Flyboy: David Ellison Takes Off

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

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A&S: How involved did your father [Oracle CEO Larry Ellison] get with aviation?
Ellison: We started flying on the same day. He's got over 1,000 hours, he's checked out in the Pilatus PC-7, and he's type-rated in the Cessna CJ-3. Basically, once he got his license, we would both fly down to Salinas, he'd do touch-and-gos in the Cessna CJ-1, and I would do touch-and-gos in the Katana—and then later in a Lancair 360. We'd shoot touch-and-gos all day long. Have lunch. Do it again. As I got older and got into aerobatics, [my dad would do] touch-and-gos, I'd go to Wayne [for an aerobatic lesson], come back, and then we'd meet for lunch.

A&S: Are you doing aerobatics now?
Ellison: I've been flying aerobatics since I was 14. I soloed on my 16th birthday. I've flown a bunch of airshows, a competition in an Unlimited, and I flew at Nationals.

A&S: Do you think you want to act or focus on flying? What's your favorite hobby?
Ellison: It's hard to say what my favorite is. For a career I'd really want to act and make movies, and keep flying as much as I can. If I can act and fly, I'll be happy.

A&S: How did you think the flying in Flyboys looked on the big screen?
Ellison: I was really, really happy with the way it came out. [At the preview screening at Oshkosh] I was actually a little nervous because I knew how critical everyone would be—because they knew what they were looking at. We got a standing ovation last night, and Bob Hoover stood up and said it was the most inspiring aviation movie he's ever seen. To have that from a hero of mine was "it."

A&S: If you had a dream project, what would it be?
Ellison: My dream project is…a movie that takes place in the world of aerobatics. I really don't think that we've seen a good aerobatic movie that shows that side of flying and how involved it is. You come to places like Oshkosh and people see how good these guys are and the kind of discipline that goes into it. It's an intense sport, but you've never seen that onscreen. It's something I fell in love with as a little kid, and to be able to combine both of those would really be my dream project. It's really difficult [to make a movie about flying]. If Flyboys does really well, it'll revive the genre. I'm hoping for that.

A&S: What are some of your favorite old aviation films?
Ellison: I've seen The Great Waldo Pepper, Blue Max, Dark Blue World, Hell's Angels, all of those. I actually think I went and watched every single aviation movie before this movie came up.

A&S: Were there hairy moments on the set?
Ellison: Back then [when they were filming aviation films in the 1930s and 1940s], they were pushing the airplanes as hard as possible. [But if you're] doing that for a movie, it's not safe, it's dangerous. Computer-generated imagery [CGI] allowed us to show realistically what the dogfights were like in the old airplanes.

A&S: Did you learn a lot about aviation from studying the antique aircraft on the set?
Ellison: The first time I ever sat in an old airplane I sat in a Javier at a place in Paso Robles called Antique Aero. Chuck Wentworth runs it. My best friend and I flew the Paso Robles aerobatic competition. Chuck invited us over, and he had a completely restored Fokker triplane in the hangar. Actually had the rotary engine and the fabric. I sat in the airplane and was like "You've got to be kidding me."

A&S: What other collections have you visited in the U.S.?
Ellison: I've been to the Smithsonian a few times in [Washington] D.C. I've been to EAA AirVenture museum. I donated Wayne's Raven [aerobatic] airplane to the Evergreen Aviation museum [in Oregon]. I've visited the Museum of Flight in San Diego as well. And the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, my hometown.

A&S: Most of you were pretty inexperienced actors. What was that like?
Ellison: Filming took three months. It was lots of fun. We were kind of like a squadron, everyone became best friends. We were isolated an hour, hour and a half north of London. We hit it off right off the bat.

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