Flyboy: David Ellison Takes Off

In his new film, the actor-pilot gets to combine his two loves.

Air & Space Magazine

Twenty-three-year-old David Ellison is one of the stars of the new film, Flyboys, Ellison, who in real life is also an aerobatic pilot, plays a member of the famous Lafayette Escadrille.

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Air & Space Associate Editor Bettina Chavanne caught up with Ellison at the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, this summer, where he was flying his Cap 232, which was painted in full Flyboys regalia to promote his new film.

A&S: How much fun did you have making this movie?
Ellison: It was the best time of my life. My two passions are flying and acting. To be able to combine both of those in my first film was unbelievable.

A&S: How did you get connected with the project?
Ellison: Tony [Bill, Flyboys' director] was adamant about having a real pilot in the movie. I first met him when he was a student of [renowned aerobatic pilot] Wayne Handley's, and I was too. I was 18 and had no interest in film at the time. I was going to Pepperdine, and when I later transferred to the University of Southern California, I needed a place to keep my airplane. I looked all over the place, and Wayne said "I know a guy down there in the movie business [Bill] who said you can keep your airplane in his hangar for a bit."

A&S: Were you the only one who knew how to fly on the set?
Ellison: Yes, except that James Franco [who has the lead role in Flyboys] got his pilot's license just before the movie starting filming.

A&S: How much did you know about the Lafayette Escadrille before you did the film?
Ellison: Only a little bit, to be honest. I wasn't as educated on World War I as I was on World War II. It wasn't until the movie that I really did a lot of research.

A&S: How did you become interested in flying airplanes?
Ellison: I met a guy in a hobby shop when I was 12. I was in there with my dad and wanted to build model airplanes and fly them. [After talking with him a few times], he offered to teach me and my dad to fly models. He was an aerobatic instructor and had a Pitts S2B. After a year of teaching us to fly models, [my dad and I] bought a Katana. He taught me and my dad to fly in that, then he gave me my first ride in the Pitts and I was hooked from there.

A&S: Did you have problems with aerobatics?
Ellison: I got sick my first flight.

A&S: How often did you fly in the film?
Ellison: It was semi-limited for insurance purposes. We flew three days and shot 12 hours a day. The camera shot us 25 minutes at a time. There were multiple flights each day, and we squeezed as much flying in as possible.

A&S: What's your favorite airplane to fly?
Ellison: I fly a Cap 232, and it's my favorite. I flew it here [to Oshkosh] in 2003 as part of Stars of Tomorrow. I've been here three times. The first time I was a 13-year-old kid running up and asking Sean Tucker for his autograph, and I didn't know anybody. The second time, Wayne had started teaching me aerobatics, and I actually came here with Sean and Mike Williams for Stars of Tomorrow. And now I'm here with the movie.

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