This image by Lightningboy2000 brilliantly captures a model Hawker Hurricane crash diorama, set in the Pacific theatre during World War Two. The model, which appeared at the Hornchurch Southern Expo in 2010, reflects the level of realism and detail that can be achieved even in 1/72 scale. If you’re into model making and historic recreation, there really are no limits to the imagination, as stirring wartime scenes can be recreated in less space than is taken up by a computer keyboard.
(All images via Tom Wigley)
Flying machines were in their infancy in 1910, the ability to fly in itself a technological wonder. But that didn’t stop eccentrics and inspired thinkers dreaming of a time when aircraft were so ubiquitous that bars and restaurants would offer ‘fly-throughs’. That might sound rather far fetched, even by today’s standards, but French artist Villemard offered an image of Parisian life in the year 2000 that in some ways has come to pass.
These retro-futuristic postcards show a variety of aviation-related scenes in which aircraft rescue stricken sailors, helicopters patrol the skies, spying on those below, and a seaplane – in this case a vintage wooden boat held aloft by two zeppelin-like hot air balloons – drifts above an ocean.
Elsewhere, flying cops hold up unruly airborne motorists – a theme explored in science fiction films such as Minority Report, but perhaps not too far from (an alternate) reality if flying cars are anything to go by. In more serene scenes, all manner of flying machines, from prop-planes to ornithopters, cruise down the Avenue de l’Opéra.
The scenes are at once pleasant and chaotic. While Villemard could never grasp the rate by which technology would advance over the next 90 years, he clearly understood the crucial role aviation would play in our modern world.
This MiG-21 was reportedly used as a remote-controlled drone before becoming a Ukrainian Air Force monument. Now displayed in pride of place in the town of Vinnytsia, the brightly coloured former Soviet-built fighter plane looks almost like an urban art exhibit. Find more disused MiG-21s in this article covering abandoned aircraft and plane graveyards.
(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.
Anakin Skywalker took on a rather more sinister air once the black helmet of Darth Vader covered his face and that all-too-familiar heavy breathing ensued. And here’s a sight that would surely raise the hackles of any modern day Jedi Knight, as the dark lord of the Sith takes to the sky in the form of a massive hot air balloon. Vader is seen here at the 2002 Guanajuato International Air Balloon Festival, Mexico. The image below shows a more recent ballooning festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Artist Fiona Banner is known for her provocative aviation-themed exhibits. Banner’s Harrier and Jaguar took the Tate Britain by storm last year, although sadly the two warplanes ultimately found their way to a London scrapyard. But a less talked about 2010 exhibit saw a battered Tornado F3 rescued from the scrap man and recycled into a large bell as part of a unique urban art exhibit for the Cultural Olympiad in the North East.
Bearing the former jet’s serial number, ZE728, the bell – which was aptly named Tornado – was co-commissioned by Locus+ and Great North Run Culture. These images showcase “Tornado” in pride of place by the River Tyne in Newcastle, while the rest of ZE728 was melted down to include 50 limited edition aluminium ingots available for £500 via Locus+ and Frith Street Gallery.
Fiona banner, who was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2002, has exhibited various artwork themed around aviation. Previous commissions include All the World’s Fighter Planes, and her latest work, Snoopy Vs The Red Baron, is on display at Galerie Barbara Thumm in Berlin.
(Image: Arpingstone, public domain)
Tornado ZE728 served with 25 Squadron at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire before the squadron was disbanded and the fighter plane retired. The Tornado F3 above is identical to what ZE728 looked like before being recycled as an urban art exhibit.
(Image: John Rossino, public domain)
Do you plan to build an F-22 Raptor model kit and need some painting advice? If so, why not learn from the pros? This image shows employees at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, Georgia painting “Raptor 18”, the first operational F-22 to be delivered to the U.S. Air Force. The aircraft entered service with the 43rd Fighter Squadron at Tyndall AFB, Florida. The masks and overalls reflect the toxic nature of the work, so perhaps an eco-friendly paint range would be best for your home version.
Located near the famous White Cliffs, between Dover and Folkestone in Kent, the pleasant village of Capel-le-Ferne is home to a monument dedicated to the allied aircrew who fought in the Battle of Britain. Sitting adjacent to a Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire replica – enduring symbols of the heroic British and Commonwealth fight against German invasion – a lone airman gazes out over the English Channel in a poignant gesture to missing friends.
Initiated by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and opened by the Queen Mother in July 1993, the Battle of Britain Memorial was designed as a large propeller shape with the seated pilot, carved by Harry Gray, at its centre. Nearby, the names of almost 3000 aircrew from Fighter Command, who took part in the Battle, appear on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall.
The full size replica aircraft stand to the west of the monument. The Spitfire replica (above) is a newer addition to the Hawker Hurricane (below), and together they form a fitting tribute to “The Few“. Their position under the now-peaceful Kent sky, where the Battle of Britain raged during the summer of 1940, is highly significant. So too is their proximity to the White Cliffs of Dover, considered a symbolic guard against invasion at the narrowest point of the English Channel.
While the Spitfire captured the public imagination and created a lasting legacy due to its speed, agility and grace, the Hurricane deservedly cemented its reputation during the Battle of Britain, claiming 60% of the RAF’s air victories. Cheaper and significantly easier to fly than the Spitfire, it was a popular aircraft with pilots. This Hurricane replica (coded US-X) represents the plane flown by 20-year-old British fighter ace Geoffrey Page when he was shot down, surviving despite suffering terrible burns.
More Battle of Britain: Don’t miss this rare behind-the-scenes footage from the 1968 feature film.
At first glance it may appear that this Slovak Air Force MiG-29 needs a fresh coat of paint. But this is actually a method of digital camouflage called “Cloudcam”, developed around 2008 by HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp as a follow-on to their innovative “Digital Thunder” camo scheme. Over the past five years, fractal camo patterns have become a global trend, applied to military clothing, land vehicles and now even aircraft.
The Battle of Britain was a story of heroism and hair-raising dogfights, and film production depended heavily on the availability of period aircraft. Overall, 100 planes were assembled, dubbed the “35th largest air force in the world”. This rare behind-the-scenes footage was filmed on location, and documents some of the film’s most memorable moments – including the Eagle Day onslaught against British airfields. For anyone with an interest in aviation and pyrotechnics, working on the Battle of Britain must have been a dream come true.
This 8mm footage was shot in 1968 by Bob Foley, who was working as Sound Recordist on the “Making of the Battle of Britain” documentary. Rediscovering the footage 30 years later in his loft, Bob was impressed to find it still worked on the projector, and re-filmed it using digital video. Music and warplane sound effects helped bring the silent footage to life superbly.
In addition to real aircraft, a number of full scale models were built – some to be destroyed by “German bombs”. Several were capable of taxiing, with lawn mower engines to power their propellers. In one amusing shot, three Spitfires can be seen taxiing without their propellers moving. More relaxed moments show Messerschmitt BF 109s (really HA-1112 Buchons) parked near British Spitfires and Hurricanes, awaiting the call to “action”.
Video footage and screenshots reproduced with thanks to Bob Foley (via YouTube).