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)
Air & Space Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 2)

Prior to the movie, Fornof had flown the Acrostar through an open hangar for a Toshiba commercial in Japan. After Bond producers Michael Wilson and Cubby Broccoli saw it, they wanted similar action in their upcoming film.

About his “kids, don’t try this at home” stunt, Fornof explains that he opened all the hangar’s doors and windows to reduce the sudden pressure increase caused by an aircraft trying to push a lot of air through an enclosed space. He calculated that, given the frontal area of the BD-5 and the size of the hangar, airspeed couldn’t exceed 180 mph. If he went too fast, “the pressure feedback would probably have caused me to bounce off the floor and into the rafters,” he says. “As I approached the hangar, the opening looked very small. I had exactly six feet below me and six feet above me. My heart was in my throat. I don’t think I took a breath for a minute and a half.” The stunt came off perfectly.

“The Acrostar is in my top five favorite airplanes of all time,” he says. “It’s like driving a Formula One racecar compared to a regular sedan.”

Verdict: The Acrostar used in Octopussy is still Fornof’s airplane, now on loan to the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, California. It is the quintessential Bond airplane and a scene-stealer in the coolest 007 opening sequence ever.

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. 

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus