Studios fly high in Burbank

Share via

Laura Sturza

BURBANK -- Born in Burbank only few years apart, the studios and the

airport have grown up together in a city that benefits from both


Warner Bros. made its home in Burbank when it purchased First National

Pictures in 1929, and United Airport came to town in 1930.

“The movie people liked to hang out at the airport because [they] had

their own planes, and they flew,” said Les Copeland, president of the

soon-to-reopen Burbank Aviation Museum.

From Howard Hughes to Tom Cruise, the industry has regularly made its

way in and out of Burbank through an airport that has weathered several

name changes. When Lockheed owned the airport, it aimed for attracting

business by re-christening itself the Hollywood-Burbank Airport. That

name stuck from 1967 to 1978, until the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport

took over, Airport Authority spokesman Victor Gill said.

“There was a lot of stunt-flying for the movies done at the airport,”

Copeland said.

One of the more famous stunt pilots was Paul Mantz, who worked on

films including “The Spirit of St. Louis,” the 1957 movie starring James

Stewart as Charles Lindbergh. Mantz was also a technical advisor to

Toluca Lake resident Amelia Earhart, who did not take his long range

radio on her last flight in order to cut the weight of her plane.

His charter service was popular with Hollywood stars, many who boarded

his “Honeymoon Express” to Las Vegas weddings and divorces, Copeland


Some of the airport’s film shoots include Jerry Lewis’s “Geisha Boy,”

which opens with a cab pulling up to the terminal building, as well as

scenes from “Top Gun” and television shows such as “Mannix” and “Perry


Warner Bros. releases from the early 1990s with airport shoots include

“Memoirs of an Invisible Man,” “Final Analysis,” and “Demolition Man.”

In addition to shooting films at the airport, Copeland credits some

innovations in motion picture technology to the aviation industry.

“A lot of the advances in aviation and reconnaissance planes [involved

placing] huge cameras on board,” Copeland said. “A lot of things for

special effects were first designed for aviation.”

Today, general aviation businesses based at the airport have hangars

filled with the corporate planes of tenants that include the Walt Disney

Co., Universal Studios, Dream Works and Warner Bros., along with the

private planes of individual stars and executives.

“I think the airport is a convenience for them,” City Manager Bud

Ovrom said. “I’m sure that it helped contribute to the attractiveness of

the area.”

Since Sept. 11, the use of general aviation, or noncommercial private

planes, has increased by 20%, Mercury Air Center Operations Manager Scott

Daniluk said.

“The studios have always used their jets for flying around their

stars, but the whole industry has really exploded,” Ovrom said. “More

people are insisting on it. I’ve flown on Southwest [Airlines] with Tom

Hanks, and I don’t think you’re going to be seeing that anymore.”