(Image: U.S. Navy, public domain)
In modern day film making, special effects alone can accomplish what the likes of George Lucas and Clint Eastwood achieved, through a combination of models and clever photography, in Star Wars and Firefox. But for close-up shots, there’s still no substitute for the real thing – or a very convincing mock-up. Here are six full-scale replica aircraft used as movie props, ranging from historic wartime bombers to fictional stealth fighters.
Firefox – Fictional MiG-31
The MiG-31 Firefox was a fictional Soviet stealth interceptor created by novelist Craig Thomas in his books Firefox and Firefox Down. In the film version, Clint Eastwood’s character slips into the Soviet Union and steals the high performance warplane, which required a full-scale replica for close-up scenes. It’s a sinister looking jet, but the MiG-31 mock-up was actually built around the skeleton of a radio station broadcast-antenna, and could taxi at 30-40 mph. The Firefox is seen here parked at Van Nuys Airport, California, in 1982 and was later reused in the Chevy Chase spoof Deal of the Century.
F/A-37 Talon – Fictional Stealth Fighter
(Image: U.S. Navy, public domain)
The futuristic F/A-37 Talon appeared in the 2005 film Stealth, and is pictured here during a simulated launch from USS Abraham Lincoln (although reportedly filmed aboard USS Carl Vinson). The F/A-37 Talon was a single seat stealth fighter built to test cutting edge technologies on the battlefield. It had a central “brain”, which predictably caused it to develop a (dangerous) mind of its own. The “Talon” bore an interesting resemblance to the Northrop Switchblade concept, in a film that was unfortunately considered one of the biggest financial losses in Hollywood history.
AV-8B Harrier Replica – True Lies
(Images: Vortech, Inc., reproduced with permission)
If you’ve seen True Lies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, you may remember the scene in which Arnie blows a terrorist off the front of an AV-8B Harrier II using a Sidewinder missile. While the True Lies Harrier was a full scale mock-up with no working parts, it used a canopy and landing gear from a real aircraft and looked spectacular in the film. Seen here languishing on a hillside, the faded movie prop was reused in The Avengers and is currently undergoing restoration at Volo Auto Museum in Illinois.
Avro Vulcan Bomber Mock-up, Thunderball
(Image: Ship of Dreams, reproduced with permission)
One of the most well known sequences in the James Bond film Thunderball shows an Avro Vulcan bomber ditching in the Caribbean Sea at the hands of a rogue pilot, before its two atomic bombs are stolen by SPECTRE agents. A variety of models were constructed for filming, the largest being a full-scale Vulcan rig (or at least part of one) which was used to film the underwater sequences. Once filming was completed, the model was destroyed to prevent its use in future movies, though its twisted remains, which no longer resemble a Vulcan, remain accessible to divers in the Bahamas. (Read more about the prop here.)
Avro Lancaster Bomber – The Dam Busters (Remake)
(Image: Dominion Post, reproduced with permission)
This full size Avro Lancaster bomber is one of 10 replicas designed by the Weta Workshop for an upcoming remake of the classic 1955 film The Dam Busters, dramatising Operation Chastise and the famous bouncing bomb. The Lancaster bomber, built from steel and fiberglass – reportedly in China – was spotted at Hood Aerodrome in New Zealand while film crews tested new camera techniques.
Spitfire Replica – Battle of Britain (1968 Film)
(Image: Robert Hodgson, reproduced with permission)
This fiberglass Supermarine Spitfire replica was originally built for the 1968 Battle of Britain movie and is now preserved at Wellesbourne Wartime Museum in Warwickshire, UK. The production brought together 100 period aircraft, known as the “35th largest air force in the world”, some of which were airworthy. A large number of mock-ups were also employed, some of them able to taxi and others rigged to be destroyed by “falling bombs”.
Hawker Hurricane Replica – Battle of Britain
Like the Spitfire replica above, this beautifully restored Hawker Hurricane mock-up is also believed to have been built for the Battle of Britain film. Pictured in 2007 at Omaka, New Zealand, the vintage fighter was reportedly arrived Down Under after filming had ended. The Hurricane replicas were generally more convincing than their more famous Supermarine counterparts, and this example certainly looks the part.
A version of this article was originally published on StormClimb.com
Keep reading – check out the real Boeing 747 that became a disaster movie set (in War of the Worlds) at Universal Studios in LA.