David E. Steiner

Retired USAF, Teacher, Dad, Grandfather, Curmudgeon

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Phoenix

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The Crash of the Phoenix

Tragedy making the 1965 film

The first Flight of the Phoenix film was produced and directed by Robert Aldrich in 1965 and was shot in Buttercup Valley in Arizona, a desert site that had been used many times for such movies as the 1926 Beau Geste. According to James Farmer's "Broken Wings" (ISBN 0-933126-46-8, pp. 106-7), the original C-82 belonged to Stewart-Davis from Long Beach Airport. When the original "Phoenix" crashed, an O-47, the only plane of its type then in the air was rented from the Ontario Air Museum (now Planes of Fame) to finish the flying sequences. In the movie one can clearly distinguish the two planes as the original apparently tries to take off, and the brief flight shots of the O-47. In truth, they look nothing alike. A new DVD was produced in March of 2003. It is a restored print, letterboxed, and I recommend it. In it you can see, in slow motion, the single piece of film of the original "Phoenix" in flight. In the picture above you can see that the wings of this airplane are much too small for the C-82. Below, pictures of the two aircraft.

 

This picture on the right was taken just as Paul Mantz approached the desert for the last time. The plane was put together with parts from a twin engine Beech C-45 (a tail-dragger) and a T-6 and was designed by Otto Timm. Purposely made to look flimsy, it nevertheless passed an FAA inspection.

 

Mantz was then 62 and he was not scheduled to make this flight. His partner, Frank Tallman, was supposed to do it. But in his driveway Tallman was pushing his son's go-kart, slipped and fell and shattered a kneecap. Eventually an infection resulted in the amputation of the leg. Bobby Rose, a longtime Hollywood stuntman was seated behind Mantz. The plane wasn't capable of taking off from the sand, so the filming was to be of the latter part of a touch and go. The first pass went well, and a second pass was ordered as insurance. As the plane touched down one of the wheels hit a small mound of sun-baked dirt. The result is in the three pictures below.

 

Paul Mantz was killed instantly when the engine crushed him, and Rose was badly injured but survived and eventually flew again. The crash was filmed and the film survives, but of course it was not used in the movie.

 

"Why does one want to walk on wings? Why force one's body from a plane to make a parachute jump? Why should man want to fly at all? People often ask these questions. But what civilization was not founded on adventure, and how long could one exist without it? Some answer the attainment of knowledge. Some say wealth, or power, is sufficient cause. I believe the risks I take are justified by the sheer love of the life I lead."

 

---Charles Lindbergh (but almost everyone who flies for a living feels this way.)

 

"Paul Mantz was killed instantly when the engine crushed him, and Rose was badly injured but survived and eventually flew again."

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