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Interviews > Dale E. House (Helicopter Pilot #1: Escape From New York)
How did you end up being
a helicopter pilot?
I became a pilot in the US
Army in 1968 and flew in the Vietnam War. The picture I attached is then and
How did you get cast as Helicopter Pilot #1 in Escape From New York?
I was working for National
Helicopter Service and Engineering Company. They were one of the premiere
helicopter companies in the Los Angeles area. We did quite a bit of motion
picture and television production work. We advertised heavily. I personally
advertised in a couple industry publications. I cold called from Variety and a
few other publications as well. Between them, I captured work. So it came to
pass that the production company needed helicopters and we could get them. And I
did. I ended up getting helicopters from the US Army Reserve unit (National
Guard), the 336th Assault Helicopter Company which I flew in, for the Huey
How did you prepare for the role and how was the
experience filming your scenes? John Carpenter himself played a Helicopter Pilot
in the Central Park scene for instance.
I was already an accomplished helicopter pilot and had
done quite a bit of film work so preparing for the role was routine. All that
was needed was a storyboard and some direction. John Carpenter did that for us
personally and through production assistants. It was all first unit production.
All the scenes that I flew in or coordinated were shot in California.
The National Guard was used and filmed in another state.
I arranged for four Huey's from the National Guard out of Los Alamitos one night
for multiple night shots to the delight of John Carpenter. I also flew a Jet
Ranger as a security helicopter. The location was the Sepulveda Flood Basin.
John used some CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) (Miniatures) to superimpose the
helicopter into a New York skyline. There were some poor man process
which may have been the shots where boxes were dropped from
the helicopter and some ground shots. We were on
location for most of the night. It may have been two nights, I can't remember.
I didn't know that John Carpenter was in one of the helicopters.
How was the experience working with the cast and
crew and what went on behind the scenes? This was the first time John Carpenter
got exposed to helicopters and the following year he started taking lessons
himself and became a pilot for many years for instance.
I didn't know that was John's first time with helicopters. You wouldn't have
known it. He knew exactly what he wanted and conveyed that perfectly so that he
got what he wanted. I didn't know that John had learned to fly helicopters
either. I know James Cameron did following Titanic. I know, because I was
his instructor for a brief time until our insurance wouldn't insure him because
of the liability.
What's your favorite memory or memories of working
on the movie?
working on movie sets. I'm not an actor per say, the helicopter is an extension
of my arms legs and thought processes. So I act with the helicopter. It's all
very rewarding as it allows me to use the helicopter in an artistic way.
What do you think of the movie
personally? Also, is Snake Plissken someone you can relate to in some way since
he also is a veteran?
the movie was very entertaining. It became a "cult classic" as you know. I have
a VHS and a CD copy of it. I also have a movie poster which I have yet to
frame. I went to the premiere for cast and crew and it felt like I was at the
Academy Awards. I'm not star struck by any stretch of the imagination. But I did
enjoy the ambience. I do my job the best that I can and go home.
As for Snake: I'm not sure I can relate to his character but he sure was
entertaining. I liked the character. He was a man's man. I admire Kurt Russell
and Goldie Hawn for their enduring relationship and their acting abilities.
How does the
Huey helicopters differ from other helicopters and did the Twilight Zone: The
Movie accident affect you in any way?
The Huey helicopter is iconic. It's been
around since the early '60's. It is a work horse, it is easy to fly and
forgiving in so many ways. In battle it proved itself so many times. It
continued to function despite extensive damage, flying in the most inhospitable
environment imaginable (Vietnam) and still brought us home. Although we all
thought we were invincible in it, nearly 5000 aircrew men paid the ultimate
sacrifice. That represented a nearly 10% casualty rate in a war that became
known as "The Helicopter War". The Huey helicopter will forever be remembered by
its distinctive wop wop sound of the rotor blades slapping the air into
Twilight Zone affected the whole
industry in a lot of ways. Some good, some bad.
The Twilight Zone accident was a tragedy to be sure. The pilot became the
fall guy in the end. It came about as a result of many failures on the set that
night. It was not just the pilots fault. He, in fact, was following direction
from the ground. The industry was scared. A lot of people were in line
for manslaughter and other charges. The industry, for a short time, was
understandably shying away from helicopter use in filming. It took over a year
for things to settle down.
Here is how it affected me personally,
totally unrelated to Twilight Zone, but still connected in an adverse
way; I was doing some aerial filming of a train in the City of Industry, CA. I
was orbiting a train depot, waiting for a train to leave. Although I was between
300 to 500 feet above the ground, the helicopter I was flying created enough
noise that it became a nuisance to people on the ground, which produced a public
complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The complaint finally
made its way to the same FAA Attorney that was prosecuting the pilot on the
Twilight Zone accident. He had stacks of folders on the floor in his office
at regional headquarters, the case, basically an indictment against that
pilot. He did not like helicopter pilots much and was very vindictive toward
them. He wanted to revoke my pilot certificate. I hired an attorney and
eventually made a settlement with the FAA on the condition that I was not
admitting to any wrong doing, and paid a fine.
The members of the helicopter community banded together to come up with safety
guidelines. This resulted in Industry Safety Standards for Motion Picture and
Television Production. Also, at the same time the FAA required everyone who was
involved in aerial filming to comply with safety standards written by the
FAA. This became The Motion Picture and Television Production Manual which
became a requirement for anyone who was conducting filming activity within the
US. This is still in use today.
What are you currently doing and
what do you enjoy doing in your spare time? You're the President of Rocky
Mountain Chapter, Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association for instance.
I've been flying for nearly 50
years. Next year will be that mile stone. I'm still flying. I flew just last
night. I was flying a gyro stabilized infrared camera mapping the heat signature
of 4 high rise buildings downtown Denver. Last week I escaped from New York
after ferrying a helicopter there from Denver. Not as exciting as working on a
movie and doesn't pay as well either, but I love doing it. I'm involved in a lot
of veteran activities, most notably, the Vietnam Helicopter War Museum. I'm the
curator and also Chapter President of the organization. You can find more about
our Chapter and Museum on our website at
Thank you for your time, Dale.