Ralph Rebaya, The Flying Filipino
By Paul Morrow
Ralph Rebaya prepares his radio controlled helicopter to film a scene
WINNIPEG – The multi-million-dollar feature film, Strings, wrapped production in Manitoba on July 29. The movie, which stars Josh Duhamel, Laura Dern, Maria Bello, Tom Everett Scott, Lucas Till and Kherington Payne, combined the talents of hundreds of professionals from Manitoba and around the world. One of those unique talents was Ralph Rebaya, a friendly, unassuming Filipino-American with a highly specialized set of skills. He flies radio controlled (RC) helicopters for a variety of industries including law enforcement, surveillance, and now the movies.
Rebaya is the owner, engineer, and chief pilot of Heli Watch, established in 2009 in Lakewood, California. He and camera operator, Mike Colantonio, were brought in for one weekend to film travelling sequences on the rural roads outside Winnipeg with Director Daniel Duran, Cinematographer Angel Barroeta and producer Danny Rodriguez.
Although he is fairly new to the movie business, Rebaya didn’t let the pressure get to him. “The job went perfectly,” he said. “Having the experience of lots of people watching my flights as a child, I was mentally prepared for anything,” a typically humble response from Rebaya, who has perhaps more significant reasons for being able to handle the job so well. As a consulting engineer to the top aerospace companies in the world with a master’s degree in aeronautics and as a former lieutenant in the United States Army, Rebaya has plenty of know-how to back him up.
And his flight experience is not limited to electric and gas powered RC helicopters. Aside from designing and building many of his RC aircraft, he is also an FAA certified pilot with licences for fixed wing and gyrocopter aircraft. He has logged over 100 hours in a single-passenger ultra light aircraft, which he designed and built in his own backyard. He is also a skydiver.
Rebaya’s online video portfolio is an astounding collection of breath taking, swooping aerial views of mountains, marinas, tall buildings, festivals and concerts, all shot with a variety of cameras attached to his RC helicopters. He has even filmed golf tournaments and weddings. For a few months each year he works as an aerospace consultant, but Heli Watch is his main focus. The company grew from his earlier established business as an RC helicopter pilot instructor known as “The Flying Filipino.”
Although his family is originally from Manila, Ralph was born in Guam. The youngest of five brothers, he moved with his family to California in 1972 when he was just starting elementary school. His love of flight and engineering goes back to his childhood.
“Our house was the hub of the entire neighbourhood. When my brothers and I brought a few friends over we often had between 10 and 15 people spending the night at our house. This many people running around in a house equals a lot of broken toys and electronic devices. I loved to try to fix everything – even if it was not broken.”
Young Ralph’s first encounter with flight was with a rubber band powered airplane kit that he rescued from the trash. One of his less patient brothers threw it away when he saw how complicated it was to construct.
“I took it from the trash the next morning, spent nine months putting it together and then invited the entire neighbourhood to watch my first flight. It lasted three seconds before it nose dived straight to the ground, breaking in pieces, with what felt like a million kids laughing at me. Since that first crash, I found my passion for flying objects.”
Ralph’s wife, Marissa, does not quite share his passion for flight, especially when he is flying at an altitude of 5,000 feet aboard his own home-built single passenger aircraft. “She feels a little more at ease when I fly radio controlled helicopters,” said Rebaya. “She is a very loving and supportive wife who is a detail-oriented person. She takes care of all the business paper work and contracts.”
With Manitoba’s movie industry booming, Rebaya’s services might be required again in the future. What does he have to say about working here?
“The people in Manitoba have the warmth and love like in the Philippines. They are so welcoming and helpful. They are so friendly, that with a Los Angeles mindset you might think that something is wrong – like they are about to ask for your money,” joked Rebaya.
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