Live and Let Fly
Real pilots rate the performance of the airplanes in James Bond flicks.
- By David Lande
- Air & Space magazine, September 2008
The Kobal Collection
(Page 4 of 8)
The Space Shuttle
In Moonraker (1979), Bond joins forces with Holly Goodhead, an alluring NASA astronaut and CIA agent, and together they commandeer evil genius Hugo Drax’s space shuttle just before takeoff to foil his plan for world domination. A tad far-fetched, but that didn’t stop Moonraker from raking in more than $210 million at the box office.
Aside from some over-the-top fiction, parts of Moonraker are plausible. Women have piloted—and commanded—space shuttles. The first was commander Eileen Collins. Over the course of four shuttle missions, Collins spent a total of 36 days in space.
The movie also accurately depicts that at crucial points, such as the rendezvous for docking at a space station, the shuttle is controlled manually. Under manual operation, Collins says flying the space shuttle is similar in some ways to flying conventional aircraft. (During her years with the U.S. Air Force and NASA, she has logged more than 6,700 hours piloting 30 types of aircraft.) To line up the shuttle for docking, “you have the six degrees of freedom,” she explains. “The six axes are roll, pitch, and yaw, and the translations x, y, and z, which are right/left, in/out, and up/down.”
During the return to Earth, the crew again takes manual control. “The first part of reentry is done on autopilot, until you go subsonic,” Collins explains. “Once you go under Mach 1, the commander takes control and flies it down to the landing. The commander makes the landing on every shuttle flight. We’ve never done an auto-landing.” (Of course, we never see the shuttle land at the end of Moonraker, because of Bond’s romantic dalliance with his pilot in the zero-gravity cargo bay.)
Verdict: As the first space shuttle ever, it’s Bond cool.
British Aerospace Harrier T.10
Few sights in aviation are more impressive than a Harrier roaring straight up, hanging suspended for a moment, then screaming forward into the blue. The V/STOL (vertical/short-takeoff-and-landing) attack aircraft, designed in Britain and further developed in the United States as the AV-8B for the Marine Corps, does just that in The Living Daylights (1987).