In a scene in the summer film “Dunkirk”, an Mk-1 Spitfire plane makes a daring landing in the English Channel. It’s a stunning feat of aerial photography and cinematography -- made possible by the plane itself.
This Mk-1 Spitfire aircraft and others like it can trace their film origins to a warehouse in Las Vegas that specializes in providing aircraft to movie and TV sets.
Scroggins Aviation takes shells of aircraft and retrofits them to movie studios’ specifications for a number of films. He and his team take on commissions from large Hollywood outfits and transport the aircraft themselves to the sets.
“We provide helicopter, full size aircraft, aircraft sections, cabin interiors, cockpits, wreckage, you name it, if its aviation, aerospace-related, we’re there to provide to all the blockbuster films and television shows, “ said owner Doug Scroggins.
The warehouse is its own hangar in a way with massive hulks of aircraft and fuselages and other disparate parts filling the space ready to be applied at a movie director’s creative whim. Seemingly real Hellfire missiles sit on a shelf, but are just made from sewer pipes and a cut up cockpit resembles that of Marine One used in the movie “Independence Day: Resurgence.”
The aircraft that the company does retrieve are retired airframes that are stripped down to the bare shells. From there, Scroggins and his crew modify them and design them to the production designer’s needs.
Scroggins is on set at times, consulting with directors and cast members to explain the significance of the aircraft to the scene.
“We come on board as aviation tech advisor or an aviation special effects supervisor and we aid to the production staff…Much like with the movie 'Sully,' I was very [closely] interacting with them on that production on some of the details on the cockpit that we supplied.”
Projects can take months at a time depending on the production schedule of the film or TV show. Every commission is different and so far, “Dunkirk,” is the oldest period film – using World War II era planes – that Scroggins has had to create aircraft for.
Moviegoers have probably seen Scroggins' work many times in the theaters. The highest grossing film of 2016 was “Captain America: Civil War,” which features his work. As for this year, his group built a C-17 cockpit for “Spider Man: Homecoming” and used other aircraft implements for “The Fate of the Furious."
"It’s very satisfying to put all the hours and hard work into this and then actually to see it on the big screen is almost surreal, it’s really, I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s really, it’s a really cool thing," says technician Alan Taylor.