Model Aviation: Building the Hughes XF-11 for The Aviator

Behind The Scenes...

The Aero Telemetry XF-11 – the world's largest and fastest scale model of the Hughes XF-11 aircraft - and ten other airplanes they provided for The Aviator have made their way into Hollywood history in the film's much acclaimed flight sequences. The airplanes flew so realistically that they were featured prominently in the TV and theatrical trailers for the movie, which is a tremendous honor considering the limited amount of content presented during a typical 1-minute or 30 second commercial. Film trailers always strive to put their best footage in front of the audience.

Just days after completing what was, at the time, the most strenuous and difficult part of the project - the flights of the H-1 Racer - Joe Bok and his team were preparing for what was to become the most challenging and renowned radio-control-airplane project in history: building and flying a Cessna-sized scale model of the Hughes XF-11 Reconnaissance Airplane. 

The original airplane was built by Howard Hughes in 1946 and was intended to be a reconnaissance-photographic, twin-boom, high wing monoplane. Gross weight for take-off was roughly 58,000 pounds. The XF-11 had a wingspan of approximately 101ft. Power for the first XF-11 was provided by two Pratt & Whitney R-4360 28 cylinder engines with contra-rotating propellers. The nose area carried several cameras and four more cameras were carried in the rear of the twin fuselages. The XF-11 had a ceiling of over 44,000ft with a range of over 5000 miles and a speed well in excess of 450 mph.

Howard Hughes decided to pilot the XF-11 on its first test flight and after about 2 hours, the starboard contra-rotating propeller failed and sent Hughes careening into a residential area in Beverly Hills, California. The crash was devastating and nearly killed Hughes. Some say he never really recovered from this accident. Although the crash would have serious debilitating effects on Hughes’ health for the rest of his life it never deterred his courage and pioneering spirit. Within a year Hughes took to the air once again as the test pilot on the second XF-11. This flight went as planned and Hughes was pleased with the performance of his new airplane.

The Aviator XF-11

The Aviator Executive Producer, Chris Brigham and Academy Award winning visual effects director Rob Legato, turned to Joseph Bok and his company Aero Telemetry Corporation to design, build, and fly one of the largest scale model airplanes ever to be filmed for a Hollywood epic movie.

The biggest challenge was to provide a flyable model that was large enough to realistically simulate the flight characteristics of the real Hughes XF-11 while maintaining an unprecedented margin of safety in the design.  The proposed 12-week schedule made it extremely difficult to accomplish the task.

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