Top Gun: An In-Flight Death


During the filming of Top Gun in 1985, a world-renowned pilot, Art Scholl, was killed while performing a stunt in order to capture spinning scenery for the movie.  Art Scholl was a stunt pilot who also had his own business, Art Scholl Aviation, a school and Aviation rental business.  After traveling to California from Milwaukee, Scholl earned a degree from California State University in Aeronautics, eventually teaching Aeronautics in San Bernardino.  After teaching for eighteen years, Scholl gave this up to become a stunt pilot.  Art Scholl flew in various movies, such as The Right Stuff, Blue Thunder, and The Great Waldo Pepper


Scholl was trying to perform an inverted flat spin (an upside down spin), when something unexpected happened with the plane.  Scholl’s last words were “I’ve got a problem” (at an altitude of 3000 feet), and “I’ve really got a problem” (at an altitude of 1500 feet).  The accident happened on September 16, 1985, with stunt pilot Chuck Wentworth and mechanic Kevin Kammer following Scholl in another plane.  Neither the body of Art Scholl nor the plane wreckage have been recovered, although debris from the accident have been found.

One possible explanation for the plane crash would be that because there was a camera attached to the plane to capture the scenery, the weight of the equipment made it impossible to successfully perform the stunt.  Many people remark that it is simply impossible that Scholl made an error because he had successfully performed this stunt many times.  This is interesting because it suggests that unlike many other accidents, it was actually the machine that failed.  Other than this explanation, there have not been other suggestions because no one knows exactly what happened.  According to a video reminiscing about Scholl and his accident, it was said that Kammer and Wentworth followed Scholl’s plane as it went down through the clouds, and as soon as their plane got through the clouds, Scholl’s plane was nowhere to be found.

Video of Top Gun cast/Aviators speaking about Scholl:

This incident has not prevented further in-flight movie stunts from taking place.  Many other films, such as Chronicle, and Transformers 2:  Revenge of the Fallen feature in flight stunts.  The only flight accidents that have had a real impact on aviation are incidents that have occurred during legitimate plane flights that were not staged for movies.   Some of these flights include the Cincinnati Air Canada flight 797 (1983) which caught on fire, eventually resulting in future planes being more flame resistant.  Another plane crash includes the Maui Aloha Airlines flight 243 (1988), whose fuselage (the core/roof of the plane) came off after flying a nineteen-year-old plane.  This ultimately called for tighter inspection and maintenance requirements.


Because in flight stunt accidents appear to be rare in movies, few regulations have been formed based on the existence of these accidents.  In memory of Art Scholl, Top Gun was named in his honor.




~ by Morgan Kristine on October 21, 2012.

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