Airport Movie Series Revisited
By Phillip Nicholson & Rick Aero
One of the first movies to enter the 1970’s disaster genre was the thriller Airport, based on the popular Arthur Hailey book of the same name. Set against the backdrop of a paralysing snowstorm at fictional Lincoln International Airport. A Boeing 707 trapped in the increasing snowfall closes the main runway, Trans Global Flight 2 “The Golden Argosy”, departs for The Eternal City, amongst the passengers a widowed habitual stowaway and an unbalanced demolition expert whose plan is to bring down the flight, all this creates a catalogue of difficulties for overworked airport manager Mel Bakersfield. Minute by minute the situation increases in severity and an explosion rocks Flight 2. Crippled with the damage, the flight crew faces the ultimate life or death decision of having to return to Lincoln! As the wounded bird soldiers on, mechanic Joe Patroni has used up all available resources to free the 707 trapped in the snow, finally he try’s one last option pushing the engines to well above their capability and frees the airliner just in time as the damaged Golden Argosy approaches and touches down on the reopened primary runway.
After the $100 million dollar success of Airport, Universal Pictures released a sequel entitled Airport 1975. Columbia Airlines Flight 409 operated using a 747 on a red-eye route from Washington to Los Angeles, is involved in a midair collision with a light aircraft. Two of the flight crew are permanently incapacitated and the Captain is blinded by flying debris, sending the flight into instant chaos. The chief stewardess Nancy Pryor rushes to the flight deck and is immediately greeted by devastating circumstances. It’s now up to her to try and salvage some normality for the passengers, amongst them, a gravely ill child awaiting a life-saving transplant. Joe Patroni’s wife, son, and Hollywood legend, Gloria Swanson. With the help of the Salt Lake control tower, Nancy is able to perform basic onboard manoeuvres. The 747 then begins to lose fuel and radio contact is abruptly lost, faced with the ultimate task the ground rescue team have no choice but to attempt a dangerous air-to-air recovery. When the initial rescue fails, another is tried, this time with Captain Alan Murdock– on successful completion he takes control of the 747 and performs an emergency landing at Salt Lake City International where the flight attendants evacuate the aircraft to an array of waiting for rescue vehicles.
Release Date: March 11th, 1977
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant, James Stewart, George Kennedy, Brenda Vaccaro, Christopher Lee, Joseph Cotten, Olivia de Havilland
Once again due to the massive success of Airport 1975, which made over $45 million at the box office, Universal released a third movie in the Airport franchise. Wealthy philanthropist Philip Stevens is having a reception at his estate in Florida and arranges for a number of high profile guests to travel there via his luxury modified 747. Aboard are also some rare works of valuable art. Such a sought after collection attracts a group of thieves headed by the co-pilot Bob Chambers. After departure, the thieves temporarily disable the passengers & crew with noxious gases. Disappearing into a foggy Bermuda Triangle, a chain of catastrophic events follow including hitting an offshore drilling platform, an engine fire and skimming the ocean thus leading to the eventual sinking of the 747. Knowing rescue is slim due to them being off course, Capt Gallagher tries a daring escape, entering the main cargo area he manages to release a dinghy which omits a distress beacon. A Navy search and rescue ensues and a risqué procedure occurs, surrounding Flight 23 with large balloons, they raise it to the surface just long enough for the occupants to be rescued in a flotilla of rescue boats.
Airport '79:The Concorde
Release Date: August 17th, 1979
Starring: George Kennedy, Alain Delon, Susan Blakely, Robert Wagner, Sylvia Kristel, Eddie Albert, David Warner
Produced on a very large budget (at the time) of $14 million, it earned a little over $13 million in box office sales thus ending the huge financial success and making it the final movie in the franchise. Federation World Airlines has just acquired its first Concorde which will make its inaugural commercial flight from Washington DC to Paris and Moscow, as a goodwill gesture prior to the 1980 Olympic Games. Journalist Maggie Whelan receives top secret documents conclusively and unequivocally confirming her lover, Kevin Harrison president of Harrison Industries has made sales of illegal arms. To prevent a damaging media exposé against him and his company, he plans to destroy the Concorde’s maiden flight which she is booked to fly on with a specialised computer laden drone. Captain’s Metrand & Patroni combine all their years of flying experience and save the graceful bird despite repeated attempts by Harrison to destroy her. In one final last ditch attempt the cargo door is ripped off after being tampered with. With the aircraft damage increasing in severity, the flight crew try and stay in control, flying towards a ski area, Metrand makes the decision to make a gear up emergency landing in the snow. After successfully reaching the mountainside, the Concorde is evacuated just in time as the fuselage collapses and explodes due to leaking fuel.
Airport Franchise Facts
• Only one Boeing 707 was used in the production, it played the part of the snow trapped 707 & of The Golden Argosy. N324F, was leased from Flying Tigers and sported an EL AL blue cheatline with fictional Trans Global Airlines titles & tail.
• Filmed on location at Minneapolis- Saint Paul Int’l a display in the terminal shows stills from the field and terminal and the caption “Minneapolis legendary winters attracted Hollywood here in 1969”.
• The 747 used in the film was leased from American Airlines at a cost of $30,000 per day. All landing shots in Salt Lake City, aerial shots over the Wasatch mountain range in Utah, evening and early morning shots, and a stunt shot involving engine number one crashing into an outbuilding were filmed in just two days. Applied with the fictional “Columbia Airlines” logo the evening taxi and takeoff shots were filmed when the aircraft was being delivered to Salt Lake City for the two days of filming.
• Some of the footage from the movie was reused in a 1978 episode of The Incredible Hulk titled “747” which had an airport style plot.
• Between late 1977 and the early 1980’s, an Airport ’77- Screen Test Attraction was featured at Universal Studios Theme Park, Los Angeles-California.
• Airport 77′ was the only movie in the franchise that didn’t have a real life disaster happen to the aircraft used during filming, the 707 used in Airport crashed in Brazil in 1989. The Beechcraft Baron used in Airport 1975 collided with another small prop plane also in 1989, and F-BTSC the Concorde used in Airport 1979, was the one lost on July 25th, 2000 when it crashed at Gonesse while operating as Air France Flight 4590.
Airport '79: Concorde
• Jimmie Walker who played passenger Boisie, went on to play the “Windscreen Wiper Man” in 1980 satirical parody movie Airplane which was heavily influenced by the Airport franchise.
• Monica Lewis previously starred in Airport 1977 as Anne, one of the flight attendants onboard the Stevens International private 747 and later as Gretchen the musician/Concorde passenger in Airport 1979. She was married to producer Jennings Lang who produced Airport 75,77 & 79.
• Originally a Christmas 1979 release in New Zealand, it was delayed until Easter 1980′ due to the crash of the Air New Zealand Flight 901 occurring in November 1979.
Airport DVD Boxset: All the airport movies have been released on DVD, in a special collection entitled “The Terminal Pack” included are all four of the Airport films, and the theatrical trailers originally shown in the 1970’s to promote the films on their release. To add that special touch of aviation movie history to the collection the discs have been designed to mimic an airliner engine, complete with fan-blades and name of each film in bold colourful lettering.