Pilots: Corkey Fornof

Shaken, but not stirred in Bond films

June 1, 2013

Corkey FornofIf Paul Mantz and Frank Tallman were the household names of Hollywood stunt flying in their day, then surely Corkey Fornof took up that mantle and has worn it ever since. Fornof has worked on 46 films and nearly 1,000 television shows and commercials. You’ll see his influence in Six Days, Seven Nights with Harrison Ford, Mission Impossible 2 with Tom Cruise, and the James Bond films License to Kill, Moonraker, and Octopussy. Now in his forty-sixth year in the business, Fornof is the owner of Acrostar Productions.

Born John William Fornof in Louisiana, he grew up with airplanes and counts as his mentors his father, Bill, and Bob Hoover. Bill Fornof had flown for the U.S. Navy in World War II. He owned a car dealership and was active in airshow flying, and Corkey earned money for flying lessons by washing airplanes. He learned to fly in a T–6, flew a P–51 Mustang back and forth to college, and says he managed to avoid marching drills in ROTC by giving rides to the colonel of the command.

Fornof earned a business degree and joined the airshow circuit. “I got a call from a friend of ours who said Sports Illustrated has a TV show and they need somebody to do aerobatics in a Mustang and take them up. I did that job, two weeks later was offered another job, and the phone never stopped ringing.” He has executed more than 2,600 low-level aerobatic performances.

Fornof’s work as stunt pilot evolved to that of aerial director—he would create the stunts, recommend airplanes and acquire them, and oversee the sequence to ensure that safety standards were met. The Bond films were fun to make, he says, because he was pretty much given free rein. Thus the sequence in License to Kill in which Bond, in a helicopter, uses a hook and cord to grab a villain in a Cessna 172 out of the sky.

Mission Impossible 2 required two JetStars—one flying, one built out of a junk yard. “When the art department finished, they had the chief pilot come out and he could not tell the difference between the two airplanes,” he says. “I’ve seen them put bullet holes on airplanes with just paint that you’d swear were real.”

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, working with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg on ground-breaking computer-generated imagery (CGI), Fornof began to see the writing on the wall. CGI meant “it was going to be the end of the fun flying,” he says. He helped the directors improve CGI so that it could more accurately capture the three-dimensional nature of aircraft movement, fully realizing he was putting himself out of a job. There’s still a need for an aerial director with his vast knowledge, however, to choreograph scenes, ensure they look authentic, and create background shots, called “plates.”

Fornof considers himself “very blessed and fortunate to be in this industry. It’s taken me around the world and every continent on Earth except Antarctica.”