USC Trojan Family Magazine
Plane As Can Be
Alumni Profile - Joe Bok
The career of Joe Bok ’85, MS ’99 epitomizes the eclectic resumé. In the last 20 years, the Los Angeles resident has earned two engineering degrees, played Trojan football, founded two companies – and, oh yes, met Leonardo DiCaprio.
Bok’s special effects company, Aero F/X Inc., a spin-off of his Aero Telemetry Corp., created the large-scale models of Howard Hughes’ airplanes used in Martin Scorsese’s recent Oscar-winning film The Aviator. The models – including the XF-11 with a 30-foot wingspan, the H-4 Spruce Goose with a 25-foot wingspan and the 18-foot wingspan H-1 Racer – all fly in the film starring DiCaprio. The large models, Bok says, lent realism to the film’s crucial action scenes.
“There is still something about a computer-generated shot of a flying airplane or helicopter that just looks like a cartoon,” he says. “Real airplanes have an asynchronous motion about them that our brains recognize as ’real.’ ”
Bok understood the stakes involved in his work.
“We used every ounce of engineering muscle we could bring to bear on the project to make sure that each and every one of our planes flew safely and came home in one piece,” he says. “There was a tremendous amount of pressure on us. Someone could have been killed if we had calculated wrong.”
His sense of responsibility paid off: Bok’s work on the movie is being considered for an Academy Award for Science and Technology by the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Science 2005. Before Aero F/X, Bok started Aero Telemetry Corp., which specializes in the design and manufacture of unmanned air vehicles and airborne satellite communication systems.
“In the 1990s, I decided to get a pilot’s license,” Bok recalls. “I liked flying so much that I decided to learn how to fly vintage World War II airplanes and maybe even race them at the Reno National Air Race Championships.” While flying, he discovered a need for a wireless method of transferring electronic data from the airplane to the crew chief on the ground.
Bok went to work, collaborating with classmate Greg Petrisor ’86, MS ’87, PhD ’96. The company subsequently branched out into supporting products for the U.S. military’s unmanned air vehicles (UAV); today their products can be found on almost every major UAV project in the world. Bok’s professional success has its roots at USC: He was an inside linebacker on the Trojan football team and cites Artie Gigantino, the team’s well-known linebacker coach, as a key mentor.
“A great coach like Artie could see my mistakes and help me understand how to change,” Bok says. “In business and in life, it’s the same way, you have to change to remain competitive. I’ve always respected and encouraged the helpful criticism of people I knew were more intelligent than I was about a particular subject.”
– Christian Camozzi
Article reprinted with permission of USC Family Trojan Magazine