Press > Escape From New York > Exclusive Interviews > Dale E. House (Helicopter Pilot #1)

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 now.

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 scenes.

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?

I enjoyed 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?

I thought 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 submission.

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.