Live and Let Fly

Real pilots rate the performance of the airplanes in James Bond flicks.

In You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery flies an autogyro souped up with missiles, machine guns, and flame-throwers. (The Kobal Collection)
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Lockheed L1329 JetStar

EON Productions evidently liked the Lockheed JetStar so much that it was awarded two roles in Goldfinger (1964). It first appears as the executive aircraft of criminal mastermind Auric Goldfinger, and later reappears as a C-140 military transport.

As a corporate pilot, Neil Looy flew 3,000 hours in several iterations of JetStars. “At the time the plane came out, it was the premier corporate jet,” he says. “It was built like an airliner. A little more complicated than some of the Learjets and Gulfstreams that would come out on the market.”

With its four tail-mounted engines, “you could practically see the gas gauges moving—those four little Pratts were burning that much JP-4 [fuel],” he says, referring to the Pratt & Whitney JT12A-6 turbojets. Yet even with the four engines it’s underpowered, impotent to climb to cruising altitude as long as the tanks are full. “You had to stair-step to get up to altitude, like the airliners,” says Looy. “With the 731 version of the JetStar [equipped with Garret AiResearch TFE731-3 turbofan engines], I’d get up to 35,000 feet and have to wait until I burned off fuel before I could bring it up to higher altitude, burn more fuel, and go up higher.”

Still, Looy loved the JetStar for its airliner qualities—“so large, heavy, and roomy. Wonderful to fly.” And the novelty of an executive luxury jet was no doubt cool for 007 audiences to see in 1964.

Verdict: While certain deficiencies can be overlooked, any kind of impotence automatically disqualifies an aircraft from Bond cool.

Bede BD-5J Acrostar Micro-jet

Ever wonder what it would be like to strap on a micro-jet and shriek across the sky? Ask the man who built and flew the one in Octopussy (1983). That pilot is J.W. “Corkey” Fornof, who, when flying past at more than 300 mph, also passes as a credible double for Roger Moore. Fornof has 1,000-plus hours in his TRS-18 microturbo-powered Bede jet. And he figures he and his friends spent 3,300 hours building it.

The memorable opening of Octopussy shows his Acrostar evading a ground-to-air missile by flying through a hangar, but it soon runs out of fuel, so Bond nonchalantly lands on a road and coasts to a stop at the pumps of a service station. Except for the ground-to-air missile, the scene’s action came directly from Fornof’s personal experience.

While he was flying near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, his BD-5J lost oil pressure and he was forced to land on a highway. “Once on the ground, I went down the exit ramp and coasted into a gas station, just like in the movie, and ran over the little hose that went ding ding,” he recalls. He has a clipping from the local newspaper documenting the event.

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