Flying Right-Side Up In Hollywood

by Dave Weiman

PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. – We have come to expect some of the flair of Hollywood whenever the AOPA Summit is held in California, and this year was no different in Palm Springs, October 11-13, 2012. Big name AOPA supporter Harrison Ford was on hand at the Palm Springs Convention Center for a general session, and was a special guest at a banquet to raise money for the AOPA Foundation.

Also at the Summit was one of the production people who create the aerial scenes that help to make movies box office hits, Craig Hosking. The Hollywood stunt pilot and aerial coordinator described his career working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, and how he coordinated and filmed aerial scenes.

Craig Hosking got his start in aviation at age 8 flying with his dad, Bob, and got his pilot certificate before he got his driver’s license. Following high school, he got involved in his father’s helicopter business in Bountiful, Utah. “I had it easier than most because of dad’s help,” said Hosking. Bob Hosking flew helicopters in Korea and Viet Nam, and for such Hollywood greats as John Wayne, including camera work and an action scene in motion picture “Hell Fighters.” Bob Hosking flew a Bell 47 J3B1 in an action scene, and a Jet Ranger as a camera ship.

In addition to flying charter, Craig Hosking created a talking helicopter routine for air shows called “Otto The Clown Helicopter,” which his father, and mother – Annette Hosking – later got involved with when Hosking debuted his “Double Take” act in 1986.

Double Take involved an S2B Pitts Special with dual landing gear. That’s right, dual landing gear… Landing gear on the bottom of the aircraft where it belongs, and landing gear on “top” of the aircraft to enable Hosking to land and takeoff while inverted.

Double Take was one of the most daring air show acts of all time, and Hosking took years developing it. At first, his peers took a deem view of the act, expressing concern over safety, but there was also a little professional jealously involved. It was one of those unique acts that took the word “boring” out of air shows.

Hosking would takeoff in normal right-side up configuration, then land and taxi to the ramp while inverted. Using a winch to lower himself out of the cockpit, Hosking would get out of his aircraft and waive to the crowd. Later in the air show, Hosking would use the winch to get back into the cockpit upside down, buckle in, then taxi and takeoff inverted. Immediately after takeoff, he would roll right-side up, relieving himself of the discomfort of being inverted for up to 10 minutes, and perform an aerobatic routine before landing right-side up to take his bows again. Hosking performed Double Take from 1986 to 1992 when he decided to devote full time to his Hollywood pursuits.

When Hosking left the air show entertainment industry, his parents took the “Otto The Clown Helicopter” act to new heights. Bob Hosking performed all sorts of stunts using a Hughes 269B – some involving Annette – who also narrated the routine. Working together, they earned the top showmanship award in the air show entertainment industry in 1994.

Craig Hosking’s interest in photography started as a youngster developing photos in a darkroom he set up in his parents’ home. He says that experience gave him a deep understanding of all of the elements involved in capturing images.

Hosking began his career doing camera work in helicopters in 1987 in the motion picture “Black Eagle” starring Shô Kosugi and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Since then he has worked on more than 150 feature films and over 200 television commercials through his aerial production company “Cinema Air” in Burbank, California. Hosking is part owner of the company.

What makes Craig Hosking so good as a camera pilot is that he understands light, composition and how to move the camera, particularly in the third dimension. The natural transition has been into the world of second-unit directing. Hosking has independently created action sequences, as well as artistically beautiful images, on such films as “The Aviator” starring Leo DiCaprio; “The Dark Knight” starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman; “Space Cowboys” starring Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones; “Indiana Jones 4” starring Harrison Ford; “Jurassic Park III” starring Sam Neill and William H. Macy; “Miami Vice” starring Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, and Li Gong; “Alaska” starring Thora Birch; “Water World” starring Kevin Costner; “Sky Fighters” starring Benoît Magimel; “The Kid” starring Bruce Willis; “Executive Decision” starring Kurt Russell and Halle Berry; “The General’s Daughter” starring John Travolta and Madeleine Stowe; “Sum of All Fears” starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman; “Clear and Present Danger” starring Harrison Ford; and for the past 6 years, the television program, “Fear Factor.”

One flying scene Hosking described to the AOPA audience was flying a helicopter down a 45-foot wide street in Chicago with rotor blades spanning 35 feet. Hosking was filming a scene for “Batman Begins” starring Christian Bale and Michael Caine (2005). Hosking performed the same feat on the movie set of “Dark Knight Rises” in Pittsburgh, Pa., starring Christian Bale and Tom Hardy (2012). He was obviously following a straight line painted in the center of the street.

While on location to film “Executive Decision” in 1995, Hosking filmed F-14 Tomcats operating out of Key West Naval Air Station. A Boeing 747 was also in the movie and Hosking filmed the scenes from a Learjet.

Of course how can you film an F-14 unless you have experience flying in one, Hosking asked the U.S. Naval officer in charge of the production. So Hosking got a ride in an F-14 flown by Capt. Dale “Snort” Snodgrass. Snodgrass went on to become legendary as an F-14 demo pilot in air shows, and is today flying an F-86 Sabrejet as a civilian performer.

During their flight in the F-14, Hosking and Snodgrass broke the sound barrier and forgot to turn on their transponder flying over the waters between Cuba and the Florida Keys. As a result, F-15s and F-16s were scrambled to intercept them. While the incident was investigated, it was dropped and filming resumed.

Flying for the motion picture industry is done according to the Federal Aviation Regulations, and standards establish by pilots of the Screen Actors Guild, says Hosking, who urged his fellow pilots not to try any of the stunts they see in the movies.

“We may spend weeks or even months planning and executing those scenes,” Hosking said, and all pilots are experienced in performing stunts and special effects.

For example, shooting the aerial scenes for “The Aviator,” about the life and career of Howard Hughes, involved flying real aircraft, as well as radio-controlled models from a helicopter. Hosking, himself, deliberately crashed three aircraft for that film, but the scenes were well planned and executed to ensure safety.

Not only has Craig Hosking perform stunts and coordinated the aerial scenes for Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford, but he also introduced the actors to flying, and became Eastwood’s personal helicopter instructor.

As a favor to Hosking, John and Martha King of King Ground Schools, tutored Eastwood for his written exam for three days from their home in San Diego. The Kings don’t usually tutor students, but made an exception in Eastwood’s case.

As for Harrison Ford, the actor always had an interest in flying and took a lesson once, but didn’t get serious about obtaining his pilot certificate until one day he decided to join Hosking in the cockpit while the two were flying cross-country.

The tradition of filming from aircraft in Hollywood continues as Craig Hosking’s son, Ryan, is breaking into the business. Hosking’s daughter, Holly, was at the AOPA Summit to hear her dad’s presentation.

For more information about the life and career of Craig Hosking, visit www.hoskingaviation.com.

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