Posted by: Jerry Garrett | July 22, 2012

How The Aerial Stunt Was Filmed in Dark Knight Rises

CIA turboprop is pursued by C130 full of bad guys (Warner Bros.)


Was the aerial stunt real, or computer-generated, in the opening sequence of “The Dark Knight Rises“?

It was real, for the most part. Director Christopher Nolan doesn’t like fake action scenes.

So, how in the heck did they film that already unforgettable six-minute scene?

This is a question for which the complete answer is probably wrapped up in that catch-all explanation: The Magic of Hollywood.

But some things are known:

The sequence was filmed in Scotland. The dark “CIA turboprop” took off from Inverness airport. The sequence was filmed over the Cairngorm Mountains of the Scottish Highlands. The lonely Cairngorms have been described as “Britain’s highest mountain range – incredibly cold, incessantly windy and one of the harshest environments” in the British Isles. Perfect, I suppose, for littering aircraft debris without hitting anyone or anything on the ground.

Four stuntmen drop from the C130’s rear cargo doors

The stunt reportedly took three days to film in early July 2011.

Airborne, the CIA turboprop is shown being followed by a huge white cargo plane. This is a Lockheed C130 Hercules, of the type used by the United States military. The lumbering C130 an ideal vehicle for a stunt such as this, because its stall speed is as low as 96.5 knots (111 m.p.h.); so, a camera crew in a helicopter was easily able to match the speeds of the planes and record the exterior action.

For the action going on inside the CIA plane, a simulator was built at studios in Cardington, England; the director could rotate, shake and twist the fuselage while the actors inside tumbled around – almost as if they were weightless.

When the C130 is above the CIA aircraft, its rear cargo ramp is lowered and four stuntmen drop down from it, tethered to cables.

At some point here – during a sequence of quick edits – the CIA plane is replaced by a glider mockup that had been towed aloft from the Cairngorm Glider Club in nearby Feshie.

Turboprop “stunt double” starts to break apart

The stuntmen climb around on the glider. It tips, and the wings blow off (negative aerdynamics). A small pyrotechnic device pops the tail off.

The idea is to get the villain Bane off the CIA plane, with the help of the stuntmen on cables, before the cables are released. The remains of the glider are then cut loose and sent crashing to the ground – making it look like all onboard were killed.

The stuntmen with Bane and a kidnapped scientist (did you “get” the bit about pumping his DNA in another victim, to make it look like the scientist was killed in the crash?) then are supposedly pulled back up into the C130.

The turboprop mockup loses its tail, before being untethered and falling to the ground.

During practice takes, the stuntmen then parachuted to the ground. Look closely in the production stills and you can see the stuntmen are all wearing parachutes. But in the final take, the director said they were able to be drawn back up into the C130 with no problem.

The stunt looks pretty seamless until you pick it apart and study how it was edited.

Filmmakers did a job good of sowing “disinformation” to keep the press and onlookers confused about what was going on, during the shooting. Check out this report about the filming that ran in the News of the World, June 27, 2011, supposedly describing what the stunt would consist of:

“The movie crew desperately want to film this. It’s a key section of the film. Batman is on board a plane that is hurtling to the ground. The script says he takes control of it and lands it on the road while it’s on fire. People are going to love it. It’s a tremendous challenge.”

Ha! Bat-guano!

Jerry Garrett

July 22, 2012


  1. This is a fascinating topic and I was glad that somebody had taken the trouble to research it. Then i noticed that you don’t know understand what a knot is and you can’t tell the difference between a jet and a turboprop. Ignorance of such simple facts makes it impossible to believe anything you write. How about doing your homework in future?

    • Thanks for the feedback! I’ll go back and look at the piece and make whatever corrections are necessary.

      • Ahmed is correct. There are two basic types of gas turbine engine, turbo-jet and turbo-prop. In a turbo-jet 100% of the gases pass directly out. In a turbo-prop, 15% percent of the gases pass directly out while 85% drive a propeller. Turbo-props are making a come back on short haul due to fuel efficiency and the rising cost of oil. However they are noisy and passengers think of them as old fashioned and therefore dangerous. Calling them turbo-prop jet engines helps mitigates that concern. Geeks can’t live with them… can’t live with them.

    • a turboprop is still a jet. even if it is the closest one to a propeller engine

      • I’m sorry sir, you are not right.
        A turboprop is not a jet!

        jet: a turbine generates thrust by compressing and heating air and expanding it afterwards by combustion of fuel and is thus propelling the plane. (very simplified, but I think it will do;) )

        turboprop: a turbine powers a gear, which again “drives” a propeller, which then produces the thrust to propel the plane.

        This is the reason, why a turboprop machine like the C130 is closer to Cessna 172 than to a Boeing 737-100, although they are alike when it comes to size.

        The difference between a Cessna 172 and C130 is that the C172 is a piston engine powered plane and the C130 is a turbine powered plane.

        Ok, to be honest: the comparison of C172 with a C130 is a little drastic, but i wanted it to be colourful and a comparison to a DC7 would have been confusing.


      • I couldn’t figure out why people were dinging me for calling a turboprop a “jet”, because the story doesn’t use the word “jet” anywhere that I can find (or that I wrote). But I just noticed the caption in the lead photo, which was a production still supplied by the film-makers did use the word “jet”. So, thanks for pointing that out. It has been fixed, and I passed along your comment to the supplier of the photo.

      • Accept my apologies, Mr. Garrett, for it wasn’t you I was aiming at when i wrote my text. I could have made that more clear.
        I liked your explanation of the beginning scene and I didn’t even see the “jet” caption. Even if this caption would still exist I wouldn’t say a thing because some things tend to slip through;)

        I was replying to Mr. Ahmad Zafar, who just stated “a turboprop is still a jet.”. That is a thing that I couldn’t ignore. I am too much aviation enthusiast for that.

  2. I used to be recommended this blog via my cousin. I’m not certain whether or not this submit is written by way of him as no one else understand such specified approximately my problem. You are wonderful! Thanks!

  3. Good explanation. I fly as a loadmaster for the company that operates the C-130 in the film, International Air Response in Mesa, AZ ( The aircraft is a C-130A, registration N121TG (ex-USAF 56-0511). The filming was done over a 4-5 week period in July of last year. Unfortunatley (for me) they didn’t require a loadmaster so instead of a sojourn in chilly Scotland, I instead got to go do airdrops at Yuma, AZ in one of our other C-130s. A good bit warmer.

    Prior to shooting, one of the first things the production guys asked IAR was “how slow can that thing fly?, to which the reply was, “let’s take it up an find out”. The answer was about 80 KIAS straight and level with full flaps. You’ll notice that in the film the flaps are at 100% which is not usual for straight and level flight. The not to exceed airspeed for filming was typically 90 KIAS in order to not outrun the camera helicopter.

    Makes for interesting formation flying. As related by the pilot, during one sequence they indavertently found themselves inside a cloud with four guys trailing out the back. Two release and parachuted down and the other two were winched quickly back into the plane. Although only exposed for maybe 30 seconds, they were coated with ice and had experienced a serious drop in core temperature.

    My company, Big Sky Aviation Interational (, was contacted in the spring of 2011 by a production company who was bidding on some of the aerial work. The portion that we bid on involved rigging a Bandierante fuselage, sans wings for lift by a helicopter, and also rigging the fuselage without the nose and tail for lift in a vertical plane and subsequent cutaway from a helicopter with the stunt men aboard the fuselage. Unfortunately for us, the production company we worked with didn’t wind up with the contract.

    Looks like from what you write that they used a standin for the actual Bandierante, but the fuselage hanging in the vertical plane does appear to be done with a helicopter and the rigging appears similar to what we discussed in our proposal.

    Early next week I will be flying an airdrop mission on the same aircraft used in the movie, N121TG, flown by the same pilot. I’d be happy to pass on any questions you may have for him. Just e-mail to me,

    Cheers, and thanks for an interesting analysis.

    John Limbach
    Big Sky Aviation International
    Billings, MT

    • Thank you very much for your comments, and insights. The dangling of the turboprop fuselage from a helicopter is a key element that makes the stunt a bit better to understand. Having spent more than 1,000 hours filming from the sides of helicopters, I can tell you that even at 80-90 knots on a clear, calm warm day, it is not easy to get the footage you want. Add the wind, the cold and the variables like clouds, and youo ratchet up the degree of difficulty and danger.

  4. I think this scene is one of the most foolish I’ve ever seen in any blockbuster movie. Even hypothetically impossible. At least the pilots of smaller plan should be in cooperation with those who were arranging the heist to let such a big plane take position above them. Also no influence is seen on Hercules when smaller plane begins to fall down, although its engines thrust in some moment is perpendicular to C-130’s flight direction.

    • Yeah, it was great drama visually but impossible to do in real life. Like the pilots in the CIA plane with Bane couldn’t have adjusted their flight to prevent anything from happening? Never mind apparently the CIA plane didn’t have any radar to let them know they were in the potential collision path of another plane; and the CIA plane was without any kind of protect? Come on :P.

  5. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I love this scene, and after seeing ads on telly for its DVD release, it deserves some “air-time”, just to prove how far Christopher Nolan will go for the shot and the film.

  6. Big fan of Batman. I ONLY watch on DVD for exactly this reason. Story-wise I was very confused with this whole plane sequence and am now going back and taking it apart. I loved the Heist – opening sequence of the Dark Knight Returns, superb scripting. Again watched it over and over on DVD. It achieved so much more with so much less. My guess is the wings being blown away were 3D modelled and comped in and nothing fell from the skies. Frankly I’ve always been confused with Nolan’s scripts and preferred the more straight forward and campy Tim Burton Batman, which is the step in between the sixties TV version and where we are today. Both Batman and Bond have lost their humour but I do get the reason, things need to move on and we now can’t go back to camp with either of them now. If you haven’t checked it out, google John Fiorella’s ‘Grayson’ fan movie – absolutely stunning for $18 thousand and the Dark Knight Rises suggests something similar could be in store for us with Robin becoming Batman.

  7. […] The main problem with bay and cameron is now they ONLY use CGI, which to me is very lame. Christopher Nolan, now that man knows how to shoot a movie. For example, the first scene with the plane, he could have gone the route everyone else did and use CGI, or he could have filmed most of it between two actual planes in the air. How The Aerial Stunt Was Filmed in Dark Knight Rises ? Garrett On The Road […]

  8. This page definitely has all the information I needed
    concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  9. I’m a former US Navy C-130 Flight Engineer and electrician/mechanic. Got about 6,000 hours flying the Herc. Just over 10,000 flight hours in the US Navy during the 80’s and 90’s in TACAMO. Now a Pilot for American Eagle out of Chicago O’Hare. Been flying for 33 years now.

    That scene was one of the most well done scenes I’ve ever seen. Maybe not completely realistic but very well done. I loved the way the flight controls fluttered and then separated followed by the rest of the surfaces. That looked pretty damn real. One thing I would have expected in reality though was for the remaining fuselage to start becoming very unstable and start spinning wildly. I don’t know that the surfaces would have separated symmetrically enough to allow the fuselage to remain aerodynamically stable. But then the scene would not have worked as anyone inside a spinning fuselage probably would never make it out. Liberty needs to be taken sometimes.

    Someone made a point about drag on the Herc from towing the smaller plane. That may or may not have been significant, but a light weight Herc should have no problem overcoming that. There are plenty of Hercs that were built that had enough weird protrusions which caused significant parasitic drag.

    Center of gravity shifts could have been significant depending on what part of the Herc the smaller plane was connected to. That would have more of an effect than drag. Especially if the Herc had a low gross weight.

    Well, it was a great scene. had me going for quite awhile trying to figure out how it was done. Still haven’t quite figured it out.


    Bart Meltzer,
    USN (Ret.)

    • Thanks for writing, and providing your expert observations!

  10. On a side note, the C-130 used to film that scene, N121TG, is now based in Singapore providing oil spill response services to global oil spill cleanup company OSRL ( The Herk and its crews respond to environmental accidents 24/7/365 throughout the Asia Pacific region and around the world.

    • Thanks very much for that info. I can’t believe how C-130s get around. We flew missions in Iraq with a C-130 that had been flown there from a Michigan National Guard base!

  11. […] 23. The first scene of The Dark Knight Rises was for the most part real, plane crash and all. – Source […]

  12. […] na primeiras cenas de O Cavaleiro das Trevas Ressurge – o filme começa com um incrível sequestro de avião. Quando Bane é capturado em um avião do governo americano, seus capangas descem de […]

  13. […] […]

  14. The part where the wings blow off the plane… is that realistic? I thought the wings are supposed to be the strongest part of a plane, and they shouldn’t just rip off like that. But I’m just a school student, so I don’t know much. Can anyone care to explain?

    • Hollywood at work.

      • You wrote that the wings blow off due to “negative aerodynamics”. What is that, and can a plane’s wings really fall off like that in real life?

      • Aerodynamic devices are meant to work a certain way, when aimed in a certain direction. If you turn them around sideways or backwards, you can get a reverse effect. The aerodynamic assist is negated. Take for instance a spinning race car: When moving straight ahead the aerodynamic devices built into the body structure keep the car “glued” to the track surface with downforce. When the car spins 180 degrees, the devices that gave it downforce now give it lift! That’s why you can sometimes see a spinning race car suddenly fly up off the track surface and into the air. That is an example of reverse or negative aerodynamics at work.

  15. […] das Trevas logo na primeiras cenas de O Cavaleiro das Trevas Ressurge – o filme começa com um incrível sequestro de avião. Quando Bane é capturado em um avião do governo americano, seus capangas descem de rapel de outro […]

  16. What are some of the strangest facts about famous movies?

    It’s possible that you may not have seen The Dark Knight Rises, but since most of the world saw it, I won’t feel too bad about spoiling this little bit of the film: Bane blows up a football field. Obviously destroying a football stadium would be out…

  17. Aces-High LTD helped put this scene together. They have been working in aviation for Film and TV for over 30 years including the last 8 James Bond films. Check out their stuff at –

  18. So i live in south east alaska. i was a mover for five years. biggest customer was the coasties. i got a buddy whose not only a C130 pilot but also a mechanic. i asked if he thought a C130 Could tow a plane like that. He told me they could tow a bradley

  19. […] Bane escapes from the CIA plane, mid-flight. It’s an exhilarating sequence, that – again – did not use CGI. The scene was filmed in Scotland, over the Cairngorm Mountains of the Scottish Highlands. It’s […]

  20. […] Bane escapes from the CIA plane, mid-flight. It’s an exhilarating sequence, that – again – did not use CGI. The scene was filmed in Scotland, over the Cairngorm Mountains of the Scottish Highlands. It’s […]

  21. […] Bane escapes from the CIA plane, mid-flight. It’s an exhilarating sequence, that – again – did not use CGI. The scene was filmed in Scotland, over the Cairngorm Mountains of the Scottish Highlands. It’s […]

  22. […] Bane escapes from the CIA plane, mid-flight. It’s an exhilarating sequence, that – again – did not use CGI. The scene was filmed in Scotland, over the Cairngorm Mountains of the Scottish Highlands. It’s […]

  23. […] escapes from the CIA plane, mid-flight. It’s an exhilarating sequence, that – again – did not use CGI. The scene was filmed in Scotland, over the Cairngorm Mountains of the Scottish Highlands. It’s […]

  24. […] it apart and study how it was edited,” frequent New York Timescontributor Jerry Garrett said. “Look closely in the production stills and you can see the stuntmen are all wearing […]

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