And the Oscar Goes to... the Airplane!
Some of the airplanes that loom largest in our collective memory have flown only in the movies.
- By Preston Lerner
- Air & Space magazine, November 2012
Courtesy Warner Communications / Your Trailers
In 1977, Welsh author Craig Thomas published his bestseller Firefox, which featured a fictitious Soviet fighter based on the most advanced MiG at the time, the -25. Thomas upgraded it with telepathic avionics—it could be flown by thought alone—and dubbed it MiG-31. Five years later, Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the film version. “Clint had some very specific ideas about what he thought the airplane should look like,” says special visual effects producer John Dykstra. “This was when stealth technology was just becoming public. So faceted surfaces were an important part of the design. But at the same time, he wanted it to have the elements of a kick-ass airplane. So it had very large engines, which were antithetical to the stealth concept, and a delta wing configuration. We went with a chisel-shaped nose and added canards.” Several models were built, including a radio-controlled version. “It was a handful to fly,” says Dykstra, a private pilot and RC enthusiast. A full-size mockup was fabricated out of a radio tower skinned with plywood and foam. It was powered by a four-cylinder Volkswagen engine so it could taxi on the runway while turbine fans blew flames out the back of the engine nacelles. Before the movie was released, the Soviets began production of a real MiG-31. But their Foxhound was no match for Eastwood’s Firefox.