Hollywood helps keep Air Force in public eye

The more than 1 million visitors who tour the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, each year may not realize there’s a “movie star” in their midst. But as moviegoers flock to theaters this weekend to see the latest Superman film, “Man of Steel,” they’ll catch a glimpse of the Boeing C-17 that now sits in the museum’s Air Park.

In addition to its role as an Air Force developmental test and evaluation aircraft for more than 20 years, this C-17 (pictured below) stars in a scene with the villain Faora in “Man of Steel” and has appeared in four other major motion pictures, including “Transformers,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2,” as well as country superstar Toby Keith’s Emmy Award-winning production of “American Soldier.” In fact, the aircraft has several camera icons painted on its fuselage depicting its many Hollywood roles.

C17Another museum asset — an A-10 cockpit that is on loan to the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Ariz. — also appears in “Man of Steel.” In addition, an Air Force C-130 and F-35 were used in the film. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force has two C-130 variants displayed among its more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles.

How do Air Force aircraft and people find their way onto movie sets? That’s the job of the Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office, which works with film, television, music video, video game and comic book producers who want direct access to Air Force people, aircraft and equipment, technical assistance, military advice and locations.

“We are always looking to participate in entertainment projects that provide the opportunity to positively project the U.S. Air Force and its airmen to the American people,” said Lt. Col. Francisco Hamm, director of the Entertainment Liaison Office. “Ultimately, the Air Force is interested in great storytelling that organically involves Air Force characters, assets and missions.”

The original office opened at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in 1947, and the public affairs officer later moved to Los Angeles to deal with the interest surrounding test flights and aircraft production in the area. After a while, Hollywood studios and producers wanted to arrange filming at area installations and aircraft factories, and the office’s mission evolved to include motion picture support.

The Air Force’s long history with Hollywood is also apparent in other exhibits at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

“Many well-known celebrities have served in the U.S. military, and others became famous after they served,” said Dr. Jeff Underwood, the museum historian. “It is great to be able to share the stories of some of those connected to the Air Force with our visitors.”

When the United States began re-arming for World War II, millions of Americans willingly went into military service, and among them were many celebrities from stage, screen, sports, radio and music. The museum’s Celebrities in Uniform exhibit includes uniforms and personal memorabilia from well-known actors, including Jackie Coogan, who became known as Uncle Fester on the 1960s sitcom “The Addams Family;” Gene Raymond, a film, television and stage actor of the 1930s and 1940s; Clark Gable, best known for his role as Rhett Butler in the film “Gone with the Wind;” Jimmy Stewart, who starred in many films and rose to the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve; and Ronald Reagan, who was a radio, film and television actor prior to pursuing politics and becoming the 40th president of the United States.

Glenn Miller, one of America’s greatest dance band leaders of the 1940s, is featured in another exhibit in the World War II Gallery. He joined the Army Air Forces in 1942, and within a year had organized and perfected what has been widely accepted as the greatest combination of dance musicians ever forged into a single unit, the Maj. Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.

Two service members during the Korean War went on to have movies made about their wartime experiences. Capt. Lillian Kinkela Keil’s extraordinary experiences as a flight nurse inspired the 1953 Hollywood movie “Flight Nurse,” starring Joan Leslie. Lt. Col. Russell L. Blaisdell, Lt. Col. Dean Hess and others organized help for nearly 1,000 Korean orphans during Operation Kiddy Car. In 1957 Hess published the Kiddy Car story in his book “Battle Hymn,” later made into a motion picture starring Rock Hudson. Royalties from the book and movie went to build a new orphanage near Seoul.

Over the years, many celebrities have performed for troops throughout the world. For more than 50 years, Bob Hope entertained men and women of the U.S. Air Force and the other services at home and overseas, in peace and in war. At least 10 million G.I.s benefited from his efforts, which are recognized in a museum exhibit that includes the Emmy Award he received in 1966 and many other pieces of his personal memorabilia. The Korean War Gallery features photos of two other celebrities – Marilyn Monroe and Eddie Fisher – who visited with troops during that war.

The museum has other “star” aircraft as well. Visitors can sit in the cockpit of a Navy F-4B that was used in the 1980s ABC television series “Call to Glory” when cockpit scenes of the F-4 were needed. The Grumman OA-12 Duck on display in the Cold War Gallery appeared in “Murphy’s War,” a 1971 film starring Peter O’Toole. The 1965 film “The Flight of the Phoenix” starred Jimmy Stewart and featured the museum’s C-82, which is currently undergoing restoration.

Showcasing Air Force people and equipment in Hollywood productions and highlighting famous service members helps the Air Force stay connected to the American public.

“Many of these films, television shows and actors with connections to the Air Force are familiar to Americans,” Underwood said. “These programs highlight just a few ways in which the U.S. military shares its story with the public, reminding them of the military’s presence as they go about their daily lives.”

Colonel Hamm agrees that it’s important to engage with the public, and movies like “Man of Steel” give the Air Force a unique opportunity to show people what it means to be an airman.

“The Air Force character, Col. Hardy, played by actor Christopher Meloni, does an amazing job of incorporating the core values of the Air Force that are instilled in all of our airmen as he teams up with Superman to fend off the bad guys,” Hamm said.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force is located on Springfield Street, six miles northeast of downtown Dayton. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). Admission and parking are free. For more information:  NationalMuseum.af.mil.

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