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Why was there a helicopter in Sundance Square and what’s Tom Cruise got to do with it?

July 24,2018

Star-Telegram news article by Robert Philpot 

Tom Cruise and large helicopters are both things that people usually notice. But the actor managed to keep things pretty quiet recently when he came to Grand Prairie to learn how to fly an Airbus H125 for scenes in “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” which opens this week.

Cruise does his own stunts in the movie, including flying the H125, described by Airbus as a “high-performance machine, fast maneuverable [that] can be operated at high altitudes and extreme temperatures.”

When it came to Sundance Square Plaza on Tuesday, however, the H125 as on the back of a truck. It was lifted off with a crane, then rolled to a spot on the Plaza near the pavilion and Del Frisco’s Grille. It was only there on Tuesday, remaining parked before and during a red-carpet, private screening of the movie, which will be visible to the public this week at the AMC Palace theater in Sundance Square and at scores of other theaters.

The Airbus H125 arrived on the Plaza around 2 p.m. was scheduled to be on the Plaza until about midnight, but that was plenty of time to attract smartphone-wielding gawkers to take pictures of it. The helicopter also plays a pretty significant role in the trailer for the movie.

While spotting the H125 became easy for a few hours on Tuesday, Cruise has proved to be more elusive. Airbus can’t say much about what he did during his training, how much time he spent in North Texas, or his skills as a pilot.

He reportedly dined at at least one North Texas restaurant, but nondisclosure agreements have prevented people from saying on the record where that was — even though he’s no longer here to be pursued by fans or paparazzi.

Fellow pilot Harrison Ford, who comes to North Texas every few years for refresher training, has a son who’s a chef, so Ford usually does a quick tour of Fort Worth restaurants while he he’s here. Although Ford keeps it pretty low-key, he doesn’t keep it a secret, especially after he comes through — he has even been known to pose for photos with restaurant owners and chefs.

According to Airbus, Paramount Pictures approached the company nearly three years ago about the project, because Cruise, who is known for doing his own stunts, specifically wanted to use the Airbus H125 for the movie. 

A little internet digging turned up an article from SyfyWire about Cruise’s training, which says that Cruise took 2,000 hours of practice — “around three months of eight-hour days” — to become a certified helicopter pilot so that he wouldn’t have to do a helicopter chase with a green screen.

And there’s a behind-the-scenes video about the training, although it does not get specific about the helicopter model or where Cruise trained. Both Paramount and Airbus say that special camera rigs were installed on the exterior of the helicopters — so that audiences could see that it was really Cruise in the cockpit.

Airbus chief instructor Tim McAdams, who is based in Grand Prairie, is seen in the video, saying of Cruise, “There are very few students who have his level of dedication and focus.” The clip, however, was very obviously not shot in Grand Prairie. (It was shot in New Zealand.)

Cruise has been a licensed pilot for more than 20 years — of airplanes. Helicopters are a different thing altogether.

“If you’re in an airplane, you taxi out, you’re firmly on the ground, you’re rolling like a car,” say Frank Kanauka, a retired Airbus instructor pilot who was not involved with the movie. “All you have to do is make sure you don’t hit anything and talk professionally and accurately with air-traffic control.

“Flying a helicopter, you are airborne the minute you pull up on what’s called a collective, and you’re hovering. You’re instantly transformed from an on-the-ground, stable condition to a hover position that requires, literally, both arms, both legs to hold yourself in position. That, in itself, is the most frustrating part of any helicopter.”

Kanauka, who lives in Flower Mound, is a fan of Cruise but stresses that he did not work with him on the movie. A former 20-year military pilot who flew in Vietnam and worked for Airbus for 27 years, he was impressed with how quickly Cruise learned to fly a helicopter.

“He had basic airmanship already from his airplane side,” Kanauka says, “which I’m sure helped him greatly. But I can tell you, going from airplanes to helicopters, in my opinion, is much more difficult than going from helicopters to airplanes.”

Three Airbus helicopters are used in the movie: An H225 (seen in the Paris scenes in the trailer), an H145 and the H125, which is used frequently in movies, both on-screen and behind the scenes for filming aerial scenes. Airbus helicopters staff was present during filming to monitor for safety. Thirteen Airbus helicopters were used in the production; according to the video above, the ones on-camera were often only a few feet away from one another while in flight.

According to Airbus, there are more than 1,000 H125s (including earlier versions) in use in North America, where it is a favorite not just of movie studios but. of law enforcement agencies including the Texas Department of Public Safety and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In 2005, an early version of the H125 family (the AS350 B3) broke the record for highest-altitude landing and takeoff — from the summit of Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet.

This is not the first time Cruise has worked with Airbus in the “Mission: Impossible” series (“Fallout” is the sixth film in the series). For 2015’s “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” Cruise flew on an Airbus A400M, described in an article in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine as a “four-engine turboprop design that had its first flight in 2009.”

And by “flew on” the A400M, we mean that Cruise actually flew on it, on the outside, hanging on while the plane takes off, up to 5,000 feet. If that’s not crazy enough, he did it more than once.

“Because the script called for Cruise’s character to wear a tailored gray suit, there was no protection from the cold at 5,000 feet,” notes the Air & Space article, which says that Cruise has been a licensed pilot since 1994. “He performed the stunt eight times before he and [director Christopher] McQuarrie were satisfied they had enough footage to create a thrilling action sequence.”


Location Mentioned: Sundance Square Plaza