Dr. Roscoe Brown on the Aerobatics of Red Tails
The aerial scenes in Red Tails are the most dramatic that I've seen in a
movie. The filmmakers went to the extra effort to ensure they captured, as truly
as possible, what we faced in the air. The movie puts the audience behind the
stick of a World War II fighter plane and plunges them into the thick of aerial
I was in Prague when the film was shooting. I was one of the Airmen who
taught these young actors how to sit in the cockpit, and how to move like
fighter pilots. When you're flying a single-engine fighter plane and the seat is
so small that you have to squeeze into it, you're sitting like a racecar driver
behind the wheel. You begin to identify with the characteristics of the plane.
When the plane moves right, you move right; when the plane moves left, you move
left. You always have your head on a swivel, looking for enemy fighters.
One of the first things I had to teach the actors was to smooth out their
actions. Basically, their moves started off as more spastic and sharp. As a
pilot, you make definitive moves, but you move slowly and steadily with equal
pressure. People who aren't accustomed to that want to move the stick over real
fast, or are very tense. Part of being a pilot is being able to move that stick,
keep control, keep the nose up, and still feel very comfortable. It's like being
a dancer, in a sense.
It's something your muscles don't forget. It's instinctual pilot training,
especially after flying for hundreds and hundreds of hours. When watching one of
the scenes in the movie where the fighters are coming at each other, and the
pilot has to break, I pulled my right arm just as I would, and pushed my right
foot, just as I would, while sitting in the theater.
It all feels very real. In the scene where Lightning blows up the train,
that's exactly what I did, including getting some debris into the plane. In
fact, I was worse than he was. I actually flew into the train I was shooting at,
and it knocked off half of my wing! I very much identified with that.
Seeing Red Tails, it's gratifying to see and hear how well an audience
responds to the action. They just cheer. They really feel involved with us, and
the challenges we faced. After all these years, people are not only recognizing
what we did, but are also getting to feel some of what we felt thanks to the
action on the screen.
Audiences cheer when we shoot down planes, the same way we reacted when we
were overseas. When we flew, we had gun cameras that would take a picture of
what we're shooting at. After we came back from missions, we'd get everyone
together and watch our combat films. Our task was to destroy those enemy planes
and locomotives, and when you did it in a very dramatic fashion, your fellow
pilots and airmen would cheer. And that's the experience of congratulations and
camaraderie I felt again in the theater.
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