Taking off with the Legends of Flight

4 11 2010

Anyone with an interest in aircraft may appreciate the iMax 3D movie currently being screened at the Omnitheatre. The movie which produced by Canada based Stephen Low, and executive produced by K2 Communications Inc, traces the evolution of flying machines, pausing at some of the more revolutionary moments in the century and a little more of powered human flight, from powered bi-planes to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

While we may be led to imagine that the movie takes a neutral look at the so called legends that have transformed flying machines, the fact that the audience is in fact navigated through the movie by what many would consider a living legend of flight himself, Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot, Mike Carriker, the movie is in effect a promotional video for the Dreamliner. Carriker takes us through many of the considerations taken in the development of the Dreamliner, manoeuvring through conceptual thoughts, mock-ups of Board Room meetings in which Carriker is seen as a key driver of many of the decisions that were taken, to the production shop and test rigs, glossing over many of the problems that were responsible for a two and a half year delay in the programme which took six years from conception to the first test flight. In all this, the legendary aircraft that are featured have minimum screen time, with much of the attention given to the development of what Boeing and Carriker describes as an aircraft so revolutionary that future generations of it would flying some 100 years from now.

The aircraft featured in the movie as seen on the movie poster.

That the Dreamline is a revolution, there is no doubt. Much of the motivation for developing the aircraft was to regain Boeing’s market leadership which was threatened by Airbus’ launch of the Airbus 380 which in exploiting the economy that is associated with scale in arriving a what was, from a fuel economy viewpoint, the most efficient commercial jetliner ever developed. In doing so, as we are shown in the movie, Boeing was determined not just to match the fuel economy of the Airbus 380 with a smaller aircraft for which they felt there would be a greater demand for, but one that will be the benchmark of the future of aircraft. To achieve that vision, many of the legends of flight were looked at from a perspective of what had made them the revolutions of their time. The lessons we have from Nature were also taken on board the many considerations made (Carriker admits that much is still a mystery – and that is what makes it beautiful), with the Albatross which is described as the most perfect flying machine, one that is able to sustain flight for a great length of time with its highly efficient long thin wings, being the inspiration for the wing design. The legends that are featured also include the first powered flight in the form of a piston engine driven bi-plane, the piston engine powered Lockheed Constellation, the Schleicher Glider, the Harrier VSTOL Jet, and the Airbus 380.

The Harrier is cited as one of the legends - its VSTOL capability showing that sheer power and not just aerodynamics alone can be relied on put an object in the air.

In the design of the wings of the Dreamliner, the thin long wings could only be achieved by the extensive use of some of the advanced materials available to us today, primarily carbon-fibre composites, which allows lightweight high modulus fibrous material to be aligned in directions where strength is needed, much like the lightweight materials which were used in the very first sail planes where extensive use was made of lightweight wood and sail material. While carbon-fibre composites is used extensively in military jets to optimise their weight, the extensive use of the new age material in the Dreamliner is in fact a revolution in itself, with the aircraft being the first commercial jetliner to exploit the material fully – aided in part by the leaps and bounds in computing power that now allows extensive and exhaustive analysis to be carried out on a composite structure. The introduction of carbon-fibre composites, we were to find out later, was not without its problems – an unpredicted weakness at the joint of the wing root to the fuselage that only came to light during static tests resulted in a long delay in which titanium brackets had to be retrofitted to the first six units on the shop floor.

The movie does come with stunning 3D effects – one particular scene that is animated takes you on a ride over the rockies with a Schleicher Glider is especially spectacular, and all in all the flow of the movie makes it not just educational, but also quite entertaining with its thrilling virtual flight sequences, something that is well worth making a trip down to the Omnitheatre for. The movie made its debut at the Omnitheatre on 2 November 2010 in a grand premier that was graced by Mrs Lim Hwee Hwa, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Second Minister for Finance and Second Minister for Transport.


About the Legends of Flight:

Directed by Stephen Low, produced by Pietro L. Serapiglia, and executive produced by K2Communications, Inc. in association with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Legends of Flight brings the excitement of air travel to the giant screen through the eyes and experience of The Boeing Company’s Chief Test Pilot Mike Carriker.

Flight-rated in more than 100 aircraft types, Carriker, one of the world’s top test pilots, is the audience guide, interpreter, flight instructor and amiable companion. With him, viewers will enjoy the serenity of soaring through majestic mountain peaks and then feel the sheer exhilaration of a Harrier Jump Jet as it leaps into the sky and rockets to tactical speed. Virtual flights in classic airplanes of the past give way to the film’s highpoint; the drama of being aboard for the world’s most anticipated commercial aircraft’s maiden flight, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Beyond the technical marvel that is IMAX photography – where advanced cameras and technologies add to the superb storytelling abilities of large format cinema – is the film’s innovative use of SANDDE animation. Developed by IMAX co-founder Roman Kroitor, the Stereoscopic Animation Drawing Device (SANDDE) enables Carriker to literally draw in space, allowing the audience to see technical explanations as they appear on the screen and move as an overlay in real time.

In production for more than three years, Legends of Flight will premiere in late spring 2010 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC., followed
by premiere showings in Seattle and Chicago. The film will then begin an international exhibition schedule.

The Stephen Low Company, based in Quebec, Canada specializes in films for the Giant Screen cinema. K2Communications, Inc. serves as Executive Producer and is a leader in
the Giant Screen industry. K2’s extensive IMAX format film library is available internationally. Legends of Flight is the third film collaboration between acclaimed IMAX director Stephen Low and K2. Prior work includes Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag and The Ultimate Wave Tahiti, set to premiere globally in February 2010. A fourth film collaboration – Rescue – is under way.