Catch-22 Remake – Warbirds Over Sardinia!

Nicknamed Mayfly by Aces High, their C-47/Dakota taxis at Olbia-Costa Smeralda airport in Sardinia during late June, 2018. The combat Veteran Douglas transport is one of four warbirds on location for the filming of the new television series adaptation of Joseph Heller's satirical WWII novel, Catch-22. (photo by Fabio Ledda)
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After a more than seventy year absence, the breathtakingly beautiful island of Sardinia is once again echoing to the clattering roar of R-2600 radial engines. Sardinia, a semi-autonomous region of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea, is hosting a small fleet of WWII-era warbirds, including a brace of B-25J Mitchell bombers, a Douglas Dakota and a Junkers Ju 52/3m. The aircraft are taking part in filming for a new adaptation of Joseph Heller’s satirical anti-war anthem, Catch-22. The production is set for release in 2019 as a six-episode, limited run series for the web-streaming television service HULU. It will also air on Channel 4 in the UK and Sky Italia in Italy who are co-producing the show alongside HULU.

The two B-25Js taking part in the filming of Catch-22 on and above the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. Axis Nightmare (45-8898) is on the right, while Photo Fanny (44-30423) is on the left. (photo by Fabio Ledda)

WarbirdsNews recently received some fascinating images from one of our fans, Fabio Ledda, who works at Olbia-Costa Smeralda airport in Sardinia. He caught the aircraft currently taking part in the production, and they are as follows:

  • B-25J Mitchell – 44-30423/N3675G – Photo Fanny – Planes of Fame Museum – Chino, CA, USA
  • B-25J Mitchell – 45-8898/N898BW – Axis Nightmare – Tri-State Warbird Museum – Batavia, Ohio, USA
  • C-47A Skytrain/Dakota – 42-100884/TS423/N147DC – Mayfly – Aces High – North Weald, England
  • Ju 52 – T.2B-212/F-AZJU- Assoc. Amicale J-B Salis – La Ferte-Alais, France

As many readers will know, Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, was himself a B-25 bombardier during WWII. He flew sixty combat missions with the 488th BS/340th BG of the 12th AF while stationed on an island off the coast of Italy. Many of the characters and incidents in the book are loose representations of those he experienced during his time in WWII. This is the third adaptation of Heller’s novel to be filmed, the first being the well-known 1970 feature-length film directed by Mike Nichols and starring Alan Arkin, Richard Benjamin, Bob Newhart and Orson Welles. Paramount Pictures, who produced the movie also created a half-hour pilot for a television series starring Richard Dreyfuss, but never picked it up. The latest rendition will feature Christopher Abbott as the lead character, John Yossarian, with smaller parts played by Hugh Laurie, Kyle Chandler and George Clooney. Clooney is one of the producers, and will also have a directorial role as well.

In this image of Photo Fanny masquerading as the fictional Fly Me Hight!, you can see the aerial camera protruding slightly from where the tail gunners position is normally. This aircraft has been used as a camera ship in the movie industry for decades, (photo by Fabio Ledda). (photo by Fabio Ledda)

As some may recall from the book, the story revolves around the men of the fictionalized 256th Bombardment Squadron stationed on the Island of Pianosa near the Italian mainland during WWII. The protagonist is John Yossarian, a B-25 bombardier caught in the seemingly endless charade of flying enough missions to complete his tour, while his senior officers repeatedly raise the number of mandatory missions whenever Yossarian and his fellow airmen get close to their goal, essentially rendering their survival impossible. Yossarian tries to beat the system by declaring that he is insane, and therefore no longer fit for combat, but the infamous “Catch-22” legal paradox infers that anyone doing so is therefore sane by default, because only the insane wish to fly under such conditions. While the plot may seem a little bizarre, and there really is no disputing that, the book, and indeed the original film, were masterpieces in their time. For the aviation enthusiast, the formation take off in the film, which included eighteen B-25 Mitchells, is a magnificent spectacle that truly has to be seen to be believed. Regardless of anyone’s particular opinion on the merits of the movie however, one thing is indisputable: it was directly responsible for saving many of the B-25s involved (15 still survive to this day). By breathing enough life into them to fly for the camera, it ensured that they survived long enough to be deemed worthy of preservation by a community only just becoming aware of their historical value.

As for what is currently taking place, WarbirdsNews man on the ground in Sardinia, Fabio Ledda told us that the aircraft are based at Olbia-Costa Smeralda airport in north-eastern Sardinia, but that occasionally they land at Olbia-Venafiorita, a small airport south of the main airport. According to Ledda, Olbia-Venafiorita airport is now off-limits to visitors. Rumor has it that the movie company has transformed the old airstrip into an authentic-looking WWII airfield.  Ledda also told us that most of the air-to-air scenes are filmed around the city of Nuoro, a beautiful and remote mountain area away from the commercial traffic of Sardinia’s main commmericial airports at Cagliari-Elmas and Olbia-Costa Smeralda. People also witnessed aerial filming taking place north of the majestic island of Tavolara, an imposing limestone massif located just off Sardinia’s northeastern coast (see map).

A map of Tavolara Island. (image via Wikipedia)

A spectacular view of Tavolara Island, above which some of the aerial action in Catch-22 is taking place. Interestingly, this island is considered one of the smallest kingdoms in the world, and has a population of less than sixty people. Additionally, NATO installed a station here in 1962 which often found itself a target during military exercises made by NATO countries whose aircraft were stationed at Decimomannu, or Deci for short, an air base nearby on the Sardinian mainland. (image by Daniele Battiato)

Given that the new series has a credible production pedigree, and will have the time to tell the novel’s story more faithfully, there is every possibility it will be a successful effort. However, it will also rely on a lot of CGI to fill in the background when it comes to formation flights with the aviation component. That is a hard act to pull off, as such filmic turkeys like Red Tails and Fly Boys demonstrate only too well. But if the filmmakers keep the live-action aviation closeups focused on the real aircraft, with the CGI  ‘props’ blended into the background to fill out the screen, then they should be able to carry off the illusion of much larger formations. Added to this credibility is the fact that some of the world’s best warbird pilots will be flying the action sequences. Of the pilots presently identified as being involved, the superlative Steve Hinton and his son Steven, a proven master of the air in his own right, will be flying B-25s, and the legendary Andrew Dixon, one of the highest time, active C-47 pilots in the world, will be piloting Aces High’s Douglas Dakota. Aces High is one of the world’s most experienced aerial cinematography companies (amongst other things), and has been in the business for decades, so there is little doubt that there will be some beautiful, and dynamic aerial experiences to witness in the production. We look forwards to seeing the results when Catch-22 airs next year!

WarbirdsNews wishes to offer our gratitude to Fabio Ledda for providing these fascinating images!





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