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From Heights to Hollywood

By Press and Guide, Press Release, Guide Intern and Guide News

PUBLISHED: March 12, 2005 at 10:00 p.m. | UPDATED: June 17, 2021 at 11:44 a.m.

DEARBORN – Former Dearborn Heights resident Joseph Bok is not a movie star, but his model airplanes are.

Bok’s company, Aero Telemetry Corporation (Aero/FX), designed, built and flew the replicas of vintage airplanes that appeared in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” the story of aviation pioneer, Howard Hughes.

Aero/FX is known for construction of unmanned vehicles and measuring systems for military and commercial applications.

“We really didn’t know if these model planes would fly,” said Bok, 42.

The production schedule was so tight, there was little time to test the planes before filming. Three model planes were built and they varied in size from an 18-foot wing span for the H-1, 25 feet for the Hercules, also known as the Spruce Goose, and 30 feet for the XF-11. They were basically large model airplanes, controlled by up to two operators on the ground.

A pilot himself, Bok has logged hours flying World War II planes. His interest in aviation began with his father.

“Planes were our father’s love,” said Tom Bok, Joseph’s brother who also worked on the film. Tom served as operations director for the XF-11 model plane. Tom’s real job in Livonia is as a building engineer/inspector.

Dr. Frank Bok, their father, has passed on, but their mother and sister also still live in the area.

“Joseph used to take things apart and put them back together,” said Therese Bok-Schmidt, Joseph’s sister. “One time he took a bike apart and put it back together without all the part and it worked better.”

Joseph’s interest in aerospace engineering grew from an elective course he took at the University of Southern California (USC), where he had earned a football scholarship. He received his degree in 1985 and got a Master’s in engineering in 1999.

“I get satisfaction in doing things that are difficult to accomplish and technically challenging,” said Bok. Building the model planes was certainly a challenge. They could not be made exactly to scale because as models, they might not fly properly. They had to consider the weight of the planes, wind strength in the area as well as how to transport the models to filming sites.

The XF-11 was disassembled, placed on a barge to be moved across the stretch of ocean between Los Angeles and Catalina Island, about 30 miles. It was reassembled on the island where filming occurred. The Spruce Goose model actually flew across Long Beach Harbor as the original wooden plane had done.

“We built the models in three months,” said Bok. “So, there were a lot of 18-hour days.”

Designers used plans obtained from the Smithsonian and Wright Patterson Air Force Base. The decision on what will become of the models is still up in the air, however, it’s likely they will be housed in an aviation museum.

“The planes built for this movie changed the way they film airplanes,” said Bok. “We set a new standard in airplanes are shot. You can tell if it’s a computer-generated aircraft.”

Bok and others in the Hollywood community were pleased with the performance of the model planes. And the movie must have been good as well. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture.

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