OK, I know it’s sad to get upset when Hollywood yet again refuses to do any kind of research and just ploughs ahead with its own take on how the world operates, but I’m pretty sure any professional, be you pilot, doctor, soldier or engineer, has at least once in their life seen a blockbuster Hollywood movie re-write the reality of their job. This is not always the case; there is an excellent BBC radio series in the UK called ‘Cabin Pressure’, where you can tell that the writer has spent a few minutes researching procedures to make the stories as realistic as possible, or, at least as realistic as a situation comedy can be expected to be.
So, here are just a few bothersome movie moments!
1) ‘Die Hard 2’
I will be the first to admit I love the ‘Die Hard’ films - what red-blooded male doesn’t? But when it comes to even a vaguely factual representation of how an aircraft flies an instrument approach they just completely miss the mark. Programming the ILS (instrument landing system) to make the plane crash short, is not only impossible using just a computer, but would take days with a highly specialised aircraft flying numerous approaches calibrating the system. Not to mention the fact that most aircraft are fitted with radio altimeters giving a constant readout of the aircraft’s height above the ground, or the numerous fail safes we use when flying an approach. For example, at a certain distance from landing being at a specified height, the radio altimeter will read out your heights, generally 500ft, your minimum decision height, then 50ft, 40, 20, 10. Believe it or not, it is actually possible to get a misleading signal on an instrument approach, which could cause an accident, but that is why, as professionals, we use various fail safe checks to stop this from happening.
2) ‘Executive Decision’
Where do I start with this travesty? It was all going so well up to the point when Steven Segal fell to his death. Firstly, why would a 747 have a hatch for boarding a counter terrorist team (or anyone else) in its belly - and why would they need to use a stealth fighter to avoid detection? Your standard airliner has no active radar; sure it has a system called TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) which would detect an inbound aircraft (which has saved countless lives alerting pilots to an unseen approaching aircraft on a collision course) but all you need do is switch off the TCAS in your plane and, hey presto, invisible to the 747! No need for a modified stealth fighter at the cost of billions to the tax payer no doubt!
How convenient also that there was so much room in the cargo hold for the team. Next time you go to an airport you won’t struggle to see big silver containers being loaded into your aircraft; these have all your bags on board, and believe me, once fully loaded, there is no room for a rat to move, let alone a six man navy seal team with all its gear.
3) All the other movies
‘Flightplan’ with Jodi Foster. OK, I accept that in this case they used a plane which doesn’t exist, but come on. Did you see the size of the room housing the computer? It was huge! What aerospace engineer isn’t going to look at all that empty space and think, hold on, we could squeeze another tonne of baggage in here … or 30 more seats?
‘6 Days 7 Nights’ with Harisson Ford when they rebuilt a de Havilland Beaver using the floats from an old Japanese float plane and some bamboo. The only thing realistic about this was the fact it crashed at the end.
‘Goldeneye’ (which is easily one of my top favourite Bond movies) in the beginning with the Pilatus Porter going into a nose dive off the cliff and James bond flying through the air to catch it. Now this has been done - search on You tube and there is a film of a skydiver jumping out of one plane and getting back into it. The problem is that planes are generally designed to fly, not to crash, and James Bond would’ve been severely disappointed when he jumped off the cliff on his motorbike to see the plane happily flying away straight and level!
Brilliant, in every way – at least it doesn’t pretend to be realistic! The conversation in the cockpit before they take off is genius, with the crew members getting confused by the radio calls, and the hostess making the announcement, “We hope you enjoy the rest of your flight - by the way is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?”
Or near the end where they say, “Could everyone please take crash positions,” and all the passengers start screaming and lying upside down on their chairs.
PS I wish my autopilot was inflatable. It would make for much more interesting flights, rather than being a boring little box with buttons on it. And don’t call me Shirley!