Thanks For The Visit !
I would wager that most of you simmers out there enjoy a good aviation related movie. I’d like to give you the heads-up on an “oldie, but a goodie”. “Island in the Sky” was released in 1953 by Warner Brothers in black and white, and was based on the book of the same name by Ernest K. Gann. The film is based on a true story of a flight back in February of 1943. Gann also served as technical director for the film. William A. Wellman directed the movie, and was a veteran of aviation film making, winning an Academy Award for an earlier aviation oriented film called “Wings” back in 1928. Wellman also narrated some parts in the movie. When “Island in the Sky” was finished, it, along with the film “The High and the Mighty” which was made in 1954, (another Wellman/Wayne project) was not released to the public for over twenty years due to legal reasons.
Although the movie is in Black and White (B&W), the cinematography was superb! Archie Stout handled the regular scenes of the movie, and William H. Clothier ran the cinematography of the flying scenes. Both of these men had been praised for the outstanding work they did with the film, and you will easily see why! The flying scenes are absolutely awesome, with some breathtaking shots of the C-47’s with snow capped mountains in the immediate background. I still think that some movies look great in B&W, as is the case with “Island in the Sky”. It brings the harshness of the cold north really to heart with the contrast between the snow, machines and the men.
Island in the Sky
A Movie Review
This is a highly entertaining movie with an outstanding cast of actors, and runs for 109 minutes. Topping the list of actors is John “The Duke” Wayne who co-produced the film, Lloyd Nolan, James Arness (of “Gunsmoke” fame), Andy Devine (you’re sure to recognize this character!) and Harry Carey Jr., who has appeared in many films with John Wayne.
Back in World War II, the United States Government contracted civilian airline pilots to transport much needed supplies to our allies in Great Britain. These pilots were not active military personnel, but retained their civilian status. Their boss just happened to be the US Government. These guys had to be good, since flying the northern Arctic route demanded a high degree of skill. “Island in the Sky” is a movie where the saying “When it rains, it pours” really applies!
Shots from the movie and MAAM-SIM's
Douglas DC-3 with repaint
Now, I don’t want to give the movie away by telling you too much, but I think I can give you a general idea of what transpired, just enough to get you hooked and want to see the film for yourself! It is a film where the outcome of some events that take place will surprise you.
Captain Dooley and his crews find themselves somewhere near the coast of Labrador, in the middle of a snowstorm, with low visibility and severe icing. The only navigation aid that they had at that time was the good old ADF, or Automatic Direction Finder, which relied on a signal being sent and homed in on by the receiving aircraft, in order to establish course and position. This is only the start of more trouble to come. Unable to get a good signal, due to interference from the Northern Lights and other factors, they are unable to determine just where they are.
Icing on the aircraft is a major problem. One of the “special effects” of the movie shows just how severe icing can be, when the build up on the props and the aircraft itself, starts to weigh the aircraft down, and altitude is lost. Chunks are seen from an outside view of the aircraft as pieces of ice break off and slam against the fuselage of the plane, sounding like someone with a sledge hammer trying to beat their way into the aircraft. No amount of alcohol being pumped can keep the ice at bay, and Dooley and his crew find themselves not only lost, but loosing altitude rapidly, with visibility so bad that the co-pilot has to stick his head out the window to look for a break in the clouds. Brrrr!
Onward through the fog!
The crew finally gets site of the ground, but the terrain is not exactly “user-friendly” for an aircraft the size of a C-47, but they do find a level stretch. It looked to me as if they actually flew the C-47 in for a landing in this tree and snow covered terrain. Some of the footage from outside of the aircraft as it comes in for the landing is absolutely fantastic for its time! As the plane descends for a landing, the co-pilot gives Dooley a rather concerned look as the Captain calls for Gear Down. Dooley wanted the option of taking off again I suppose. The entire crew crowded up front to watch as Dooley made his emergency landing. No strapping in, putting the head between the legs, kissing their butts goodbye for this crew!
John Wayne’s portrayal of Captain Dooley, experienced airline pilot with over 15,000 hours, is riveting. This is a role that is not really typical for John Wayne. Yes, he is the “Duke” out and out, but in this role, he shows both strength and self-doubt. John Wayne does not display his usual “tough cowboy” persona in this role, and being a fan, this was riveting all unto itself! One of Captain Dooley’s sayings was “If you take care of your own neck, your crew and passengers would be safe as well”. Makes sense to me!
Now that we can see land, what next???
Once down, (I’ll let you find out for yourself how the landing went), the radioman tries to make contact, but not knowing where they are, the only way other aircraft can find them is by transmitting a signal to lock on to, but, (here’s where it starts to pour!), unable to keep the batteries juiced up, they start to weaken, but not before some of the other pilots, also flying C-47’s, get a rough fix on their position. It narrows the search area down considerably. The batteries finally go kaput, and then rely on a hand cranked emergency radio that sent out a very weak signal.
Short on food, water, and the cold taking its toll, the physical and mental limits of the crew are taken to the extremes. I got cold just watching these guys trying to survive! There are times in the movie when you might find yourself frustrated, exasperated, and on the edge of your seat. These are ingredients for a top-notch movie. But there’s more to the movie than just the downed crew. Flights of C-47’s are organized for search parties, and the actors playing the parts of these pilots did a great job of displaying a sense of camaraderie and devotion that is shared among pilots, even to this day.
The "Duke" keeping an eye out for a place to set her down
Two of my favorite characters, other than the “Duke” of course, are Andy Devine and James Arness, who play pilots of two of the other C-47’s that are involved with the search. Andy Devine does a fantastic job portraying Willie Moon, pilot, who likes to minimize any and all tasks. As an example of this, you will see Devine flying along, and reach into his parka, pulling out one of those “grab-it” gizmos on the end of a short rod. He uses this to reach up to tune the radio and make other adjustments to the aircrafts instruments. He also uses a clothes pin in a unique way as a cigarette holder, clipped to the trim wheel. One other thing, Devine is a candy eating machine, and you will see why in the movie! James Arness gets my vote for the best way to deal with someone waking you up! He gives the innkeeper a toss out the window into a snowdrift. Yep, I can definitely relate!
There were many things that I enjoyed about this movie. Among them was the fact that the actors that were playing the parts of the pilots were evidently advised in the flight operations of the C-47, as can be seen by the occasional trim wheel adjustments, proper flap callouts, and use of alcohol to keep the icing at bay, etc. I was rather impressed by all this. Adding realistic touches was not only utilized in the air operations, but throughout the movie. You can see such things as the ice pick being used to crack the ice on the wash basin water, first thing in the morning! Once again, Brrrrr!
Soooooo…..In my humble opinion, if you like aviation, John Wayne, and classic old movies, I think you’ll really enjoy this one. I would venture to guess that most of you C-47 jockeys out there have probably seen it already, but in case you haven’t, check it out! It’ll motivate you to log some hours on the old Sky Train. About the only thing in the movie that I found was the least appealing, was Andy Devine in a swim suit! Other than that, there really was not much not to like! Sure, there were some flaws with the “cosmetics” of the aircraft, as Mark Beaumont, repainter at large over at Mid-Atlantic Air Museum Simulation (MAAMSIM) pointed out to me, such as parts of the plane changing in appearance from one shot to the next, or the fact that the United States Air Force did not, in fact, take part in World War II, as the livery on the C-47 in the movie suggests. It was the United States Army Air Force at the time. Sharp eyes like Mark will pick up on these things, but to be honest, they really do not detract from the movie at all. All who enjoy flying will enjoy this movie I would think, and if you are a John Wayne fan, you are in for a
treat! The “Duke” performs this role in a very convincing manner, as does the rest of the cast.
The folks over at the Simulation branch of Mid-Atlantic Air Museum (MAAMSIM) were kind enough to not only provide the beautiful and widely used model of the Douglas C-47, Mark went on to offer to do a custom paint job, just for this article, representing the aircraft that Capt. Dooley and his crew flew on. If you look close, you can even see the “Duke” sitting in the pilots’ seat, checking things out! Thanks to Bill Rambow (another member of MAAMSIM) and Mark Beaumont for a great and fun model to fly and a beauty of a paint job! Let me add here that you should really check these folks out, for the proceeds that they receive from the sales of the C-47 go directly to the Mid Atlantic Air Museum for further maintenance and restoration of historic aircraft. Certainly a worthy cause most of us simmers can relate to! You’ll find there’s quite a lot to see over at their site!
As far as freeware goes, there’s that default C-47 sitting there already in your hanger, and if you do a search, there are loads of repaints for it as well. You will also find some freeware models out there of the C-47 with some enhancements, such as one being equipped with the old “Radio Range” system, (dc3cv1.zip), which also happens to include a livery of the Virtual Airlines I belong to, DC-3 Airways.
The region I flew in for the screenshots for the article was in the northeastern part of the United States, and over into Quebec. I flew out of Goose Bay (CYYR), Newfoundland, and Presque Isle, Northern Maine Regional, (KPQI), in Maine, USA, for the majority of the shots you see here. This is a beautiful region to fly in, but the default world in FS leaves a little to be desired. The great montage of shots from the movie and MAAM-SIMS C-47 sporting the “Corsair” livery was done by Mark Beaumont, as well as some still shots of the movie. A neat little utility I used for some of the shots was the Recorder Module 1.3, (recorder_1-3.zip), which enables you to literally fly with yourself! It’s pretty neat and easy to use. Basically, you record one of your flights, and then play it back as AI traffic that you can fly alongside of. Very cool!
I stumbled upon so many sceneries for this region that it would probably fill this magazine from cover to cover with what’s available. One of my favorites though was some of the “Quebec Short Hop” Series of sceneries by Léon Louis. These depict small, bush type airfields situated out in the boonies, and are really meant for the VFR minded simmer. Not really meant for the C-47, but some of these are set in really beautiful areas, and offer some pretty neat eye candy. Most of this stuff has been out there for some time, and is a credit to the devotion to the hobby of flight simming and flight sim development. It’s not hard to get side tracked and find some really neat freeware addons when one is looking for something in particular. That’s how I found these Quebec Short Hops sceneries. There are loads of terrain enhancements and land class enhancements as well. I popped “Quebec” into the search box over in the Avsim library and came up with 14 pages of various freeware, easy as that.
There’s a neat little package by Hugues Caron called am_radio.zip. If you want to fly by the use of ADF, this file will place 37 Alaska, 2 Yukon, and 84 Quebec AM radio frequency stations in the stated regions for even more nav aids to follow. This was easily installed and all who fly in the sim should try, at least once, navigating by the use of ADF only. It’s not as hard as you may think and really gives you a feeling of accomplishment when you are able to find your way by using the “old ways”! It will also give you an appreciation of how these guys had to find their way in some of the most adverse conditions on the globe.
I hope you enjoy the movie as much as I did, and still do! Have a great flight, and don’t forget the popcorn!
Here are some more screen shots for you. Thanks again Mark for the still shots from the movie itself!
Trees, trees, and more trees!
Full flaps, gear down, head between knees, kiss butt goodbye!
Some beautiful terrain if you're not to busy with surviving!
I know you said you were down beside a lake, but which one???
Just a nice clear patch of ground,
that's all I ask for!