Tony Bill is a regular around Santa Monica Airport and the Spitfire Grill, which is one of LA Observed's unofficial remote bureaus. He's been flying since he was a teenager — he's now 66 — and thinks nothing of hopping over the basin to Burbank for a meeting. For a feature in the Washington Post on Bill's new movie Flyboys, he took writer William Booth up the coast for lunch and some aerobatics. Not that those two activities go together very well, as Booth reports in today's Style section:
Normally, recreational pilots and their guests do not strap on parachutes, but Bill explains that since his airplane is an Italian-made Marchetti SF 260, known as "the Ferrari of the skies," and "since we'll be doing some aerobatics," one dons the chute. It's an FAA thing. "Okay, let's go get some lunch..."
Back up a second. One doesn't so much sit in a Marchetti as wear it. It is like wriggling into a pair of metal jeans, if your pants came with swept-back wings and a bubble of curved plastic over the tiny two-person cockpit. The Italian air force uses them as trainers for fighter pilots. Bill taxis his Marchetti out to the runway, completes pre-flight instrument and engine checks, gets his clearance from the tower and then floors it.
For lunch at Camarillo, he recommends the chili con carne with onions, a daring choice, for on the way home, Bill takes the Marchetti through its paces. Ready for another barrel roll? The only sensible answer to that is: no. But away he goes, bringing the plane through a loop, and when we are upside down, with the sea sparkling below, glued to the seats with the forces of 2.5 Gs, the pilot-director is beaming like a kid on his birthday, and maybe it makes sense why those World War I pilots took to the skies, not to kill, you know, but to fly.
Bill sounds realistic about the film's chances of hitting with audiences: "It has no stars, no studio, no book and no history that people will remember," he says. "It's got these old early airplanes but we live now in the era of spaceships. It's not a movie targeted at kids or women or old men, but it's an action picture with a love story that they might like."
Photo: Jonathan Alcorn/Washington Post