Success has many Fathers...Failure has but one.
A well said Old English Proverb which means that certain shameless credit creeps, from a studio in Los Angeles that is no longer in business, have always tried to take credit for other people's successes. But none of those same people would have accepted responsibility for any failure, and more importantly none of them had the ability to design and build something that actually had to do something truly functional, other than sit on a steel cart in front of a green screen and do nothing.
The primary scale airplane models used during filming the flying sequences for the Academy Award winning film The Aviator were the Spruce Goose and the XF-11; both miniatures were designed and built by Joe Bok, a FAA Licensed Pilot and his company, the Aero Telemetry Corporation.
The Aviator project from its inception was a high-stakes, high-risk effort. That's why Academy Award winning Director, Martin Scorsese and his executive producer contacted a man whose company had experience doing precisely that type of "mission-critical" work with large Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV's) and precisely why, after meeting with him, they were willing to give it a try. Joseph Bok and his company Aero Telemetry design, build, and fly unmanned airplanes as well as manufacture the electronic systems required to fly them.
If any of the unmanned airplanes that Aero Telemetry built for Martin Scorsese's $110 million dollar Aviator movie project had crashed or caused an accident, it would have been front-page, worldwide, and controversial news. The responsibility would have rested squarely and singularly on Joe's shoulders.
Joe Bok's team had to overcome many obstacles to attain the tremendous success they had with their Aviator airplane designs. The outstanding way in which the planes performed and the breathtaking flight sequences that were captured on film, prove the Aero Telemetry XF-11 has earned its rightful place as one of the most successful unmanned airplanes in Hollywood film history.
CG animations of airplanes in flight have been almost completely unbelievable, even to an untrained eye, and almost laughable to watch especially within the context of a big budget Hollywood film. This problem was made worse, based on the limited CG animation and static model motion control technology of 2004. Ask any real pilot what they think of the ridiculous airplane scenes for the movie Pearl Harbor and see if they don't roll their eyes and shake there head in disgust. For the flyable sequences in The Aviator it was required that a very convincing and realistic flyable airplane had to be built. The Aero Telemetry XF-11 mission was to fly safely at extended ranges such that realistic flight sequences could be viewed and filmed from an aerial platform. The mission would require that the airplane fly at speeds in excess of 100 mph and at ranges of up to 5 miles. Flyable scale models lend themselves to production flexibility with respect to filming locations and cost. The models are less expensive and far more believable than CG or static models shot against a green screen, plus they can be operated at various areas and altitudes that are not normally available to their full-scale counterparts.
The XF-11 fuselage sections, as well as each and every other component used to fly the XF-11, were either designed by or built 100% by Joe Bok's team of engineers and craftsmen. The patterns and castings were primarily made of fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin, which were then reinforced with carbon fiber cloth tape. Aero Telemetry also provided several additional castings for smaller parts. The fuselages, center cockpit pod, and many of the other composite parts and components used on the flyable XF-11 were laid up by Aero Telemetry personnel. This process required that the parts were reinforced with carbon fiber and HexCell materials in a manner that was consistent with acceptable Aerospace structural design. Fortunately, this process was well documented.
The airplane required the use of a “one of a kind” high-pressure hydraulic system to actuate the retractable main and nose landing gear. The uplink control system featured many of Aero Telemetry’s own electronics subsystems such as RF Amplifiers and antennas. Critical structural sections of the XF-11 were made from or reinforced by carbon fiber and/or machined 6061 Aluminum parts. The fuselage sections contained both the fuel tanks and the back-up electrical and hydraulic systems that actuated the retractable landing gear.
WINGSPAN: approximately 26 ft
LENGTH: approximately 16.25 ft
WEIGHT: approximately 550 lbs
ENGINE: Two, twin cylinder 2-stroke drone engines modified to 273cc
SPEED: Up to 125 mph
ALTITUDE: Up to 10,000 feet.
RANGE: up to 10 miles radio range with approximately 20 minutes of fuel
The plane was flown several times at both San Bernardino Airport and Catalina Island Airport in California. during the flights, the Hughes XF-11 was filmed by a manned Jet Ranger III helicopter equipped with a gyro-stabilized film camera. As a fitting testament to how amazing the footage really was, shots of the XF-11 flying were used in both the Television Trailers for The Aviator movie and the film sequence used to introduce the movie at the 77th Academy Awards ceremony. Due to its size, speed, and excellent flying characteristics, Joe Bok’s XF-11 airplane made the flying sequences simply spectacular! The background at Catalina Island provided a historically accurate picture of the way the Los Angeles area looked during the 1940’s.