Stamp’s Ben Uttley solo shot an extraordinary adventure across the globe where every piece of kit had to be carefully considered, where reliability and weight were critical and the need for speed paramount
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Ben Uttley Founder and CEO , Stamp Productions
“The moment I heard about the plan to fly a Spitfire across the world, I immediately wanted to film it and was certain that people would want to see it.
The Silver Spitfire is an original Second World War combat plane, having flown at least 51 missions with one confirmed kill. It’s an incredible story and we’re now looking at a theatrical release to chime with the 80th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Britain in August this year.
There was a crew of six including two Spitfire pilots – Matt Jones and Steve Brooks – with the ambition to fly across 30 countries. The project was shot last year between the 5th August and 5th December with RAF legend, and former Red Arrow, Ian Smith MBE (”Smithy”) flying a support Pilatus PC-12 plane from which we filmed. We had a special door fitted that I could open mid-air and shoot from attached to a military harness. If the Spitfire crash-landed, I could also open the door and throw out a safety raft if over water or supplies. With video camera in hand and stills cameras strapped to me, it left me sweating and shaking from the physical exertion.
“The speed of my G-DRIVEs working with my MacBook Pro was a lifesaver”
We had a grand send-off from Goodwood and got stuck in foul weather in Scotland on our way to Iceland, stopping in the Faroe Isles. We were three weeks behind schedule from almost the get-go. The Spitfires lack modern flight controls and were effectively flying blind in sea fog that develops in minutes with treacherous icy waters below on the way to Greenland. You can’t fly the Spitfire through cloud – it’s disorientating and becomes very dangerous. At times the Spitfire was flying only just above the sea. We had to turn around multiple times.
The expedition was fraught with danger from the outset. It was incredibly exciting, sometimes frustrating and very tiring both physically and emotionally.
The project received huge interest and we had a warm reception with huge crowds in many of the places we landed. The Royal Air Force sent up a Typhoon to support us when we first set off. The Italian air force flew wing-to-wing with us: an AMX, a Eurofighter and a military helicopter. With the help of local air traffic control, we flew right past the Statue of Liberty and the Pyramids.
And we received hospitality from unexpected quarters: like Bahrain, where they had local collections during the Second World War to buy ten Spitfires; or Kuwait, who sent up an F18 to fly by us.
The world seems like a different place with this new perspective.”
Smithy says, ’history is littered with aeroplanes that have crashed because they were overweight.’ So, there’s always a compromise with engineering kit, tyres, tools and spares coming first. I was doing all the video, still photography, DITing and I’m 6’3″ 110kilos. A Peli case was the starting point. I was originally given 50kilos and at the end I was down to 22. I must have packed and re-packed a hundred times to keep the weight down.
The Kenyon 6×6 gyro was the biggest piece of kit so I had a stable platform to shoot out of the Pilatus plane door. The Sony FS5 was my A Cam shooting on an Atomos Samurai Blade in ProRes with five Sony stills cameras and an assortment of lenses including Sony G Master E-mount zooms I could use for both video and stills. And a Laowa wide angle lens that I also got Matt, one of the Spitfire pilots, to hold while flying so we could get the view from the cockpit. We then had five Go-Pros for the pilots’ helmets and to mount on the wingtips. Combined this created a lot of video and still assets. On top of this I had my MacBook Pro (and a spare laptop), with USB-C ports, four T shirts, four underpants, socks, a fleece and coat and not much more.
I had a system where I would back-up to two G-DRIVE mobile SSDs. I kept one in my camera bag, and the other I sent back to the UK when I could (while retaining a copy until it was confirmed as backed-up).
Some countries can be nervous about media and I could hide the G-DRIVEs from the snooping eyes of security. I could strip the FS5 down to look like a domestic camera and hide the drives all over the place, when I needed to. I even hid one in a secret compartment in my washbag. The G-DRIVEs are so small and discreet.
I must send out a big thank-you to Nick at Salon Pro Sales who recommended them, as well as the guys at G-Technology and Global Distribution. I had just enough drives to carry on with the right storage capacity to fulfil the project. Incredible pieces of kit.
The need for speed
Every night I needed to DIT the footage and wrangle the stills and create the files and back-ups. I was producing weekly updates for social for our sponsor IWC and supplied digital content as we went. All on my own. Pulling together selects for them to work up.
The speed of the G-Technology drives working with my MacBook was a lifesaver. I could back-up the day’s assets within an hour or two every night. Otherwise, I might not have finished my DITing before midnight. I was only getting five hours sleep most days before getting up at six or seven in the morning to pack my bags and go to the airfield, even if we couldn’t fly that morning. Day in, day out, it takes a toll.
The G-DRIVE mobile SSD (left), The G-DRIVE mobile Pro SSD (right)
Fatigue was a real issue and threat, so I needed to be able to work fast and the workflow and technology had to be incredibly reliable. I never once had any issues.
The USB-C transfer speeds to my MacBook Pro were lightening quick: nearly eight times faster than the previous drives I was testing before I went. I used the G DRIVE mobile SSDs for storage and back-up and the G-DRIVE mobile Pro SSD as the working drive to bring in the best bits to edit or to work up the stills.
They were so fast, and they never failed us. They’re like air in your hand. I couldn’t have managed the workflow five years ago. The lightweight drives and the transfer speeds are incredible and they’re robust too. With the Thuderbolt 3 connection, you can get a terabyte across in less than seven minutes on the G-DRIVE mobile Pro SSDs. If there’s a Geek Society for G-Technology, I’d become a member.”
The Silver Spitfire is a Stamp Production. Stamp was founded in 2008 and crafts content from mobile to cinema for brands and broadcasters and itself. Stamp is a creative production house. imagination and inspiration are its guiding lights. Stamp have created films for The British & Irish Lions, Red Bull, Honda, Land Rover, Sky, BBC and many more.