as an analog alternate, the classic and virtually indestructible Nagra IV-S (seen on the left.)







Skip and I recording the plane parked but with the engines running at high rpms. These "steadies" recorded on the ground are usually a lot more exciting than the actual interior sounds recorded during flight. Often a combination of the two is used for the mix; the interior provides realism, the exterior steadies add a touch more dramatic impact.

Gene Powers in an brief and unaccustomed role -- as passenger instead of pilot. I have no idea what he thought of some of our odder recording requests but he was the perfect host throughout. He even invited us out to his beautiful lakeside home where his wife laid out a big spread of homemade nachos, quesedillas, and other goodies.

In fact everyone at Hawkins and Powers extended us every courtesy throughout our stay. Not only were we impressed by their professionalism, their dedication to safety, and their hard work to provide us the material needed for the film, but we couldn't help but notice how much fun they had at their jobs. These folks truly love these vintage aircraft. Much of their business involves restoring these planes for private owners.

From the air can be viewed just some of the classic aircraft on the field at Hawkins & Powers. On our last day in Wyoming Gene gave us a tour of some of the planes and helicopters they have in storage.


Sadly, a few years later Hawkins & Powers would have to liquidate their fleet and these planes are probably scattered around the country now.

This beautifully restored vintage biplane was clearly one of his favorites.

At the end of our two days of recording there are a lot of packing cases to deal with. A small price to pay for a memorable and enjoyable recording trip, especially one when we can help preserve some truly unique sounds for posterity.

Photos by Jay Wilkinson & Skip Longfellow


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