Video: Ex Cathay Pacific 747 Deliberately Crashed Into Hangar

Most of these days, spectacular movie sequences are created by an army of visual effects specialists. However, every now and then, a director prefers to go the more traditional, analog route. Behind-the-scenes footage has now emerged of when Christoper Nolan crashed one of Cathay Pacific’s old Boeing 747s right into an actual building.

Cathay 747 deliberately crashed into hangar
The 747 so spectacularly crashing right into a hangar in the movie Tenet once belonged to Cathay Pacific. Photo: Getty Images

No spoiler-alert

While Christopher Nolan’s latest (and 11th) film, Tenet, hit the cinemas a couple of months ago, some on-site footage from the shoot has just surfaced. And it’s a treat for aviation enthusiasts. Or, perhaps not, depending on how sensitive you are to airplanes getting hurt.

Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the film; we will keep this story spoiler-free. Well, apart from the bit about the 747 crashing into a hangar and blowing up, but that was already in the trailer.

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Cheaper than CGI

Christopher Nolan is described as “doing nothing by halves.” But, in the age of computer-generated images and green screens, even for him, crashing an actual 747 into a building is unexpectedly real and hands-on. However, it turned out to be cheaper to buy an actual jumbo jet rather than construct miniatures and use CGI for the scene.

The director has disclosed that he came across a plane boneyard with hundreds of stored planes while scouting filming locations near Victorville in California. This would be Victorville Southern California Logistics. After crunching the numbers, he and the production team decided the only sensible thing to do was to blow up an actual plane rather than an intended miniature.

Cathay Pacific 747 driven into hangar
Cathay has had a long history with the 747, the first Boeing jumbo jet arriving in Hong Kong in 1979. Photo: Getty Images

Cathay’s 747 turned Norskfreight

Nolan’s spy-thriller 747-200F was given a fake registration number, LN-WTJK, and was painted with the livery of a fictional airline called Norskfreight. In another lifetime, the freighter aircraft was known as B-HMD and belonged to Cathay Pacific.

Cathay took delivery of its very first 747 in July 1979. It has operated no less than 64 Boeing 747s historically, and it continues to maintain a fleet of 20 of the quadjet freighters. Meanwhile, it has only had four 747-200Fs. The aircraft in question was withdrawn from use in March 2009. After ten years in the desert, the 40-odd-year-old plane met a somewhat more dramatic end than many of its peers.


The Skyfleet S570

Another famous on-screen modified 747 first showed up in the first Daniel Craig Bond-film Casino Royale, released in 2006. The Skyfleet S570 was described in the film as the world’s largest airliner, with a capacity for 850 passengers. Apparently, the producers had meant for it to be a version of the A380, but due to Airbus’ superjumbo project delays, they went with the 747 instead.

The actual plane was a 747-200 purchased by British Airways in 1980. It was registered as G-BDXJ and ended its in-air career with Air Atlanta Europe. For its brief on-screen stint, it was fitted with two mockup engines.

747 on screen crash
G-BDXJ was later fitted with mockup engines for its role in the Bond movie Casino Royale. Photo: Ken Fielding via Wikimedia Commons

The now 40-year-old plane is preserved at Dunsfold, England. Apparently, it wears a fake registration of N88892 / 7P and is available for specialist training and filming. This will, in all probability, not be the case for Nolan’ss 747.

Have you seen Tenet? What did you think of the scene? Do you wish more movies went back to good old analog aircraft rather than rely so heavily on CGI? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.