Welcome to this fan-site devoted to airborne action. I have always thought these flying machines are amazing, and this has led to a lifelong fascination with helicopters in movies and TV. Apart from such
practical operations like air/sea search and rescue (SAR) missions, modern cinema makes the most spectacular (if not always the best) use of a chopper's unique abilities. Not just as a platform for aerial
cinematography - but on the screen too, where a wide variety of rotorcraft (from sky-cranes to autogyros) are used to create the kind of exciting stunts I call rotary action.
Helicopters add 'production value' to all kinds of films and shows, so if a movie includes an aerial sequence it's very likely a clip of airborne footage will appear in the trailer. By far the most popular
helicopter to be seen on big or small screens is the Bell 206 JetRanger. And yet the most frequently used helicopter - in proper 'rotary action' pictures
- is undoubtedly the Bell UH-1 Iroquois, better known as the 'Huey'.
ROTARY ACTION exists as a useful reference for anyone interested in the various links between cinema and aircraft. See our Flight Logs A-Z using the navigation bar above... but beware:
this site includes plot spoilers! If you would like to help compile new entries for these pages, and/or can supply additional pictures, please let me know. - TONY LEE
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"The helicopter... had become a very standard tool in the film business. But, oh, did it open up all kinds of vistas, all kinds of production values, all kinds of expanded horizons."
- JOSEPH SARGENT
A TOP 10 HELICOPTER ACTION MOVIES
By something like popular demand, here's my pick of the very best rotary action films and TV shows.
As a keen fan of science fiction, this listing is clearly biased in favour of genre works...
Look no further... with its machine-as-protagonist storyline, this is simply the greatest helicopter action movie ever made!
Surprisingly entertaining rotary action, even today, this mid-1980s' series was far superior to Blue Thunder's own TV spinoff.
The greatest war movie ever made features epic cinema's finest rotary action sequence of air supremacy.
Wings Of The Apache (aka: Fire Birds)
The most under-rated helicopters movie, this has many impressive rotary action sequences with lots of American gunships.
Black Hawk Down
Great acting and superb drama in Ridley Scott's movie enhances the impact of its various helicopters in combat sequences.
Birds Of Prey
An aerial chase thriller from the 1970s, this highly original and radical TV movie remains influential even today.
Quite unforgettable (and the subject of many questions emailed to Rotary Action), this re-defined helicopter thrillers for the 1980s.
Sci-fi action with a monster as the hero, this instant classic is a showcase for Comanche stealth rotorcraft... even if they do get smashed!
Whatever its technical faults (mainly those fake Hind gunships), this remains a very good movie for displays of rotary action.
The show that started it all... this got me interested in helicopters when I first saw it on TV, almost a lifetime ago.
Of course, the big problem with helicopter scenes in blockbuster movies, nowadays, is that so many aerial stunts are faked with CGI.
And that's one reason why I have been watching more documentary films and programmes, lately... to get a proper heli-fix of genuine
- Tony Lee
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"We did all kinds of things in trailers to help sell films. We had a famous exploding helicopter shot from one of those Filipino productions that we'd cut in every time a trailer was too dull -
because that was always exciting." - JOE DANTE
Apparently out of control or damaged, a helicopter flies over a hill, or behind a landmark. Once it's out of view, there's a huge explosion to
suggest the aircraft has crashed. Few movies have the budget to afford model effects, or write-off even a mock-up helicopter.
The escaping hero and sidekick or partner climb aboard an unattended helicopter. One asks the other "Can you fly this thing?"
"No... but hang on!" comes the reply, and then the machine performs a decidedly wobbly takeoff.
In pursuit of a road vehicle, the hero - or his stuntman, at least - jumps down from a low-flying helicopter onto or into the wildly swerving
vehicle as it races along a conveniently deserted highway.
A helicopter is forced to make an emergency landing on the roof of a building and it promptly crashes through the ceiling into a crowded room.
At night time, helicopters flying in the distance (especially military machines) are often mistaken for UFOs.
In the movies, a stolen helicopter only ever carries two minutes of aviation fuel. In such incidents, the hero has to perform a dangerous
emergency landing - a survivable technique called autorotation - while any machine piloted by a villain invariably blows up (see item number
one)... The moral of this is, of course - never get into a helicopter with an action movie bad guy!
By far the most used and/ or abused rotorcraft cliché in movies and TV is the sound effect of a helicopter passing 'overhead', without
a chopper ever being visible on-screen. In stereo, it 'travels' from one side/ speaker(s) to the other, accentuating the Doppler effect - a
particular audio trick notable in those Dolby adverts featuring a computer-animated helicopter.
- Tony Lee
A shorter version 1st published in fanzine ALTERNATIES #20, 1994
If you see any helicopter action not already listed on this site, send details to Rotary Action.
More pictures of helicopters from movies and TV shows are also of interest for use on this site.
"What a cool site! ... Keep up the excellent work."
- JOHN MOORE (director, Behind Enemy Lines)
"Only the best helicopter movie website ever!"
- ELAN HEAD (editor-in-chief, Vertical magazine)
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Thanks to ROTARY ACTION contributors -
Jenni Allen (Flying Pictures),
Captain Jean Bizot,
Jamie Chalkley (Eastern Atlantic Helicopters),
Joao Paulo Cursino,
Craig Dyer (Blackstar Helicopters),
Frame Bruce Fletcher,
Ian Vincent Frain - BSc AMRAeS,
Javier 'Topper' Franco,
John C. Goble,
Shaun J. Greaney,
Paul Jackson (Sikorsky),
Tony Lowry (Biggin Hill),
Joel Nelsen (CPL Rotorcraft),
Mike Pepper (Enigma),
Robin Petgrave (Celebrity Helicopters),
Sergeant Ruben 'Radar' Rodriguez (Nueces County Sheriff's Dept),
José M. Rubio (Eurocopter España),
Andy and Arlene Sidaris (Malibu Bay Films),
Steve Stafford (Studio Wings),
Dan Sweet (Columbia Helicopters),
Jeroen de Wit,
Alex Youngs (American Eurocopter),
This is a non-profit fan site, featuring publicity photos and images from various movies - but no copyright infringement is intended.
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