We all love movies, right? It seems some our favorite movies tend to include those with military aircraft screaming across the sky, piloted by big movie stars who defy all odds, and often orders, to carry out impossible missions. The aircraft are mostly tools that help define the characters or help them win the day. But it’s the aerial dogfights between good and bad, the bombing runs on a hard target, or he helicopter extraction of prisoners in a hot LZ that get the blood pumping.
There are recent movies that take us back to World War 1 like Flyboys (2006) and there are the classics like the one starring George Peppard called The Blue Max (1966). Then, with the era of World War 2, many nostalgic movies focused on the storylines of the Greatest Generation taking to the skies over Europe and the Pacific in fighter aircraft and long range bombers to save the world.
Black Sheep Squadron (1976) told the fantastic tales of WWII ace “Pappy” Boyington and his Marine aviator squadron over the Pacific. The Tuskegee Airmen (1995) is the story of African American pilots overcoming racism to become one of the most successful fighter squadrons in WWII. There are well over fifty movies that concentrate on this era of aviation that include long range bomber aircraft like Memphis Belle (1990), and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) that dramatize the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Hunters (1958) was a Korean War period based movie with Air Force American F-86 Sabre aircraft battling Chinese MiG fighter jets as was Bridges at Toko-Ri but with Naval Aviators piloting the F9F-2 Panthers.
Unlike earlier war period based movies, the Vietnam era had fewer aviation oriented films–our research shows four. Representing the men and women pilots of their time in the Vietnam theater are Flight of the Intruder (1991) featuring the A-6 Intruder, Bat*21 (1988) where the only surviving crew member (Gene Hackman) of a B-66 Destroyer is shot down while maneuvering across the landscape toward rescue while he maintains contact with a pilot (Danny Glover) of a Cessna O-2 Skymaster. A third is Air America (1990), a comedy film about two pilots in a Fairchild C-123 Provider cargo aircraft who discover they are secretly working for the CIA smuggling drugs out of Laos.
In the 42 years since Vietnam War, we have seen a few conflicts, skirmishes, and wars that span the Cold War, Desert Storm, Balkan Conflicts and War on Terror in Iraq/Afghanistan that involve U.S. Aviation depictions in film. These include the Cold War era romantic drama of Top Gun (1986) with F-14 Tomcat and F-5 Tiger IIs. Behind Enemy Lines (2001) is about an F-18 Hornet mission over war-torn Bosnia, and Black Hawk Down (2001) where two UH-60 Blackhawks are shot down in Mogadishu.
For the War on Terror, the movie Lone Survivor (2013) is not about military aviation but has a major scene where a CH-47 Chinook helicopter is shot down by a rocket propelled grenade while trying to rescue Marcus Luttrell. There are even films about military drones being flown by U.S. servicemen and women like in the 2014 movie, Good Kill.
12 Military Fixed Wing and Rotor Wing Aircraft in the Movies
F-5 Tiger II – In the movie Top Gun when they needed a stand-in for a MiG-28, filmmakers chose the sleek, stiletto shaped F-5 Tiger II. The F-5s used are part of the U.S. Navy’s aggressor squadrons that train pilots in air-to-air combat tactics.
- F-14 Tomcat – The F-14 was the central aircraft in Top Gun that had all the kids in the 1980s wanting to become a naval aviation fighter pilot. In the movie, “Maverick” and “Goose” scream across the sky in the Tomcat chasing training officers flying A-4 Skyhawks as aggressor aircraft at the Top Gun School and shooting MiG-28s (portrayed by F-5s) out of the sky that were trying to attack the U.S. Carrier Enterprise.
- F-22 Raptor – The F-22 has been popularized by many roles in movies like Transformers (2007) and also as kid’s toy. As both a fictional movie character and later sold as a child’s toy, “Starscream”, a Decepticon transformer changes from an F-22 into a robot.
F-16 Fighting Falcon – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) was packed with military hardware. The aircraft included the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the E-3 Orion AWACS, the A-10 Thunderbolt, B-1 Bombers, the F-22 Raptor and T-38 Talons.
Skydive, an Autobot (the good guys) changes from a robot into an F-16 aircraft. Another transformer aircraft that takes the shape of the Fighting Falcon is Dreadwind, a member of the Decepticons (the bad guys).
Instead of an F-15 Eagle, the movie Iron Eagle (1986) actually features two F-16’s that are flown by a teenage kid and a Vietnam era pilot. These two characters “borrow” two Fighting Falcon aircraft from the USAF and fly them on a daring mission to rescue the teenager’s father.
- F-18 Hornet – The F-18 has been featured in many movies. One instance of this is Clear and Present Danger (1994) where an F-18 is tasked with dropping a laser guided bomb onto a drug lord’s villa instigating a plot of treachery and double cross in South America.
In the 1997 movie, Behind Enemy Lines, the F-18 is also featured in a very entertaining chase scene by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) over Bosnia. Targeted by multiple SAMs, the pilot narrowly evades one but is brought down by the second. Enjoy a short video excerpt of that fictional chase scene.
C-130 Hercules – C-130s were utilized to represent a Soviet transport plane in the 1987 James Bond movie The Living Daylights and to extract Marcus Luttrell from the village in Lone Survivor (2013). An AC-130 gunship, a heavily weaponized close-air-support version of the C-130, is used in both the 2007 Transformers and Olympus Has Fallen.
- A-4 Skyhawk – In the movie Top Gun, The A-4 Skyhawk is the platform used as the primary aggressor aircraft at Top Gun, the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School. The A-4 is also the Israeli fighter aircraft carrying a nuclear weapon and shot down during the Yom Kippur War in film, The Sum of All Fears (2002).
- A-10 Thunderbolt (Warthog) – Like the F-15 and F-22, the Transformers brand also had an A-10 character, an Autobot named Powerglide. In Courage Under Fire (1996) two A-10s drop napalm on the crash site of two downed UH-1 Hueys. In the movie Jarhead (2005), a couple of A-10s accidentally attack U.S. Marine forces in a friendly fire incident.
- UH-60 Blackhawk – In the 1994 spy thriller Clear and Present Danger, UH-60 Blackhawks insert a special operations team into the Colombian jungle where they wreak havoc on the cartel’s drug operations. The war movie Blackhawk Down (2001) is based on a real life U.S. special operations mission in Mogadishu that during it course saw two UH-60 helicopters shot down.
AH-1 Cobra – In the Nicolas Cage 1990 movie Fire Birds, a Cobra helicopter is ambushed in the opening sequence by a small but heavily armed helicopter (MH-6 Little Bird) flown by a drug runner’s mercenary. The AH-1 appears in the movie Con Air (1997), also a Nicholas Cage movie, where it is used to try to bring down a hijacked prisoner transport aircraft. In Mission: Impossible III (2006) the MI team are in a UH-1 Huey and are being pursued and fired upon by a Bell AH-1 Cobra. The AH-1 was also in Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002).
- AH-64 Apache – Though the opening scenes involved the Cobra, the Apache was the featured helicopter in Fire Birds as Nicholas Cage and Tommy Lee Jones fight the drug cartels in South America. The AH-64 also made appearances in the 1991 movie, Toy Soldiers, the Incredible Hulk in 2008, and in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009).
- UH-1 Huey – You cannot have an article about military aircraft in movies and leave out the UH-1 Huey. The Huey is one of the most iconic platforms in the movies when it comes to military aircraft. In a movie it is often the aircraft that inserts/extracts a small team in/out of a hot LZ, or pickup and haul wounded troops, or even carrying an official military representative would travel in during the era of the Vietnam War. A sample of Vietnam era movies that utilize the UH-1 include The Green Berets (1968), Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986), and We Were Soldiers (2002). Other instances of non military combat films using the Huey are Air America, Diamonds are Forever (James Bond, 1971), Cliffhanger (1993) as the mountain rescue helicopter, and the Huey carrying scientists into the volcanic crater in Dante’s Peak (1997).
The United States armed services reviews all requests for the use of aircraft in films and television series. In order for cooperation to be approved, film scripts are reviewed to ensure that the aircraft will present the United States military in a positive light.
Beside the F-22 Raptor, many of those selected for this article are ones for which Duotech provides maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) support. These aircraft airframes are aging and their electronics, radar systems, and communication systems can require maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) services to solve obsolescence issues.
If maintained well, a helicopter or fighter aircraft can have a long service life. As the platform ages, so does the electronics the pilot depends on to keep it flying. Upgrading or completely replacing those avionics systems can be out of the budget for many military, government, and civilian operators. Even with tight funding, these systems must be maintained. Another option for supporting the aging and obsolete systems is repair or overhaul of the electronic and electromechanical equipment of the aircraft.
Duotech Services solves the engineering, reverse engineering, repair and re-manufacturing problems of military and civilian agencies, as well as aerospace and commercial users of electronic and electromechanical equipment in rotary wing aircraft. Some of those platforms include the OH-58 Kiowa, UH-1 Huey, UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-1 Cobra, and AH-64 Apache. Duotech provides high quality services to our customers within the budgeted schedule and maintains an AS9100C registration and is a qualified repair station for thousands of items. You can begin your Part Number Search or request a repair quote from Duotech today.