The wild blue yonder is coming to the silver screen.

"Thunder Over Reno," a movie that boasts a pair of well-known North Dakota aviators as executive producers, premiers locally at the Fargo Theatre tonight and Saturday.

The film's public debut was actually last Friday in Reno, Nev., where it was part of the buzz surrounding the annual Reno National Championship Air Races, the inspiration for the movie.

Real race footage fuels the film's action, said Mitch Carley, who wrote the screenplay and directed the movie.

Carley, of Columbus, Ohio, works in advertising and makes TV commercials.

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Filming a movie about flying has been an obsession since boyhood, when he watched clips of the Reno air races on ABC's "Wide World of Sports."

Birds of a feather

Carley's dream might have been left on the runway if it wasn't for North Dakota's Robert Odegaard and Tim (Toby) McPherson.

Carley met Odegaard, the operator of an aviation company in Kindred, and McPherson, who runs an aerial spraying company in Page, at the air races in 2004.

Recognizing that they shared a common passion, Carley pitched his idea for a screenplay he describes as a family-friendly action adventure about a young man chasing his dream.

"The world's fastest motor sport is the backdrop. So of course there's excitement. There's danger," Carley said.

"I put a title to it a long time ago," he added. "I call it the world's fastest love story."

Odegaard and McPherson provided financial backing and Odegaard has a part in the movie, as does his daughter, Halley, and McPherson's son, Tucker.

Actors with screen experience were also brought in, but Odegaard said he likes to think the real star of the movie is his 1940s-era Super Corsair, which he flies in the film.

Only 10 Super Corsairs were ever built. Powered by an engine borrowed from much larger World War II bombers, the Super Corsair was intended to intercept Kamikaze planes.

"Ever since I saw 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' on TV, I always thought it would be fun to fly in a movie," said Odegaard, referring to a 1970s television program about Corsair pilots.

Odegaard said many of the aerial scenes in "Thunder" were more fun to watch than perform.

"We have angles you don't get to see as a pilot," said Odegaard.

'Phenomenal shots'

"The shots are phenomenal," agreed McPherson, whose P-51 Mustang is one of the planes in the film.

Two other aircraft used in the movie, including Odegaard's Corsair, will be set up outside the Fargo Theatre for the local premier.

Odegaard said a distribution deal is still being worked out, but they're hoping some of the 18 million people who attend air shows every year will give the film a look, either in theaters or on DVD.

Carley said the production owes thanks to the communities of Reno, Kindred and Page, as well as Northern Cass High School, where the finale was shot.

Scenes filmed in Kindred and Page include footage of aerial spraying, as the movie's protagonist, played by actor Hawk Younkins, starts out as a crop duster before he's lured to the high-stakes world of air racing.

A credit at the end of the movie honors Gerry Beck, a Wahpeton aviator who died this past summer when his vintage P-51 Mustang collided with another plane at an air show in Wisconsin.

"I called him Mr. Inspiration," said Carley, who has done some flying himself.

He said, however, that his preoccupation with planes was trumped by work and family.

"I never wanted to fly because it took up too much time and money. I could be so addicted to it," Carley said.

If you go

- What: "Thunder Over Reno" movie.

- When: 7:30 and 9:30 tonight,

3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday

- Where: Fargo Theatre

- Tickets: $10 per person, available at the theater and the Fargo Air Museum.

Seating is limited and as of Thursday, the 7:30 p.m. showing Friday was sold out. To reserve tickets for remaining shows, call the theater at (701) 235-4152.



- Watch the movie trailer

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555