How Tom Cruise Held Onto The Side Of A Flying Airbus A400M

US actor Tom Cruise is known for starring in the action-packed Mission: Impossible film series. These movies often feature a range of daring stunts, with Cruise well known for performing these thrilling sequences himself rather than relying on the use of a body double. One of these saw him hang onto the side of an Airbus A400M in flight, but how was this done?

Airbus A400M Getty
The A400M is a versatile military transport aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

The scene in question

It is a scene in the fifth Mission: Impossible film, known as Rogue Nation, that involves an Airbus A400M ‘Atlas.’ This four-engine military transporter first flew in December 2009, before entering service with the French Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace (Air and Space Force) in 2013. As of May 2021, Airbus had produced 100 A400Ms from 174 orders.

The A400M is a versatile transport aircraft capable of landing on gravel and desert runways. The German Luftwaffe is the largest operator of the A400M, which ranks between two of its fellow transporters, the Lockheed C-130 ‘Hercules’ and the Boeing C-17 ‘Globemaster III,’ in terms of size. The Luftwaffe operates 35 A400Ms from a total order of 53.

Airbus A400M
F-WWMZ was the A400M used to film the heart-stopping scene. Photo: Alan Wilson via Flickr

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You can see the finished version of the scene in the clip below. The incredible sight of Cruise hanging off the aircraft surely had many viewers questioning just how such a shot could be filmed without a green screen. Without further ado, let’s take a look.

Keeping Cruise safe

Film and aviation are two very similar industries when it comes to their focus on safety. As such, when the two worlds collided to film this scene, there were plenty of procedures in place to keep safety levels high. The film’s Director of Photography, Robert Elswit, explained to The Hollywood Reporter that Cruise was securely fastened to the plane. He states:

Tom was in a full-body harness, and he’s cabled and wired to the plane through [its] door. Inside the aircraft was an aluminum truss that was carefully bolted to the plane, which held the wires that went through the door, which held Tom.”

Tom Cruise Mission Impossible Rogue Nation Getty
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation grossed $682.7 million worldwide from a $150 million budget. Photo: Getty Images

You can also see at the end of the clip below that Cruise removes special contact lenses from his eyes after shooting the scene. Elswit adds “if anything hit him at those speeds it could be really bad. They were very careful about cleaning the runway so there were no rocks.”

A limited window

What made the scene even more impressive was the limited amount of time that the team involved had in which to pull it off. Overall, there were just 48 hours at their disposal to perfect the shot using F-WWMZ, one of five A400M testbeds. According to ch-aviation.com, it now bears the Spanish registration EC-406, but remains in the hands of Airbus.

Airbus A400M
The aircraft has had the registration EC-406 since December 2014. Photo: Airwolfhound via Flickr

During this period, the aircraft took off with Cruise attached eight times before the team got the sequence that they wanted. The filming took place at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire, UK. At times, the plane was 5,000 feet above the ground. Elswit adds that:

They go up, get altitude, make a complete circuit, and land. I think it’s up in the air for about 6-8 minutes before it lands again. It had to be at least 1,000 ft. up.”

The final task was to digitally remove the harnesses from the shot. This gave the impression that Cruise, in character as Ethan Hunt, was holding on to the plane with nothing more than his bare hands. Even with the harness, the daring stunt was one that no doubt even got experienced stuntman Cruise’s blood pumping even more than those watching!

What do you make of Tom Cruise’s A400M antics? Do you know of any other similarly thrilling plane-related movie stunts? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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