Friday, December 19, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Naturally I had to see the latest James Bond movie, despite the poor reviews it has had, and so naturally I have to blog about it, or at least about the parts with airplanes in them. This entry doesn't contain plot spoilers, mainly because the movie doesn't have much of a plot. It was mainly a series of locations and stunts. I do reveal how one of the action sequences ends, and you might be able to infer from the post whether or not the bad guy gets his come-uppance in the end.

James Bond continues to live the high life, and the producers continue their association with Virgin Atlantic, leaving Bond to enjoy a cocktail in the fancy upper deck bar of a VA B747, en route to Bolivia. According to VA, you can actually get the Vesper cocktail on board, or if your first class travel plans don't involve VA, the link includes the recipe so you can mix your own. The scene is shot in a Virgin Atlantic cabin crew trainer near Gatwick. VA doesn't fly to Bolivia, but they did fly a charter to Panama for the film.

Every pilot who has ever flown outside the United States will cringe as Bond butchers the callsign of a British registered Challenger jet, reading off the registration as "Golf Zero Charlie Sierra Delta" when it's clearly a British registered jet, and contains only letters. It has to be "Golf Oscar." It's a mistake that American air traffic controllers make, but Bond is supposed to be a British secret agent, and qualified pilot. There's a slight possibility that the gaffe is an intentional shoutout to sponsor Coke Zero, but I doubt it because the Challenger in question is a real airplane, really operated by Ocean Sky, as it as in the movie, so the callsign is genuine, not scripted. The properties list must have simply called for "a business jet" however, because while Bond departs Haiti in a Challenger, he taxies to the ramp in Austria in a Lear. I guess he did one of his mid-flight air-to-air transfer stunts but it was left on the cutting room floor.

I can't complain about airplanes in this movie though, as the best scene in the movie was a good long segment of aerial combat with Bond in a DC-3 versus the bad guy in a Marchetti. The DC-3 mainly gets shot up, trying to evade its pursuer with some low canyon flying, which was real. Here's a clip showing the DC-3 owner and pilot, Skip Evans, including some shots of them filming the stunt. Yikes. I wouldn't fly like that in any airplane I know, and there he is doing it in a DC-3. That's why the chief pilot reams you out for 'pulling a stunt' when you do something stupid. I'm not criticizing: stunt flying is a whole different standard.

During the chase, smoke starts pouring out of one of the engines and then Bond moves a cockpit lever forward. The smoke increases, blinding the pursuer, and our heroes gain some headway. There's a momentary shot of an aircraft placard reading "feathering pump not fused." Bear in mind that I only saw the movie once, and that there's a known deficiency of the human memory to sequence events that happened in quick succession. At the time I was watching I either didn't notice the smoke before the lever movement, or didn't mark it as unusual --it's a DC-3 after all: I was in the yard of a large DC-3 operator watching flames coming out of an engine during start up, and no one who worked there thought it a noteworthy event. It initially looked like Bond moved a lever forward and smoke poured out of the engine. It had looked like a propeller lever, but I speculated that it was a mixture lever and he was enriching the mixture so much the engine smoked. It wasn't a mixture lever though, so then I'm wondering maybe it was both props, just before increasing throttle, but they cut away before they showed that part?

The "feathering pump" placard had me wondering what that had to do with anything. I found an online DC-3 manual and the Propeller section confirms that the electrical feathering pump indeed has no circuit protection. It is an electric oil pump that uses high oil pressure against a piston in the propeller hub to drive the propeller blades to the feathered position. When the piston reaches the stop, oil pressure continues to increase. At 600 psi the pump trips offline.

More details than most people want on such things, from a Dutch accident report:

The system is powered by an electrically driven gear type oil pump controlled from the cockpit by momentarily pressing the feathering button in the overhead panel. An electrical solenoid will keep the feathering button in the depressed position. This action will activate the feathering pump, which is mounted on the front side of the fire wall. The pump takes oil from a separate part of the engine oil tank and feeds it under high pressure, while hydraulically disconnecting the governor by shifting its high pressure transfer valve, to the propeller blade angle changing mechanism in the propeller dome. This high pressure oil acts on the aft side of the propeller piston forcing the piston to its maximum stop. This movement of the piston turns the blades, via a bevel geared cam and bevel gear segments on the blades, from the actual blade angle through the coarse blade angle range to a blade angle of 88°, which is the feathered position in which the blades are streamlined in the flight direction. When the piston is at this maximum forward position the feathering oil pressure will rise. At about 600 psi a pressure cut-out switch in the feathering oil line, mounted on the governor will automatically switch off the electric power to the solenoid of the feathering button, releasing this button and interrupting electrical power to the feathering pump. Feathering takes approximately four seconds.

In all likelihood, any cockpit lever movements were just an actor moving things to be dramatic, and the placard was just in the shot because it was in the cockpit and required for FAA certification and I wasn't supposed to take anything from any of it. Here's a clip from the scene, but it doesn't show the levers being moved. [The movie was embedded in this blog, but it was redirecting people who didn't have the right plug-ins, so I took it out.]

Here is a clip showing the

At the end of the sequence, Bond pulls the DC-3 up into a vertical climb and then he and the female lead escape out the back using a single parachute, which opens less than ten metres from the ground, but they are both okay. Mercifully the now-unmanned airplane crashes off camera. I didn't want to watch a DC-3 airframe destroyed for the purpose of a movie, even if it was just a junkyard hulk.

From a James Bond movie I don't expect any more than I got in the way of plot. It had a twist, but it didn't make any difference. For me the movie suffered from too much punching and smashing and not enough smarts and witty banter. An added DVD feature for movies could be the optional display of countdown timers during action sequences: Plot Resumes in 3:38, so that those of us who are only interested in who wins the punching know we have time to go to the refrigerator. To be fair, there could be a similar countdown on talky exposition scenes: Action Resumes in 2:59, so the guys would know when it was safe to go for a beer without missing anything they like.

My favourite line came from M, right after what I'll call the unexpected end to their torture session. I won't spoil it, because it may have been the most unexpected moment in the film. I thought the make-up job for one character's supposed burn scar was poor. Until the character history was revealed, I thought it was a coverup for a tattoo on the actress. There was a nice visual and thematic Goldfinger reference, and they did a good job of following that theme through the movie, right to the final revenge.


david said...

When I did some work at DAC/MDC/Boeing in the late 1990s, there were still over 1,000 DC-3s flying, and the employees boasted that while they'd been crashed into mountains in the flog, shot down in wars, blown up by hijackers, etc., no DC-3 had ever crashed because of a design flaw. Tough plane!

I've also read that pilots joke that those big radial engines run on oil instead of avgas (hence all the smoke).

Anonymous said...

American air traffic controllers.......mistakes........surely you jest.

david said...


American air traffic controllers are actually very good (and I'm writing this as a Canadian). I've had unpleasant experiences with a couple of them, but that was a matter of personality, not professional competence.

If it seems like U.S. controllers make more mistakes, it's probably because the U.S. has so much more air traffic than other countries. How many years would it take Icelandic controllers (for example) to come up to the equivalent of one day's air traffic across the U.S.?

Anonymous said...

The reason that there is no circuit protection for the feather pump motor is because the consequences of not being able to feather a prop are approximately as dire as having an electrical fire. It's sort of one step above like having non-trip free breakers on critical circuits

Anonymous said...

David's comments brought to mind an interesting phenomenon of (presumably) Boeing's marketing geniuses. When Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas, some brightspark concluded that now all McD and DC aircraft were "Boeing" aircraft. I recall browsing the Boeing website and reading all about the "Boeing" DC-3, DC-4, DC-6...etc. You could not find a single instance of hte word "Douglas" on the site. I found this particularly interesting, as I was flying the DC-6 at the time. In a move eerily reminiscent of Orwell's 1984, 76 years of Douglas aircraft had disappeared down the memory hole. I had heard that you could purchase in hte Boeing company store, flight bag stickers for the "Boeing DC-3"

At some point, a more intelligent faction at Boeing recognized that this merely made them appear small, petty and dishonest, and today the Boeing website does acknowledge the existence of Douglas and McDOnnell Douglas.

Anonymous said...

American air traffic controllers.......mistakes........surely you jest.
Are you referring to something in particular, or are you making snotty comments about Americans, merely because they're Americans and you feel obligated to make snotty comments?

Aviatrix said...

A phrase in this review seems to have been taken out of context. It wasn't meant to be a snotty remark about American air traffic controllers, but rather a mitigating factor in the embarrassing script error. American ATC, as I'm sure I've said on several occasions, is excellent, but US controllers do make the same error that James Bond, or rather the American script writers, made in the film: they read a non-American callsign ending in OXX as "zero x-ray x-ray". They do this because the third-to-last character of a US callsign cannot be Oscar (possibly US aircraft do not use Oscar in callsigns at all), so they assume it's a zero. Canadian controllers don't make the same mistake because no character of a Canadian callsign can be a zero.

Perhaps Americans can report if their tail numbers ending in zero are ever read by Canadian controllers as "Oscar."

Anonymous said...


I wasn't referring to your comment in the review. Certainly anyone who has read you blog for a while will realize that you're way beyond that sort of behavior. I took your comments in your entry as you intended. I was responding to anonymous' comment, which seemed like a gratuitous cheapshot from someone who has a attitude about the US. Perhaps anonymous will clarify.

Anonymous said...

Relax A squared. Just an old controller who hasn't quite let go. My "attitude" was officially put to rest by Mr Reagan in 1981.

AndyC said...

I'm sure Mr K Perkins of Ramsgate, Kent, the real owner of G0CSD as a call sign (for Amateur Radio) is amused by it being stolen for the film.

Unknown said...

Aviatrix takes the film too seriously!

You're on holiday now (well-deserved! )

Eni fule kno ALL Bond vehicles have levers and buttons for the "gadgets"

Smoke Belcher, Oil chucker, Nail Flinger,ejector seat, etc......just because the usual Pilot or Driver couldn't find the controls, doesn't mean the omnipotent Mr. Bond can't.

I haven't seen a Bond film since the days of Messr.s Connery and Moore (the latter, to me, the quintissential Bond. I could never decide if his half-smile was a smirk, as he hammed it to the max.

Thanks for the links, Trix, Iknow I'm not missing a lot.

@ AndyC...I should imagine there's very little illegal broadcasting on the Amateur bands,nowadays,-the proles have CB and cell-phones ,both being "plug and play"

Anonymous said...

What struck me was the David Clark logo missing from the headset. But then I guess they thought Daniel Craig wearing a headset with a big "DC" on them might look a little odd...

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm not a pilot but I spend many hours on the MS FS 2004 Flight Simulator. I just bought "Quantum of Solace" on Blu-Ray and froze the scene where Bond is operating the throttle levers on the DC-3. I checked with the DC-3 on my Simulator. It has the exact VC cocpit and the levers go from the left Prop RPM. THROTTLES, Mixture. It also has the feathering buttons above and on the sim, they work, so Craig was well briefed on the DC-3 Controls so he coould do the scene in the plane mock-up on the sound stage.