Movie Cars are Flipping Out: The Story Behind the Pneumatic Car Flipper

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Films have entered a new era of destruction. It seems like every big budget movie, every summer blockbuster features another big city getting torn down or blown up. There are enough explosions in movies these days to make Michael Bay blush, and he practically invented the gimmick. The super hero movie epidemic is another big factor, and while all these explosions and immolations dominate the silver screen, the casualties wrack up. What kinds of casualties? Cars.

Think about when you saw The Avengers, with the Chitauri flying around New York City shooting up any car that happens to be within five feet of a human being. Then there’s the Fast and the Furious franchise, in which one car is destroyed per every 37 seconds of film. This blog post lists eleven of the most car-hostile films in history, which collectively account for the demise of almost two thousand cars.

In many cases, these cars don’t need to be crashed. Films just call for them to be flipped over like, for example, the taxi cabs that Spiderman is so adept at catching just before they hit people. Prior to 1998, film-makers and special effects coordinators accomplished these feats with actual explosives, which required the target cars to be heavily modified beforehand. Now, it’s a lot easier to send cars flying through the air (and a lot cheaper, too). That is thanks to the talents of John Frazier and his company FXperts, Inc.

Photo: Car and Driver

Photo: Car and Driver

Frazier, along with Clay Pinney and Chuck Gaspar, invented the pneumatic car flipper, a device that is so successful at its job that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the three men with a Scientific and Technical Achievement Award. Now Frazier’s company has more than twenty of the flippers in stock, which are rented out to whichever film needs to catapult a car.

Photo: Car and Driver

Photo: Car and Driver

Car and Driver did a feature on Frazier and his flippers a few weeks ago. From that article, here’s an explanation of how the device works:

A flipper consists of a thick steel plate to which a large steel lever structure is attached. That lever is actuated by modified hydraulic rams (originally rated at 5000 psi working pressure) hooked up to a modified hydraulic accumulator with the rubber bladder removed that stores nitrogen gas at between 1800 and 2500 psi. “It takes 1400 psi just to get a car moving,” [Frazier] explains, “and it takes so long to fill the bottles at 2500 psi that all you hear is Michael Bay in your ear yelling about why it’s taking so long.”

We recommend you read the full piece on the Car and Driver site, and then keep your eyes peeled next time you go to the movies.

Movie Cars are Flipping Out: The Story Behind the Pneumatic Car Flipper was last modified: December 23rd, 2014 by Chris Leith Dodge