STAR WARSOP: Notts man says ‘I’m the real Han Solo’

Warsop's own Han Solo - Notts pensioner Colin Coombes tells of how he made the Millennium Falcon fly.
Warsop's own Han Solo - Notts pensioner Colin Coombes tells of how he made the Millennium Falcon fly.
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Meet the Warsop grandfather who actually piloted the Millennium Falcon – but says he’s never watched Star Wars.

We all have things we’re proud of or that we like to brag about to friends down the pub.

But when you meet someone who says ‘I flew the Millennium Falcon’, the rest of us might as well go home.

But that is exactly what Warsop pensioner Colin Coombes did, after he was drafted in by George Lucas to make the most of his skills as an engineer.

The real-life Han Solo, 79, was called in by film bosses in 1979 and asked to contribute to a film he had never even heard of, and to make a giant flying-saucer shaped model fy for scenes in The Empire Strikes Back.

Colin, an expert in helicopters and hovercrafts, told: “I got a call from 20th Century Fox. They said we’ve got a film called Star Wars and we’re doing another one, but we’re having a full size space craft built. They said can you make it fly like a hovercraft?

“I went to Pembroke Dock in Wales where they had built this thing and it was huge, the size of a house, and they were taking it to Elstree Studios in London in five pieces.

“I remember when I went down to the studios it was a hot summer day and there was this hotel with a huge mound of snow against it, and they were filming the Shining.

“When I got to the set I saw X-wing planes and Ti-Fighters hanging up.

“They were working on huge blocks of polystyrene to build this cavern – the scene was that the Millennium Falcon had just been in a battle and it’s damaged so they shoot down into this giant cave.”

The Western Telegraph leaked pictures of the highly secretive operation to hide the 'flying saucer'. Photo by John Clark in 1979.

The Western Telegraph leaked pictures of the highly secretive operation to hide the 'flying saucer'. Photo by John Clark in 1979.

After working for the Ministry of Defence and Western Helicopters, Colin moved to British Hovercrafts where he specialised in small compressor systems called ‘air bearings’ or ‘hover pads’. It was these the producers needed to get the 40-metre, 24-tonne spaceship off the ground.

Colin added: “I fitted it with 20 or so of these hover pads and inside the space craft you had all the controls, and it was my job to get into it and make it move. I suppose in a way I’m the real Han Solo.

“It floated just off the stage and I think they were a little disappointed because they were hoping it would make this huge gust of wind and blow all the soil all over the place.”

Star Wars is notoriously secretive about its films being made ad Colin wasn’t able to take any photos of his work, but reporters at the Western Telegraph sneaked pictures of the ‘flying saucer’ while it was being built in Pembroke Dock.

Prince Michael of Kent rides on an 'air-bearing' - similar to those that Colin used to make the Millennium Flacon glide across a movie set/

Prince Michael of Kent rides on an 'air-bearing' - similar to those that Colin used to make the Millennium Flacon glide across a movie set/

After filming, the model was dismantled and wasn’t used again until the most recent film, The Force Awakens, and Colin’s hover pad system is still being used to glide it around a stage.

Colin had built a career testing helicopters for the Ministry of Defence and also as an expert in hovercrafts that Hollywood would turn to get huge objects off the ground.

But despite being ‘the real Han Solo’ he says he’s never seen any of the Star Wars movies.

“I’ve just never had any interest in Science Fiction,” he added. “I might try to have a look at The Empire Strikes Back though, and see if I’m in it.”

Now retired, the grandfather lives with his wife in a Church Warsop cul-de-sac, with their dog and pet budgie.

“I was the first person to fly the Millennium Falcon, but they didn’t ask me to come and fly it again for the new one,” he said.

How he did it

After working for the Ministry of Defence and Western Helicopters, Colin moved to British Hovercrafts where he specialised in small compressor systems called ‘air bearings’ or ‘hover pads’.

He fitted 20 of these units, capable of lifting up to five tonnes each, on the feet of the life-size Falcon, and from a cockpit inside the ship was able to navigate it around the movie set.

‘Fastest hunk of funk in the Galaxy’

- A Corellian YT-1300f light freighter

- Won by Han Solo in a game of Sabacc

- Legendary as one of the fastest ‘hunks of junk’ in the galaxy.

- Can do the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.

- Powered by Girodyne SRB42 sublight engines giving it a maximum speed of 1,050 KPH in atmosphere and 3,000 G in space.