Tom Cruise: Hanging on a Wing and a Prayer

Are you looking forward to the new Mission Impossible movie? I don’t usually talk about Hollywood on here (other than for debunking purposes) but there’s a stunt here that I think you need to be an aviationist to really appreciate.

In Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunter is an IMF operative who assembles a team for one final mission: take down the Syndicate. I have to admit, even just hearing the music makes me instinctively perk up.

Ethan Hunter is played by 53-year-old Tom Cruise. The second trailer show a scene where Ethan Hunter climbs onto the wings to try to get in the aircraft when it takes off, leaving him hanging on for dear life.

The following video should jump straight to the aircraft scene, which starts at the two minute mark:

Turns out, Ethan Hunter hanging onto the side while the aircraft takes off wasn’t done with green screens or stunt doubles. Tom Cruise actually held onto the wing while the A400M took off and the producers have released a one-minute “behind the scenes sneak peek” showing how they filmed it. It’s fascinating:

The aircraft is an Airbus A400M Atlas, a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. It was most recently in the news after a crash in Seville, which may have been caused by a software issue. The aircraft systems are based on the A380 with military modifications, including an infrared enhanced vision system for enhanced terrain view in low-vis and a Multi-Colour Infrared Alerting Sensor missile warning system. It’s a pretty cool plane (other than possibly the software installation).

In the clip, the stunt coordinator asks the obvious question: ‘Why hang a multimillion dollar star on the outside of an aeroplane and fly around in the normal world?’

Tom Cruise and film director Christopher McQuarrie told Yahoo Movies what happened:
Yahoo Movies UK

McQuarrie : While searching for different locations, the production designer James Bissell bought me a model of this Airbus airplane and presented it as something we could use in the movie. I suggested to Tom ‘what if you were on the outside of this thing when it took off’. I meant it as sort of a half joke, but he said back to me: ‘yeah I could do that!

Cruise: I knew I wanted to have an airplane sequence. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. As a kid I remember flying on an airplane and thinking: ‘what would it be like out on the wing or on the side of the airplane?!’

Cruise: Once I was on the side of the airplane that was it. We had a loading station where everyone got in and checked the cameras. Then they wire we me up for sound. Then I’m on. There’s no way to get me off the airplane half way through!

I’m on the side of the plane from the moment the engine starts to the moment the engine shuts down. The climb, the taxi, down the runway, getting the shot, leveling off, turning around and landing. And I did it EIGHT TIMES to get the shot.

I was interested to realise that one of the most dangerous parts of the flight was still on the ground, when Cruise was at risk of being struck by particles coming off the runway. They did their best to clear the area of birds and brushed the runway down. Cruise realised he couldn’t keep his eyes open because of the jet fuel fumes streaming at him from the engine, so they put in a custom full-eye lens to cover his eyes and protect them.

McQuarrie: I’ve never been more stressed my entire life than I was watching that plane take off and land. True to form the big note that Tom gave me before we took off was ‘Just remember if I look like I’m panicking, I’m acting! Do not cut unless I do this’ and he touched the top of his head. Sometimes it was difficult to distinguish one from the other. But the truth of the matter is he had a great time doing it.

The rig for the camera was custom designed for the shot so that they could film while climbing at a steep angle. Airbus and the test pilot worked with the film crew to work out how it could be done. “Anytime you’re using that kind of power from the engines with that speed you want to make sure the camera doesn’t break off and hit me,” said Cruise.

I have to admit, I think once the engines fired up, I’d be thinking this was a pretty bad idea. It’s hard to believe that Cruise did this eight times, before they decided the shot was good enough. A pilot himself with a soft spot for warbirds, his description of the filming sounds straight out of Top Gun:

“When that thing was going down the runway it was everything to keep my feet down, then it went up and my body was slamming on the side. I was like whoa, this is intense.

Intense is probably not the word I’d use. Bloody insane, more like. Still, that scenes done more to peak my interest in the film than anything else they could have done; I’m looking forward to watching it in the cinema.

Category: Fun Stuff,

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