Thursday, November 5, 2009

Over their heads

Aviation themes have flown over my head recently; we watched movies “The Aviator” and “Pushing Tin” recently and there is of course in the news, the story of Northwest Flight 188 which overshot Minneapolis earlier this month.

The Aviator – Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this film Martin Scorsese should be ashamed to place on his film resume’. Yes, it’s THAT BAD. The film is the autobiographical dramatization of the life of Howard Hughes. It was almost as corny as “The Right Stuff”. We are treated to a largely fictionalized dramatization of the eccentric Hughes as a tortured genius and philandering playboy; neither of which came across in DiCaprio’s portrayal. I gave the film two stars primarily for the acting of Cate Blanchette as Katharine Hepburn; Blanchette had me believing she was the cocky Hepburn by the end of the film. The end of which came all too long later.

The aviation sequences in this dog were schmaltz at best. Anyone who has the remotest knowledge of flying knows that pulling back on the stick makes a plane slow down, NOT go up. Power/thrust makes a plane gain altitude. The final climatic scene was Hughes’ dramatic flying of the Spruce Goose in the harbor off Los Angeles. As they tried to make take off dramatic, they shouted out the airspeed to Hughes in the cockpit: “Twenty-five miles per hour… “. Airspeed is measured in knots, not MPH. Basic, Scorsee… did you have anyone with any flying experience on the set?

After the film I showed my wife the actual flight of the Goose posted on a YouTube video. Why The Aviator had this plane flying high over the landscape is beyond me. This film was disappointing, at best.

Pushing Tin – starring John Cusack and Billy-Bob Thornton (is he really called that) with cameo from luscious lips, Angelina Jolie, is about hot-dog air traffic controller. Again, a loosely tethered plot to create friction between to male egos in order to end up with a buddy-buddy film came across as quite contrived.

My wife was quite lost in the technical jargon of Air Traffic Controllers, but I understood the lingo. They were quite accurate in their chatter, that is. The notable exception being that commercial aircraft don’t really begin to spiral out of control if the controllers stop talking to them while they punch each other out in the TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control)center. Pilots still maintain level flight and control. (With notable exception, see below).

Poignant for me were the external shots of the airspace outside of Kennedy an LaGuardia airports with the twin World Trade Center towers in the background. You can be sure that a remake of Pushing Tin (not likely) would have a sufficient amount of input from Homeland Security as to make the film even more of a damper than this 1999 version is. Unless you are into ATC and aviation big time, don’t bother to NetFlix this one.

Northwest Flight 188 – Earlier this month, the Minneapolis bound flight overshot their airport by an hour. (Tracking of the flight can be see here). What these guys were doing in the cockpit is what a vast majority of airline pilots do; surf the internet on their laptops because the autopilot is really flying the plane and they are bored silly.

I have spent countless hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator flying online with simulated ATC control to attest that, other than take-off and landings, flying a commercial airliner is boring. Mind-numbingly boring. Once you lift off the runway, confirm positive rate of climb, you bring up the wheels and engage the autopilot and auto throttle. Your course is programmed into the FMC (Flight Management Computer) and you don’t need to manually handle the aircraft until you are about to touch the wheels on the landing.

Having said that, this is NO EXCUSE. The pilot and co-pilot are required to be in constant contact with controllers in case any unforeseen aircraft, terrain, weather or anything else comes dangerously close to their aircraft. That neither of them was monitoring their traffic was inexcusable and their asses should be fired. Well, they will have plenty of time to surf the web on their laptops now. Yes, it can be a boring f*#king job but you still have to do it. Otherwise go work for 7-11.


Charlie said...

Your aviation experience could have been worse if you'd watched "Snakes on a Plane."

Robert the Skeptic said...

Charlie: Just from the title alone, I couldn't bring myself to watch it.

Mary Witzl said...

I've been forewarned! My husband keeps coming back with movies that are so bad I wonder why we bother. I'll tell him to avoid these.

Whenever I find inaccuracies like these in films or books, I am driven WILD by them. I wonder how much it would have cost the producers to hire a consultant for these movies? Surely it wouldn't have been prohibitively expensive.

Robert the Skeptic said...

A journalist and science writer, Jennifer Oulette, has founded a resource center for Hollywood and television screenwriters to connect them with the principal sources in various scientific disciplines to help them get the science and technology "correctly" in their literary creations. It is a step forward... and most welcome.