Historic aircraft in film and TV work

 Over the years many of us have seen the role of historic aircraft in TV and films.  We all have our favourites but this work can make a major contribution to the operation of historic aircraft, particularly in recent years.   This can be for major films, TV series or one that I was involved some time back was for a video for the group Travis – where the lead singer Fran Healey gets strafed by a 109/Buchon.  Very effective visually!

Another TV series which historic aircraft make a contribution was for the very popular Foyle’s War.  As many of you will know, the principal character’s son is a Spitfire pilot. The Historic Aircraft Collection Spitfire BM597 was signed up to provide the Spitfire for filming.

Foyles War filming at Dunsfold (Howard Cook)

Filming took place at Dunsfold and when we got there we had to hold in the overhead as ‘Top Gear’ filming was taking place on the runway.   We then landed and tucked the Spitfire away in the empty Dunsfold hangars which were the former production facility for the Hawk Advanced Trainer.

The following days filming took place using a grass strip and the side of the main asphalt runway.  After the completion of the outdoor filming we moved inside the hangar which was also used as the studio for ’Top Gear’.   We lifted BM597s tail up on a stage unit and helped mount smoke dischargers in front of the aircraft.  This was to simulate the Spitfire flying through cloud.

Foyles War filming in Dunsfold hangar (Howard Cook)

The production team for Foyle’s War were a pleasure to work with and we advised them during the filming, such as radio transmission language, movement in the cockpit etc. (Incidentally when talking with Michael Kitchen he told me that as he had lots of spare time when he was filming Out of Africa in Nairobi, that he learned to fly),

There has been an increasing shift towards the use of Computer Generated Images (CGI) in recent years.  Whilst this is effective for creating scenes such as armadas of aircraft that do not exist any more, from a personal perspective not using the real thing can look artificial and like computer gaming.  A shame when the real thing is available and give it a much greater authenticity.  There are many historic aircraft to choose from and they can make all the difference – in my humble opinion.

Howard Cook
January 2021