‘Flying Wings are hard to photograph, especially for film. The trick was to drag the wingtips down as much as I could, and finally it got a silhouette that had character and could be filmed from the side.’

When I started on the film, some vehicle ideas were already conceptualized by the amazing production designer Rick Heinrichs. One of his pencil drawings showed an enormous flying wing, with engine pods that are small propeller planes itself and the wing interiors being as large as hangar. The Hydra bomber is a jet power craft with 540 ft wingspan. The additional eight propellers help lift-off and are not required for cruise. Those props actually belong to small bomber planes, using the Flying Wing as their mother ship. That makes the Flying Wing actually an aircraft carrier – a weapon system many parties looked into during the 40ies. The first thing I explored were possible silhouettes – the most visual aspect of a flying wing since the profile is minimal. Joe Johnston addressed simplicity and believability, which was the starting point: a clean outline, engines staggered on the angled trailing edge, some sculpted jet engine feature on the centered tail, and a organically shaped cockpit area. That vehicle was the toughest to model for me in 3D. The subtleties of aircraft design only alarm you when you actually have to do it. I thought I cracked it when I started pulling the wing tips more and more down, creating a negative V in front view.

The area around the small bomber planes – in particular the hatch system – was the biggest challenge. It had to look integrated from the outside, and connect seamless to the massive interior set designed by Nathan Schroeder. Another challenge was the size of the cockpit glass – a compromise of showing scale of the enormous aircraft and the requirements of the interior set and filming. The cockpit interior was designed by Jim Martin. A detail where storytelling made decisions was the undercarriage. I envisioned a landing gear with over 50 small wheels supporting the massive aircraft. But for the pursuit scene with Schmitt’s Coupe on a runway Joe wanted to see the giant scale of the plane even in a close up shot. The solution was lesser wheels – but the largest ever made. The camouflage seen here was one of many color studies, note also single man gun turrets on the wings and the cars under the final version of the plane. Throughout the development a detailed book about the American bomber Northrop-Grumman XB-35 was a helpful guide.

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