Splash The Zeros!

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In the late 70’s Hollywood producer Peter Douglas, son of Kirk Douglas, had a very promising science fiction script, but was hampered with a limited budget. The plot was an interesting one, a US Navy Nuclear Aircraft Carrier gets caught in a strange storm at sea, and ends up back in 1941. The implications of a state of the art US warship teeming with modern jets and weaponry sitting in the middle of WW2 the very day before Pearl Harbor would spike anyones interest…Amazingly, this story was able to attract the attention of the U.S. Navy, and the full cooperation of the Department of Defense, who recognized the potential of the film as a public relations tool.
The Navy required full adherence to safety in any film sequences involving their crew and equipment, and necessity to maintain operational readiness, and as long as these conditions were met, they were on board. All film schedules would be dependent on the "on location" naval consultant for approval. At the time, the squadron was getting ready for deployment, and for those involved in the film, it would mean losing five additional weeks of time at home with her families.
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Now armed with Three Mitsubishi A6M Zero replicas, originally built for the film Tora! Tora! Tora, 5 super clean F-14 Tomcats in Jolly Rogers colours, one mounted with Panavision cameras, a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter, a converted B-25 bomber, and a Lear jet to be used as specialized camera platforms, Filming commenced at Naval Air Station Key West, Naval Station Norfolk, and off the Florida Keys, over a set of two five-week periods in 1979.
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As Hollywood mixed with the United States Navy, It would seem that the learning process was not reserved for pilots. During a scene being filmed on board the USS Nimitz, a camera, and its operator got too close to a Tomcat on a cat shot, and were blown across the flight deck, thankfully caught by the restraining nets at the end, and again when trying to get that perfect shot sitting behind a Tomcat lighting up its burners on the runway at Norfolk.
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The real fun began when the pilots of VF-84 in their Tomcats started to simulate a dogfight with the Confederate Air Force T-6 Texans dressed up like Mitsubishi A6M Zeros. The pilots of VF-84 requested as much licence as they could as they approached the complications of not only engaging WW 2 warbirds with F-14 Tomcats, but also capturing it on film. Closure speeds, performance envelopes, camera angles, position, lighting, and everything else that might go into a Hollywood production. Certainly a different mission for the pilots of VF-84, but they were determined to make it a success.
In a behind the scenes interview about the filming, pilots of the Jolly Rogers; CO Emory Brown, Richard Stephen “Fox” Farrel, AL “Shoes” Mullen, James “Tex” Houston, Bill “Bull” McCluskey, and Brain “Bear” Tyndall told some interesting stories about their short, and most unlikely time in the Hollywood spotlight.
In once scene, the F-14 Tomcats were meant to introduce themselves to the unsuspecting Japanese Zeros, one flown by war ace Archie Donahue.
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When the Tomcats made their high speed pass, the Zeros were unceremoniously welcomed with a “Bump” by the wake of the passing cats that ripped the aircraft controls free of their hands, with one of the Zeros pilots losing his headset as it went up and out of his open cockpit.
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One afternoon after a day of filming, a few of the Jolly Rogers pilots were back at the hotel sitting with the film director, when Catherine Ross sat down on the other side of the restaurant bar. The pilots asked the director if they could introduce themselves to her, so the director stepped away to speak to Catherine Ross and returned shortly after, and said "she said no she doesn’t want to meet you” This did not sit well with the pilots, with one saying "really we’ll see about that”
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The next morning during filming, one of the F-14s pulled up close behind the film ship and the crew raised a small sign. The next morning both cast and crew assembled to view the dailies when Catherine Ross looked up at the screen and saw plain as day, an F-14 Tomcat in flight with the pilot holding up that sign…and it said "FU Catherine Ross we didn’t want to meet you anyway!”
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As filming continued, another scene needed to be shot simulating a mid air re fuelling. To accomplish this, Al “Shoes” Mullen inched his F-14 snuggly behind the B-25 camera plane with Dave Butler behind the lens. Dave motioned with his foot to “Shoes” to come closer, and closer, and closer, gesturing that he wanted to touch the nose of the Tomcat with his foot. As any pilot knows, static that builds up around an aircraft in flight can be quite formidable. At first refusing the request, “Shoes” finally gave into temptation and bumped up the throttle. As expected, the second the cameraman's foot contacted the nose of the in flight F-14, all the static electricity built up around the Tomcat leaped forward, and through the now more educated cameraman's foot, sending him lurching backwards.
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Then came a day of filming that has reached legendary status in the Navy, and in aviation circles. All you have to do is ask about “That Shot” The set up was a fur ball between the F-14s, and the Japanese Zeros. and in the midst of the epic battle, Richard Stephen “Fox” Farrel pulls into the camera frame, with his nose high, rolls his aircraft onto its back, and drops into a split S with wings outstretched and engines screaming.
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As "Fox" pulled out at what seems to be inches above the white caps below.
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In the final movie release, the sound of the engine was mixed in with the acctual sound of Fox's wife screaming as she watched the video...
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On the night of the Premier the chief of Naval operations was at the reception. After seeing the film, the Admiral said "you guys did one hell of a job! just a beautiful job. We’re going to get some really good showcasing of the F 14 in the US Navy and HOW LOW WAS HE???
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To this day, the breakaway music used by the USS Nimitz played over the 1MC, the "all hands" circuit remains the theme from "The Final Countdown.”

 

 

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2 comments


  • Lorraine Kerti

    Loved this movie. Bought the dvd and watch it


  • Chris Spangler

    Seen this movie when it first came out, awesome flic!
    Don’t know if you guys are still around, but huge Kudo’s to the crew of the Cat that put the sign up for Catherine Ross! Ya did good!
    Chris
    Www.thepoddymelt.com


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