The Right Stuff Locations
Most of the filming for The Right Stuff took place in and around the San Francisco area. With many places of interest around San Francisco, it’s no surprise that this area was chosen as a filming location. Since the focus of the movie was on the research around aeronautical travel, several scenes were filmed at Air Force Stations as well as an abandoned air force station that helped serve as a sound stage for several interior scenes.
For the supersonic scenes showcased in the early part of the movie, the production crew moved their set to the Mojave Desert which not only served as the actual location where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, but also helped set the scene for the movie that was to come. With virtually the entire movie being filmed within California, you’re sure to spot some of the filming locations from The Right Stuff the next time you visit San Francisco.
In their search to make the movie as authentic as it could be, the director of the film Phillip Kaufman, sent 5 editors to look through NASA, Air Force as well as Bell Aircraft Vaults to look for documentary images. Among the images found, they also discovered Russian Stock footage that had not been viewed in over 30 years!
Chuck Yeager arrives at the Air Force Base scene in The Right Stuff
Hamilton Air Force Base, Novato
With Chuck breaking his ribs the night prior to his attempt at breaking the sound barrier, he aims to make it unknown to anyone that he’s in pain on the big day. As he approaches his stop, he sees “Glamorous Glennis” being painted on the rocket-powered Bell X-1. Looking for some advice, he calls his friend Ridley over and says, “ A horse threw me last night and I dinged up my g***n ribs.” Not wanting to be replaced by another pilot he asks Ridley to come up with a plan to get him a way in which he can seal his hatch to the X-1.
This scene where he meets Ridley and asks him for help was shot at the abandoned Hamilton Air Force Base in Novato, California. Most of the movie was shot here, which means that throughout the film, various scenes also utilized the Hamilton Air Force base as the film set for The Right Stuff. The area has changed over the years and now houses several museums and attractions for those who want to visit the location.
To reach the famous Hamilton Air Force Base, travel along the US-101 South and then take the exit along Alameda del Prado. Turn on Nave Drive, and then head down Main Gate Road where, if you continue going straight, you’ll eventually reach Hangar Avenue, where the old base was.
Pilots attempt to break the sound barrier in The Right Stuff
Mojave Desert, California
The first few scenes in The Right Stuff were shot in black and white. In these scenes, the audience is greeted by an unnamed pilot waving at Chuck Yeager before entering the Bell X-1 aircraft and attempting to break the sound barrier. The ground team relays the increasing speed of the pilot stating, “…point 96, point 97, point 98, point 99!” But before the pilot is able to reach Mach 1, the plane loses control and crashes into the ground, simultaneously bringing the film into color.
The Mojave Desert was chosen as one of The Right Stuff’s action scene locations and is a relatively easy area to get to, seeing as it’s so massive and it borders 2 states. To get to one of the main roads leading to the Mojave Desert as well as the location of the lake where the sound barrier was broken, you can travel along the Barstow Bakersfield Highway. Head down Rosamond Boulevard to where you will eventually get to the Air Force Flight Test Museum, which contains pieces of history from which the movie got some of its inspiration.
Press conference scene in The Right Stuff
Hotel Oakland, Oakland, California
With the rise of interest in aeronautical research and the introduction of “America’s Mercury astronauts” to the public, everyone is excited to see what the future of airspace travel holds for humankind. Although most people are excited, there are a few that state, “Seven rookies being installed as the hottest fliers… and they haven’t done a thing but show up for a press conference.” With the beginning of the Mercury Seven team that was going to attempt to beat the Russians in the space race.
This scene was filmed at Hotel Oakland in Oakland California, and since it was filmed within a hotel, it meant that there was a lot of space for the entire scene to be filmed comfortably. To get to this iconic hotel that also has its own piece of history, drive along Lakeshore Avenue and then along Lake Merritt Boulevard. When you turn on 14th Street, you can see Hotel Oakland.
Rocket test at Cape Canaveral scene in The Right Stuff
NASA Ames Research Centre, Moffett Field, California
A large audience filled with various military personnel, members of the Mercury Seven team, as well as tons of reporters and newscasters are all lined around, eagerly awaiting the launch of a rocket that might take humanity into outer space. The first launch of the rocket ship is a complete failure, with the rocket barely leaving the ground before falling back down and then exploding. Two months later, a new rocket is in the works. With the countdown beginning, the control tower operator states, “… five, four, three, two, one, ignition.” But unfortunately, the new rocket and the ones that followed shortly after all failed.
This scene with the many reporters outside the hangar was shot at the NASA Ames Research Centre near Sunnyvale and Mountain View. This is one of the more well-known NASA research centers, so visiting the area should be no issue as there are plenty of ways in which you can get there. One way to get to one of The Right Stuff’s many filming locations is by taking the 101 South and then exiting Moffett Field. You then turn right on Moffett Boulevard towards the NASA Ames Research Centre Main Gate.
Capsule splash scene in The Right Stuff
Half Moon Bay, California
With everything seeming to go fine at first, Gus Grissom starts to panic in his Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft. He takes off his helmet and relays in to communicate and he asks whether or not to blow his hatch before they latch onto the bell. Moments later, the bell hatch explodes and starts to sink, and the helicopter pilots make the decision to save Gus rather than the Liberty Bell 7 Spacecraft. Back on the carrier, Gus explains, “It must have been a technical malfunction. The hatch just blew.”
Most historians as well as engineers working for or with NASA are convinced that the hatch actually blew due to the premature detonation of the spacecraft’s explosive bolts and was not because of human error or direct detonation of Gus Grissom.
Most of the filming for this scene, especially the splashdown scene for the capsule was shot at Half Moon Bay in California. Since it's located off the coast of Half Moon Bay, it may be difficult to find an exact location, but you can still visit the city where they shot the scene. To get to Half Moon Bay, drive along Skyline Boulevard into San Mateo Road which directly leads into the city that served as one of The Right Stuff’s production locations.
Welcoming NASA to Houston scene in The Right Stuff
Cow Palace, Daly City, California
With the launch of the Mercury-Atlas 6 which made Glenn the first American to orbit the Earth, the Mercury crew was suddenly thrust into the spotlight, with the entire crew and their families becoming overnight celebrities. Celebrations for this achievement included a ticker tape parade as well as a gigantic celebration at the Sam Houston Coliseum where the announcer mentions, “My fellow citizens… America’s Mercury Astronauts! Welcome to Houston, your new home!”
This scene where the families enter the “Sam Houston Coliseum” was actually shot in the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. This is one of the larger areas used as a set for The Right Stuff which allowed for such a grand celebration scene to take place. Because of the size of this area, the portion of the upper parking lot is actually in San Francisco. If you want to get there, you can drive along Geneva Avenue, and you’ll be there in no time.
With a superb set of actors that were invested in their roles, The Right Stuff really captured what it felt like to be on the cusp of groundbreaking research. With many places used to film the movie, it's no wonder that they did a great job and were inducted into the National Film Registry to be preserved by the Library of Congress.