It’s not often (okay, never) that I get invited to movie screenings or premieres. And, it’s not often (again, never) that the worlds of airborne electronics and Hollywood intersect. But there’s a first time for everything.
I was invited to attend an advanced screening of Disney’s “Planes,” a movie which centers around Dusty, a crop-duster from Propwash Junction who dreams of competing in the “Wings Around the World” race if only he wasn’t afraid of heights. When I saw the invite cross my inbox, I was pretty sure there wasn’t going to be a strict Avionics Magazine angle to me covering/reviewing this movie; I just wanted to be the mom who gets to take her four-year-old to an advanced screening. So, RSVP yes for two, please! (And I wasn’t the only journalist with the same thought, judging by the number of kids sitting in the reserved-for-press section of the crowded theater.)
On the surface, this movie was a little boy’s dream — wise-cracking, high-flying airplanes, non-stop action, and all in 3-D. However, there were just as many things that went over his head, and got my aviation nerd mind going. The references to glidescopes, windshear, GPS navigation systems and satnav systems went right by him, and probably 90 percent of the people in the theater, I suspect. I’m well aware that this is a Hollywood movie, and an animated movie at that, so I understand some artistic licenses must be taken, but it’s tough to take off the aviation journalist hat, even at the movies.
Putting aside the obvious cinematic and artistic licenses taken in the movie (after all it is a movie about a talking crop-duster who is afraid to fly above 1,000 ft. and wants to race against military jets and air racers in an around-the-world jaunt), the movie provided an excellent distraction from a fairly contentious summer for the aviation industry. From sequestration to furloughs/layoffs to ultra-tense political wrangling in Washington to scathing NextGen reports and growing industry frustration on NextGen implementation, there hasn’t been a great deal of good news to report on in recent months.
But the movie was fun, and seeing how excited my kid was at experiencing the aerial action sequences, was a good reminder that this is still a vibrant and exciting industry to be a part of. It was perfect, summer escapism at its finest for both of us.
Many people, including me in this space, have discussed the importance of NextGen and the importance of investing in our aviation infrastructure to preserve the nation’s status as a global economic power. Congress, avionics manufacturers, operators, regulators and airframe manufacturers all play a role in the success of our national airspace. And it’s all true; those things are needed. But it was nice to take a break from that sometimes harsh rhetoric and just be an aviation enthusiast. Personally, I haven’t had too many of those opportunities lately. The movie was completely predictable spoiler alert: the good guy wins but it was fun. Not the greatest Disney movie ever, but still a good way to spend a hot summer evening.
And to the movie’s target demographic, those who don’t care a lick about NextGen modernization initiatives, air traffic control clearances or advanced avionics systems, will enjoy it as well. And hopefully the movie will spur the next generation of aviation nuts and professionals, the ones who will ultimately see NextGen, and the ATM modernization initiatives that come after it, come to fruition. My son enjoyed “Planes”; he’s already asked if he can see it again and hang a poster of Dusty in his room. He knows all the characters names and has been talking about the movie pretty much constantly since we left the theater. (Marketing mission accomplished, Disney.) But it’s really gratifying to hear him about talk how “cool” planes are. Yeah, buddy, they are pretty cool.