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

Live and Let Fly

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

“Its handling qualities feel quite a bit like a fighter airplane,” says. He should know: He’s flown about 30 types of fighters, both piston and jet-powered. “If you don’t look at the airspeed indicator, it feels a lot like a P-51. You can pull it around corners, you can fly it upside down, and you can loop it. It’s got a 6 G limitation on it, and built very strong. He adds that “the plane has a pretty wide range of operation,” with good slow speed handling qualities as well—necessary for flying behind a DC-3 with Bond aboard and to match the speed of camera-toting helicopters (although a very capable Aerostar camera platform did much of the filming).

Hinton says that turboprop engines suffer a drop in performance in hot weather—a factor in Mexico, where during filming temperatures ranged from 50 to 80 degrees. “But it had plenty of power to do the kind of flying we needed,” he says. “For filming, you push it to the limit, within its limits. We did a lot of really low-level flying, head-on passes, inverted rolling, looping, Cuban-eighting, and pulling up to go over canyon peaks.”

Hinton cites one weakness: The gas-slurping, turbine-powered (“TP”) version of the SF.260 has a small fuel capacity. He says the aircraft can  go about two and a half hours before refueling, but “when you do the high-power, low-level thing, you’re out of gas after two hours. And when it takes you 20 minutes to get to location and 20 minutes back, you’re left with not much time to shoot.”

Some Bond-watchers were surprised by the choice of this older, somewhat exotic piston airplane, but perhaps the producers saw the SIAI-Marchetti in the tradition of the famous vintage Aston Martin DB5 sports car that appears perennially in Bond films, first in 1964’s Goldfinger and more recently, in 2006’s Casino Royale, in enemy hands.

Verdict: Like fine vintage wine, the SIAI-Marchetti is Bond cool.

Piper Cherokee PA-28

Even a pedestrian airplane like a Cherokee can be fun to watch, especially when the five of them that make up Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus fly in close formation in Goldfinger (1964). That formation is an early example of major product placement, in this case for Piper Aircraft’s newest model.

Dennis Boykin, who has logged more than 1,200 hours in Cherokees, reports that his wife, Joyce, is a huge Bond fan. “Every time we watch Goldfinger, she mentions the Cherokees, as in ‘Dennis, here comes your favorite part,’ ” he says. Their first date was in his Cherokee—a 120-mile flight to Kansas City, Missouri, for dinner. As the ultimate affirmation for a pilot and airplane, “she slept through the landing. I knew right then she was my new copilot. She’s been falling asleep in my airplane for 20 years now.”

Of course, Boykin is a diehard proponent of the model and a card-carrying member of the Cherokee Pilots’ Association. “The airplane is built like a tank, with a carry-through spar that goes under the rear seat,” he says. “The structure is very survivable in an accident”—good news whether you’re flying with Bond or against him. “The constant-chord wing, also known as the ‘Hershey Bar,’ is one of the most forgiving airfoils ever produced. It’s nearly impossible to get the Cherokee to produce a classic stall—mostly it just ‘mushes.’ ”

When asked if anything memorable has ever happened while flying his Cherokee, Boykin offers an immediate Bond-like response: “Yes, but one of them isn’t for publication in a family magazine.”

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