Tallmantz Phoenix P-1
|Tallmantz Phoenix P-1 as seen in the film|
|First flight||29 June 1965|
The Tallmantz Phoenix P-1 was an FAA-certified one-off aircraft built for the 1965 film production The Flight of the Phoenix and used in the picture's initial aerial sequences. Its pilot, Paul Mantz, died in an accident during a touch-and-go made to simulate a takeoff, after which it was replaced by a crudely modified North American O-47A.
Design and development
In late 1964 or early 1965 Tallmantz Aviation Inc. of Orange County, California was hired by 20th Century Fox to supervise the aerial sequences for their upcoming film, The Flight of the Phoenix. Paul Mantz and Frank Tallman, the owners of Tallmantz Aviation, were well-known movie stunt pilots, but in order to provide a realistic movie "prop", they hired Otto Timm, a highly respected aeronautical engineer and designer to create a new aircraft.
Timm, following the storyline of the movie, designed a remarkable hybrid using parts cannibalized from a number of aircraft to resemble what could be constructed from pieces of the Fairchild C-82 Packet that featured prominently as the "crashed" aircraft in the desert.
The "Tallmantz Phoenix P-1" was made up of:
- North American T-6 Texan engine, cowling, propeller, undercarriage wheels and cockpit controls
- Beechcraft C-45 Expeditor wings,
- North American L-17 Navion wheel used as the P-1's tailwheel.
- Tallmantz-designed and constructed fuselage, wing roots and skids
The Tallmantz workshops near Santa Ana, California, built an open cockpit fuselage consisting of a tubular steel framework surrounded by circular wooden bracing frames with a plywood covering, and the tail section was similar in construction. The skids were scratch-built from steel parts while wire bracing was added, made from clothesline to intentionally create a "flimsy" look. Although wheels were used, they were camouflaged in the final print of the film in order to make it appear that the aircraft was fitted with skids only.
A second Phoenix static/ground run model was built up from Fairchild R4Q-1 Flying Boxcar (a USMC version of the C-119C) components and was extensively used for ground shots, even running up its engine. This was a non-flying prop that the Phoenix P-1 very closely resembled.
Principal photography started 26 April 1965 at the 20th Century Fox Studios and 20th Century Fox Ranch, California. Other filming locations were at Buttercup Valley and Pilot Knob Mesa, California. The flying sequences were all filmed at Pilot Knob Mesa, Winterhaven, located in Imperial Valley, California, on the northern fringes of Yuma, Arizona.
Besides the Phoenix P-1 prop, a number of other movie models were used, including:
- Fairchild C-82A Packet, N6887C — flying shots.
- Fairchild C-82A Packet, N4833V — outdoor location wreck.
- Fairchild C-82A Packet, N53228 — indoor studio wreck.
- Fairchild R4Q-1 Flying Boxcar, BuNo. 126580 — non-flying Phoenix prop.
Although Frank Tallman had flown the Phoenix P-1 for the first aerial shots on 7 July 1965, he injured his leg in a freak go-kart accident with his young son and was hospitalized. Second unit director Oscar Rudolph called for another takeoff shot to ensure he had "The Shot", a common practice in the film industry. Paul Mantz, who had completed the majority of the trial flights in the P-1, volunteered to stand in for his partner.
During filming on 8 July 1965, Mantz tried to simulate a takeoff by making a "touch-and-go". As Mantz came in for another low camera pass, his rate of descent at 90 mph exceeded the plane's structural capacity. The modest impact of the touchdown, coupled with the sudden drag caused by the aircraft's cobbled skid/wheel landing gear, caused the boom section behind the wings to fail, propelling the nose section forward, with the P-1 breaking up violently, killing Paul Mantz instantly. Stuntman Billy Rose, also on board, was thrown clear and survived with a broken shoulder and pelvis.[N 1] It should be noted the tail boom cracked just aft of the wing as the right skid hit the ground while the left skid and tail wheel were still in the air. Note the rising dust only from the right skid and the boom was half way cracked through. Refer to photo #6 from http://www.check-six.com/Crash_Sites/Mantz-P1.htm.
In the subsequent accident investigation, a number of factors were identified, including Mantz's misjudgment of the "pullout" speed of the Phoenix P-1. He had to contend with a nose-heavy configuration, with no flaps or adequate trim to slow the aircraft in its final descent. Investigators also assumed that Mantz may have been impaired by alcohol consumption. But due to the area they were in, there was a delay in the toxicology report, in which the blood alcohol content can read incorrectly higher.
Mantz's body was flown back to Orange County in his B-25 camera plane, N1203. The last credit of The Flight of the Phoenix pays tribute to Paul Mantz.
Although principal photography "wrapped" on 13 August 1965, in order to complete filming, a North American O-47A ms/n 25-554 from The Air Museum in Claremont, California was modified and used as a flying Phoenix stand-in. With the canopy removed, a set of skids attached under the fuselage as well as a ventral fin added to the tail, it was a poor but necessary stand-in. Filming using the O-47A was completed in October-November 1965. It appears in the last flying scenes, painted to look like the earlier Phoenix P-1.
The final production used a mix of footage that included the O-47A, the "cobbled-together" Phoenix, and Phoenix P-1.
Specifications (Phoenix P-1)
- Crew: one
- Capacity: one passenger
- Length: 42 ft 0 in (12.80 m)
- Empty weight: 4,550 lb (2,064 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney Wasp R-1340-AN-1 9-cylinder air-cooled radial engine, 600 hp (450 kW)
- Sixty-four year old Billy Rose, considered the "dean of Hollywood stuntmen" had been involved in an accident on Mantz's first stunt flying assignment for the film industry. He had accidentally "blanked out" the controls on that flight. With the Tallmantz Phoenix P-1, Mantz had made sure that Rose's lashed-down position on the wing would not affect the flight.
- Dwiggins, Don. Hollywood Pilot: The Biography of Paul Mantz. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967.
- Dwiggins, Don. "Paul Mantz: Kingpin of the Hollywood Air Force." Air Classics Vol. 11, no. 10, October, 1975.
- Elleston, Trevor. Flight of the Phoenix. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004 (reprint of 1964 edition). ISBN 978-0-06-076222-3.
- Hardwick, Jack and Schnepf, Ed. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies." The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
- Moore, Kevin. "The Tallmantz Story and the Carpetbaggers." Air Classics Summer Issue, no. 2, 1964.
- Oriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
- Schiller, Gerald A. "Hollywood's Daredevil Pilot." Aviation History Vol. 13, no. 6, July 2003.
- Taylor, John, W.R., ed. Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1965-1966. London: Jane's All the World's Aircraft, 1967. ISBN 0-7106-1377-6.