Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag (IMAX film)


Today I checked out an Imax movie “Fighter Pilot” at the National Air and Space Museum in the Smithsonian on the Mall, in the Langley Imax theater. The film comes from the Stephen Low Company and K2 Productions. Stephen Low focuses on Imax documentaries but could believably expand into other documentary areas and become a significant player in independent film. Stephen Low has an important new documentary coming about global warming, "Cool Planet".

In this time of reduced personal money for travel, this film rewards the viewer with stunning views of the Nevada desert (more or less around “Area 51”) north of Las Vegas, as viewed by fighter pilots on a “Operation Red Flag” maneuvers with other NATO countries. The mountain, canyon and mesa desert scenery varies; sometimes it is surprisingly green, with a little snow, in late October.

The documentary is told from the viewpoint of Captain John Stratton, but the most charismatic figure is Major Robert Novotny, who, looking under 30, is always giving out firm orders, sometimes from an AWACS plane, sometimes from a stage, keeping the maneuvers coordinated.

There are plenty of female pilots, but relatively few African Americans. There are many scenes in maintenance, with many female airmen, doing the hard work of retooling engines overnight or of setting up ordnance.

One point of the maneuvers is that pilots who survive the first ten battles are more likely to survive combat for their entire career. Novotny is always warning pilots (who are commissioned officers, some of them from the Air Force Academy) of small mistakes that can kill them. I presume that the near-misses in the early parts of the maneuvers were “referee deaths” and not real ones. The final exercise is practiced with real ordnance.

In one surprise maneuver, Stratton must bail out and survive and evade capture in the desert. When he is rescued, the chopper goes through elaborate procedures to make sure he is not the enemy.

There is also a demonstration of fire-fighting. Mannequins are pulled from a burning jet, and given CPR. The mannequins look like crash dummies (and look a bit smooth and alien) that sometimes are used as an explanation for “Roswell.”

Most of the fighters are two-seaters, with a pilot and copilot. Sometimes the cockpit is open. I think it would have been interesting to see the medical aspects of the pilot training and monitoring.

The film shows harmonious unit cohesion at all times.

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