Chicago-based United Airlines last week shared footage of a photoshoot in the sky, showcasing one of its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The video, posted on its social media channels, has more than 130,000 views on Twitter.
The airline shared behind-the-scenes details about the process of an aerial photoshoot. A talented crew onboard a chase plane about 100 feet away was responsible for photographing N27266, United’s 737 MAX 8, which is just over a year old.
The photoshoot appears to originate from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), with United test pilots walking up to the aircraft. The chase plane, N562TM, is a specially-equipped Embraer Phenom 300 with a control and stabilization system that is compatible with high-end digital cinema cameras.
Photos and videos show the 737 flying above land, water, and final approach as it returned to LAX at the end of the shoot. According to United, only a handful of pilots worldwide can fly the specific flight.
How do they do it?
When United revealed its new livery in 2019, the airline shared a similar behind-the-scenes video of N37267, a Boeing 737-800 being photographed. During that photoshoot, the aircraft and chase plane took off from different airports and met at an altitude of 17,000 feet.
On average, chase planes fly around 100 feet adjacent to or above the photographed aircraft, but they can fly closer to get a better shot in some cases. In 2019, the chase plane crews flew as close as 10-20 feet from N37267. Test pilots also need formation flying experience to conduct these types of flights.
Chase Plane Cinematographer Roger Tonry spoke about coordinating the air-to-air photos.
“We have to pick a point on the map, pick an altitude for us, pick an altitude for them, and a time. They’ll arrive two thousand feet above us, ideally at the same time, we see each other and we join up.”
Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.
The chase plane pilot
For United’s most recent photoshoot in the sky, Kevin LaRosa was in command of N562TM. As an aerial coordinator and stunt pilot, he said the jet was also previously used for aerial filming for the production of “Top Gun: Maverick.”
LaRosa started his career in the film industry working with his father, who was an aerial coordinator and stunt pilot. Following his father’s path, he started working towards becoming a pilot but continued to work in film. He became a full-time stunt pilot when he reached about 5,500 flight hours.
“And I remember telling my dad, I think I’m ready…I’m out of vacation days, out of sick time, the movie stuff is getting busy and now I have this, and for the first time, I really feel ready,” LaRosa said in episode 121 of The Simple Flying Podcast. “And I made the leap of faith to become an independent contractor for the film studios.”
From that point on, LaRosa started to book jobs.
“I was getting hired by the studios to either run movies full program, start to finish, example being Top Gun: Maverick, or sometimes like yesterday, just go out with an airplane and do some stunt flying for the day,” he said.
- IATA/ICAO Code:
- Airline Type:
- Full Service Carrier
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Denver International Airport, Guam International Airport, Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport
- Year Founded:
- Star Alliance
- Scott Kirby
- United States