Aviation documentaries headed to a screen near you

March 12, 2009

“Lights, camera, action!” Documentaries focusing on yesterday’s fearless aviators and today’s passionate pilots are slated for completion this year and next.

Documentary producer Heather Taylor Documentary producer Heather Taylor is finishing 'Rag Wing Derby.'

Documentary producer Heather Taylor is finishing Rag Wing Derby, the story of the first Women’s Transcontinental Air Race, held in 1929. The film tells the story of the 20 pilots, including Pancho Barnes, Amelia Earhart, Louise Thaden, and Bobbi Trout, who flew from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland, Ohio. The race was not without peril for the pilots, some of whom experienced emergency landings, carbon monoxide poisoning, and even suspected sabotage of their aircraft. Humorist Will Rogers dubbed the race “The Powder Puff Derby,” and the name stuck. Taylor says that several of the participants considered that a derogatory term, and so she searched for an alternative title. Rag Wing Derby is meant to evoke the wood-and-fabric airplanes of the era. You can view the trailer online.

“The documentary is my way of contributing to aviation,” says Taylor. “It’s such a neat community.”

She has been working on the film for 11 years, mostly during her spare time producing film and video for Discovery Communications and ABC/Kane Productions, working on such shows as The Croc Hunter, Monster Garage, Deadliest Catch, and American Chopper. Rag Wing Derby is no longer a pet project, but a full-time job: 18 months ago, Taylor left Discovery to form her own company, Archetypal Images.

With filming almost completed, Taylor hopes to screen the film at EAA AirVenture to tie in with the eightieth anniversary of the race. She plans to self-distribute the documentary, saying that she wants the integrity of the project to remain intact.

“The focus to me is that these women had a dream and they wouldn’t let anybody stop them,” she says. “It’s that inspiration I want to get across.”

She would like to show the film at festivals, airshows, on public television, and eventually traveling museum exhibits. Incidentally, Taylor is looking for sponsors and contributors. She has obtained fiscal sponsorship through the International Documentary Association (IDA), which means that all contributions made through IDA are tax-deductible. See the Web site for additional details or to contribute.

Taylor is not a pilot, but she has familial ties to aviation: Her father, George Taylor, AOPA 876476, owns a Cirrus, and brothers Tripp and Mark are pilots as well. She flies with them often.

A Pilot’s Story due out in 2010

Will Hawkins will tell you that filmmaking and flying are two of his passions. So it was only natural that he and flying buddy Rico Sharqawi, the forces behind Wilco Films, would combine the two for a documentary about aviation.

Utilizing aerial footage and interviews with well-known aviation figures as well as regular Joe and Jane Pilots, the film aims to show the rest of the world that “aviation is an amazing thing that can take your life in some really amazing places,” says Hawkins. “It can take you to the FBO where you’re talking with people, but also to the international space station and beyond. It all starts with this thing called general aviation.”

Hawkins has been blogging and podcasting his aviation experiences since he first began learning to fly in 2006. Accordingly, he has been blogging about A Pilot’s Story on his blog as well as for AOPA’s Let’s Go Flying. Photos and a trailer can be viewed on the film’s Web site, and Hawkins also maintains a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

A Pilot’s Story is ready to begin shooting air-to-air footage, and the crew is traveling around the country to get interviews with pilots.

“It’s great to talk to California pilots,” says Hawkins, “but I want to talk to Florida, Wisconsin, Wichita [pilots]—any pilot who has a good story and wants to share it with the world.”

Airshow performer Julie Clark and Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson have been interviewed. Also on the list are Sean D. Tucker and Patty Wagstaff, Southwest Airlines’ Capt. Kathy Jensen, John and Martha King of King Schools, Miles O’ Brien, and more. Hawkins says he’ll also be talking with representatives of groups that use aviation to help the world, including Angel Flight, Able Flight, Build a Plane, and Young Eagles.

The goal is to get the film finished early in 2010 and release it at Sun ’n Fun, Hawkins says. Some sponsors have been acquired, including Virgin America, Scheyden Eyeware, and Lightspeed. Contributions are welcome; see the Web site for details. Hawkins said he plans to give some of the proceeds of sales back to the aviation community.