“It all started in January 2012 with a phone call from a company that specialised in sourcing aircraft for film production companies,” says Richard Folkes, Head of Aviation Safety at Leonardo’s helicopter business in Yeovil, UK.
“At the time, I was part of the External Affairs Team at what was then AgustaWestland helicopters. In a previous life, I was an army helicopter pilot so I had some experience of both armed helicopters in general and of parachuting soldiers from the back of a helicopter. It transpired that they were looking for a ‘large green helicopter with a ramp’ and ‘did we have one?’ Clearly, the team had done their homework, and knew we had an EH101 [AW101] company demonstrator, which fulfilled that description.
“However, it became apparent to Eon Productions, the Bond production company headed by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, that due to operational requirements at the time, a UK military owned helicopter was not going to be available to fit in with the production’s filming schedule for the 23rd outing of the James Bond series, Skyfall.”
It was then that Barbara Broccoli explained to Richard what the production needed.
“She told me that they needed, at very short notice in March, an armed helicopter with a ramp, a searchlight and a ‘Skyshout’ speaker for filming with another camera helicopter on location in Surrey.
“Our company has a heritage of being able to support the Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) of the UK Armed Forces so, although we knew it would take a lot of quick work, we were confident we could deliver. You don’t say no when your country comes calling.”
---Spoiler Alert – Skyfall plot discussed---
Fast forward to Hankley Common in Surrey and the then company Chief Test Pilot, Andy Strachan, is preparing to film Skyfall’s dramatic finale where Bond villain, Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem) and his mercenaries, descend by helicopter on the eponymous ancestral home of Bond.
As portrayed in the film, in the evening gloom the helicopter arrives over the horizon in style with ’Boom Boom’ by British band, The Animals, blasting out from the Skyshout loud speaker. The helicopter showers the home with a hail of heavy 50 calibre machine gun fire all directed by using its powerful searchlight, before Raoul Silva and his henchmen exit down the ramp to storm Bond’s Scottish home. However, in true Bond movie bravura and ingenuity, he blows up the building ensuring the aircraft crashes into the house with an explosion of fire.
In reality, says Richard, the filming was a professional collaboration. With a highly technical and demanding formation flying sequence at ultra-low level between the camera helicopter flown by Marc Wolfe, from a company called Flying Pictures, and Andy Strachan in the Leonardo AW101 to get the shots required by the director. The two pilots quickly established a superb working relationship to create a dramatic set of sequences whilst ensuring safety at all times.