(Image: U.S. Navy, public domain)
In modern day film making, special effects alone can accomplish what the likes of George Lucas and Clint Eastwood achieved, through a combination of models and clever photography, in Star Wars and Firefox. But close-up shots demand accuracy and even today the only way to achieve authenticity is through the use of full size replica aircraft – assuming the real thing doesn’t exist or isn’t available. Here are six full scale movie prop aircraft, ranging from fictional stealth fighters to historic wartime bombers.
Firefox – Fictional MiG-31
The MiG-31 Firefox was a fictional Soviet stealth interceptor created by novelist Craig Thomas in Firefox and Firefox Down. In the film version, Clint Eastwood’s character slips into the Soviet Union and steals the high performance warplane, which required a full size replica for close-up scenes. It’s a sinister looking jet, but the MiG-31 Firefox mock-up was actually built around the skeleton of a radio station broadcast-antenna, and could taxi at 30-40 mph. The Firefox is seen here parked at Van Nuys Airport, California, in 1982. If anyone knows where it is now, please get in touch!
F/A-37 Talon – Fictional Stealth Aircraft
(Image: U.S. Navy, public domain)
The futuristic F/A-37 Talon appeared in the 2005 film Stealth, and is pictured here during a simulated launch from USS Abraham Lincoln (although reportedly filmed aboard USS Carl Vinson). The F/A-37 Talon was a single seat stealth fighter built to test cutting edge technologies on the battlefield. It had a central computer “brain”, which predictably caused it to develop a (dangerous) mind of its own. The film is considered one of the biggest financial losses in Hollywood history. The “Talon” bore a striking resemblance to the Northrop Switchblade concept.
AV-8B Harrier Replica – True Lies
(Images: Vortech, Inc., reproduced with permission)
If you’ve seen True Lies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, you may remember a scene where Arnie blasts a terrorist off the front of an AV-8B Harrier II using a Sidewinder missile. While the True Lies Harrier was a full size replica with no working parts, it used a canopy and landing gear from a real aircraft and looked spectacular in the film. Seen here languishing on a hillside, the faded movie prop has reportedly just been blown up (literally!) as part of a new film production. Does anyone know which film this was?
Avro Lancaster Bomber – The Dam Busters Remake
(Image: Dominion Post, reproduced with permission)
This full size Avro Lancaster bomber replica is one of 10 designed by the Weta Workshop for an upcoming remake of the classic 1955 film The Dam Busters, dramatising Operation Chastise and the famous bouncing bomb. The Lancaster bomber, built from steel and fiberglass – reportedly in China – is seen here at Hood Aerodrome in New Zealand as crews test new camera techniques. While the scale of production is clearly impressive, here’s hoping the end product lives up to the original.
Spitfire Replica – Battle of Britain Film
(Image: Robert Hodgson, reproduced with permission)
This fiberglass Supermarine Spitfire replica was originally built for the 1968 Battle of Britain film and is now preserved at Wellesbourne Wartime Museum in Warwickshire, UK. The production brought together 100 period aircraft, known as the “35th largest air force in the world”, some of which were airworthy. To make up numbers on the ground, a large amount of full size replica aircraft were employed, some of which could taxi and others to be destroyed by “falling bombs”. Learn more in this rare behind-the-scenes footage.
Hurricane Replica – Battle of Britain
Like the Spitfire replica above, this beautifully restored Hawker Hurricane full size replica is also believed to have been built for the Battle of Britain film. Pictured in 2007 at Omaka, New Zealand, the vintage fighter was reportedly imported down under after filming was wrapped. Like these wartime aircraft mock-ups, there are more historic Hurricane and Spitfire replicas at the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne in Kent, UK.