Hollywood spotlights Madras pilots and planes
A new Hollywood release coming out this Thanksgiving features vintage aircraft from the Erickson Aircraft Collection with local pilots behind the controls.
Pilot Mike Oliver does all the flying for the leading character, Jesse Brown, who made history as the first African American Naval aviator in the United States.
"I'm just the pilot. I'm not the hero," said Oliver, who's appreciation for Brown began long before Sony Pictures decided to make a movie about the Distinguished Flying Cross recipient.
An African American himself, Oliver admires Brown's achievements after Brown grew up in poverty and experienced racial discrimination as a child and in the flight academy.
Brown flew a Corsair, one of the vintage airplanes in the Erickson Aircraft Collect in Madras. Oliver manages the collection, and before Brown's story was even a screenplay, Oliver had painted the Corsair in Jesse Brown colors in honor of the Naval aviator.
"Devotion" tells the story of Jesse Brown and his wingman, Tom Hudner, who, despite risking court martial, won a Medal of Honor for his actions portrayed in this movie.
When the movie's aerial coordinator, Kevin LaRosa Jr., called Oliver and asked him if he wanted to fly the Jesse Brown Corsair in the movie, Oliver jumped at the offer.
"It was awesome. I want to do it again," said Oliver. "I can see why people do this for a living."
In case you don't recognize that name, LaRosa also did the aerial coordination for this summer's release, "Top Gun: Maverick."
LaRosa also tapped another Erickson pilot, Jim Martinelli, to fly the Skyraider for the movie.
Oliver flew 100 hours in the Corsair over the 100 days of shooting from January to April 2021. Anytime Brown's plane goes across the silver screen, that's Oliver flying it.
Movie goers will see multiple shots of Skyraiders on the screen, and Martinelli is behind the controls every time, even when multiple Skyraiders appear in the same shot. That's movie magic.
LaRosa put Oliver and Martinelli through a different kind of flying for these two veteran pilots.
"It was fun because it was challenging to put the plane at a certain angle at a specific time," said Martinelli.
Translating a three-dimensional scene for a two-dimensional screen sometimes involved flying in unnatural ways, Martinelli said. LaRosa flew the camera plane and, an experienced pilot himself, made sure all of the maneuvers were safe.
Shooting took the crew from Wenatchee, where the Washington Cascades mimic the Korean mountainsides, to Georgia. The Madras pilots met the stars of this movie, Jonathan Majors, who plays Jesse Brown, and Glen Powell, who plays Brown's good friend Tom Hudner.
They also met Brown's daughter, Pamela, who spent almost every day on the movie set. Brown's daughter told Martinelli watching the filming was like seeing family home movies. She didn't get a chance to know her father, but she heard the stories. Reenacting the scenes put audio and video to tales she's heard all her life.
Bringing the story home to Madras, Jesse Brown's daughter signed her name, Pamela Brown, on the Corsair decorated in her father's honor at the Erickson Aircraft Collection, the largest privately owned flying World War II aircraft collection in the world.
Oliver has long admired Jesse Brown and his place in history and feels honored to take part in bringing his story to the millions of people who will see the movie "Devotion."
"The thing that matters to me is all the untold stories about what these guys went through," said Oliver. "Not just Jesse Brown, but there are so many people who sacrificed their life and time. There are a lot of heroes that go forgotten."
"We're in a unique time in history. There are still people alive who participated in the story," said Martinelli. "We're the keeper of the story and it's our job to tell that story properly going forward. One hundred years from now this will be the account of what happened because there will be no people alive who lived through that."
Martinelli and Oliver planned to attend the premier event for "Devotion" in (Hollywood) Tuesday, Nov. 15. The Jesse Brown Corsair will join them on the Red Carpet.
"Devotion" comes to the Madras Cinema 5 Tuesday, Nov. 22. The first showing is at 2 p.m., second showing at 4:50 p.m. and third showing at 7:30 p.m.
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