How a Retired Navy Aviator Became a Hotshot Hollywood Consultant for 'The Right Stuff'

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The Right Stuff
John Glenn (played by Patrick J. Adams) and Annie Glenn (played by Nora Zehetner) sit with their children watching the launch of a test rocket in National Geographic's "The Right Stuff" streaming on Disney+. (National Geographic/Gene Page)

The new National Geographic Disney+ series "The Right Stuff" is distinguished by enormous attention to period detail. The clothes, sets, cars, props and equipment effectively evoke the Kennedy-era moment and the producers were determined to get the technical details right as well.

That's why they hired veteran Navy aviator Carl Pascarell as their military advisor on the show, which is currently streaming on Disney+ with new episodes released each Friday.

Carl Pascarell
Carl Pascarell (courtesy photo)

Carl Pascarell started flying as a teenager and went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on a Navy ROTC scholarship. After earning his degree in aeronautical engineering in 1975, Carl entered the Navy and flew the Vought 7AE Corsair.

He was deployed on the Independence and the Eisenhower. Later he was an Advanced Training Flight Instructor for the Mcdonnell Douglas TA4J Skyhawk. Even though he's younger than the pilots-turned-astronauts portrayed in "The Right Stuff," Carl has a command of aviator culture and the history of flying in the United States Armed Forces.

After his military service, Carl worked as a test pilot at a civilian company called Swearingen Aircraft. He became friends with a guy named Buck Davisson and met his young daughter. That kid grew up to be Jennifer Davisson, who's now partners with Leonardo DiCaprio in Appian Way Productions. That's the same Appian Way that made "The Right Stuff."

Jennifer invited her old family friend to the set in Florida. That may or may not have been a secret audition. Carl spent the day on the set and made comments about the filming as they watched."Towards the end of the day," Carl remembers, "we had a nice little reunion and she asked if I'd be interested in consulting on the show. There were some small points that I was making along the way. 'Well they couldn't really use that word back then. The vernacular was different. He was more likely to say this.'"

It's 2020, so being a military advisor on a big time production looks a bit different than it did last year. Carl says, "I became increasingly involved, not so much on the set, but through Zoom, and in previewing certain sequences developed by the visual effects department. I was available to respond to any questions they had. 'Does this look right? Is this something that would happen? Is this reasonable? Are it the language and the aircraft and the markings all era appropriate?' That was my role."

Like a lot of veterans, Pascarell sometimes has trouble watching military-themed movies and shows.

"Sometimes it's a little frustrating, but I don't ever resort to throwing things at the TV or yelling at it," says Pascarell. "But it is a little concerning that they obviously spent x millions of dollars putting this together and that some consultant didn't say 'No, no, that's not right' and have it fixed. I've seen very few aviation-themed movies that I think are accurate."

Carl is old enough to remember the Mercury 7 program even though his service came a couple of decades later.

"I was seven or eight years old during the Mercury program. I can distinctly remember my dad making up a song about John Glenn's orbiting the Earth three times," remembers Carl. "Very soon after that I read a book by Scott Crossfield called 'Always Another Dawn.' He was a rocket to test pilot and that book lit a fire under me. I think it was the next day I walked up to the airport and bought myself a $5 introductory flight lesson and the rest is history."

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