Tom Cruise became an expert helicopter pilot just to film one stunt in “Mission: Impossible”

Just taking a leisurely cruise.
Just taking a leisurely cruise.
Image: Paramount Pictures/YouTube screenshot
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The swashbuckling Tom Cruise has one-upped himself yet again. The Hollywood actor learned how to fly a helicopter specifically so that he could risk his life filming a stunt in the upcoming Mission: Impossible sequel, a behind-the-scenes video for the film revealed.

Cruise, 55, earned his pilot’s license in 1994 and has since turned into one of Hollywood’s biggest flying enthusiasts—a hobby he has demonstrated on screen in films like American Made. The star, whose breakthrough role was as a pilot in 1986’s Top Gun, flies planes so often that the US environmental lobby nicknamed him “Emissions Impossible.” Cruise owns a number of expensive private jets, one of which he was rumored to use to pick up groceries for his then wife, actress Katie Holmes. (Cruise has never publicly denied the rumor.)

But he didn’t have as much experience with helicopters—until Mission: Impossible – Fallout came along. The sixth installment in the popular action spy series required that Cruise not only learn how to fly a helicopter, but also become something of an expert helicopter pilot so that he could perform an extremely dangerous stunt on his own.

It’s unclear if the script necessitated that Cruise become a master pilot, or if the actor simply wanted to be one and then decided to use his new skills in the film. In this age of CGI technology and stunt doubles, we’re assuming the latter.

“Flying a helicopter takes a lot of skill,” said Marc Wolff, aerial coordinator for the film. “To put someone like Tom into a situation like this is almost impossible to imagine.” (The italicized emphasis is our own—you see what he did there?)

According to Randy Hepner, an aerial assistant on Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Cruise accrued 2,000 flying hours in a very short period of time to get up to speed. Normally, pilots would need to train eight hours per day for at least three months just to become a novice pilot. But Cruise needed to be more than a novice pilot: He needed to perform a 360-degree downward spiral maneuver in mountainous terrain.

“Most pilots wouldn’t attempt this,” one stunt coordinator says in the video. “You make a mistake, somebody’s going to die from it,” another adds.

And that’s where the behind-the-scenes clip goes from absolutely incredible to distasteful. On Cruise’s last film, American Made (for which he performed his own plane stunts), two stunt pilots did die in a plane crash, in the Colombian Andes outside Medellin, after production wrapped. The families of the two pilots are now suing the producers of the film, alleging that they ignored safety procedures and cut corners to save time and money.

Cruise was not directly involved in the accident, but the lawsuit blames him and director Doug Liman for pushing the limits on set and contributing to an unsafe environment in which an accident might occur. Tom Cruise involved in risky business? Never!