And the Oscar Goes to… the Airplane!

Some of the airplanes that loom largest in our collective memory have flown only in the movies

(Courtesy Warner Communications / Your Trailers)

Tallmantz P-1 Phoenix in Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

Flight of the Phoenix
(Bettman / Corbis)

Phoenix dramatized the aftermath of the crash of a Fairchild C-82A Packet—called a Salmon-Rees Skytruck in the movie. The survivors painstakingly piece together a new airplane out of the wreckage of the old one and fly it out of the desert. 20th Century Fox commissioned a scratch-built—and airworthy—airplane from Tallmantz Aviation, a company formed by Hollywood stunt pilots Frank Tallman and Paul Mantz. To design the mongrel, Mantz and Tallman hired Otto Timm, an aeronautical engineer who in 1922 had given Charles Lindbergh his first airplane flight. Timm created the inner wings, wheels, tail section, and fuselage of tubular steel with wooden bracing and a plywood skin. To this, he attached a Pratt & Whitney R-1340, a cowling and cockpit from a North American T-6G Texan, the outer wings from a Beech C-45 Expeditor, and the tailwheel from a North American L-17 Navion. (The wheels were camouflaged by homemade skids.) Predictably, the Frankenstein-like airplane was hard to handle. While Mantz was simulating a takeoff for the camera, the skids dug in on a sand hummock, the fuselage split in two, and the 62-year-old pilot was killed (see “Hollywood’s Favorite Pilot,” Oct./Nov. 2007). To complete the shoot, the filmmakers substituted a North American O-47A modified to look like the Phoenix. Pictured: Dan Duryea, George Kennedy, and Alex Montoya present Jimmy Stewart with a prop blade from Phoenix.


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