Tallmantz P-1 Phoenix
In 1966 Tallmantz Aviation built the Phoenix specially for the motion picture, "Flight of the Phoenix”. Based on a Fairchild C-82A, with North American AT-6 and other parts, power was a 450hp P&W R-985.
Built for filming in “The Flight of the Phoenix” the aircraft was not sufficiently strong nor the engine powerful enough for an actual landing and take-off on the desert floor. Instead, Paul would simulate takeoff and landing with low approaches and climb outs.
On July 6, Paul made his first attempt to film the scenes. Shortly after take-off from Yuma, he returned with an overheating engine. He tried again the next day, and in the relative cool of daybreak he flew the Phoenix to Buttercup Valley in the desert for the first time. Crouching just behind Paul in a makeshift crew position was stuntman Bobby Rose, with three plywood cut-outs of men attached on top of the wings near the fuselage, to depict 'passengers'.
On that early morning he flew the requested low approaches in front of three widely-spaced motion picture cameras and returned safely to Yuma before the air got too hot and thin. Only later did the second unit director decide the cameras were set up too close to the scene and requested a repeat the next morning.
Before the sun broke above the horizon, Paul and Bobby again clambered up the ungainly Phoenix and strapped themselves in. They took off shortly after 05:00 for the short flight westward. Paul rolled into the shallow valley, sun rising behind him, descending to just feet above the desert floor, gunning the Pratt & Whitney R-985 and, with exaggerated effect for the cameras to depict the struggling Phoenix reaching for the sky, barely cleared a ridge of sand dunes. The director was pleased with what he knew his cameras had captured but called for an "insurance shot" just to make sure what he needed was in the can.
Paul knew the routine. He was heard over the radio vowing to "give them a good one" and brought the Phoenix around one more time. During the second approach it was obvious the descent rate was far too high and whatever Paul was doing to correct it wasn't enough. The Phoenix hit the desert hard on its makeshift landing gear, right in front of a camera.
Quickly recovering, Paul struggled to pull the Phoenix back into the air. But the jarring impact had neatly snapped the aircraft just aft of the wing where the wooden fuselage joined the centre section. With the fuselage disintegrating and out of balance, the nose dropped and the propeller dug in to the desert causing the engine to shear off. The resulting wreckage tumbled across the desert floor. Mantz might have survived the crash, as the cockpit section was relatively undamaged but, instead of a crash helmet, he was requested to wear a soft hat like actor James Stewart wore in the film.
Within the billowing cloud of dust and wreckage, Paul was killed instantly. Bobby was thrown clear, miraculously surviving the crash, but with serious injuries.
The movie, of course, remained in production, but key scenes planned for the ending remained unshot. The footage from Buttercup Valley was usable, up until the accident anyway, but it amounted to a minute or less of film.
With no aircraft to film, the film crew packed up and moved back to Hollywood while other plans were considered. As the impending release date approached, Twentieth Century Fox finally came up with a makeshift replacement. A stubby North American O-47 belonging to The Air Museum at Ontario, California, was hurriedly modified to fill in as the Phoenix, at least for distant shots. The landing scenes were awkwardly deleted from the script but the end of the film was essentially as planned, with the survival of the eight men from their desert ordeal.
Tallmantz footage depicting the take-off amounted to about 18 seconds in the completed film, with the replacement O-47 sequence occupying about the same time in later scenes. The completed film, released in December 1965, does the best with what it has, but the loss of the flying Phoenix early in the filming is obvious.