Rotary Action logo by Mike Pepper utility helicopter A GUIDE TO HELICOPTERS  
HOME  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

Blue Thunder against New York skyline
Blue Thunder helicopter

Blue Thunder (1983) - the ultimate helicopter movie, John Badham's airborne thriller about testing new military technology above the streets of Los Angeles (ostensibly for crowd control at the 1984 Olympics) has the most exciting urban rotary action of all time, as burnt-out Vietnam veteran Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider), a troubled flyer with the L.A.P.D.'s Astro Division, battles with a rival US Army pilot, Colonel Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), for control of the city's skies, using the hijacked super-weapon of title. There are some excellent aerial stunts, including flying under bridges, Blue Thunder's dogfights with two enemy (Hughes 500D) gunships among the skyscrapers, and the near disaster of air strikes from a pair of F-16 jet fighters.

Blue Thunder also has the super-helicopter being used for airborne surveillance with hi-tech spying gadgets (audio, video and thermograph, plus online database access) built into the aircraft's onboard systems. Apart from the helicopter's espionage capabilities (which include stealth recon), what's particularly scary in this slick, contemporary sci-fi drama is the right-wing conspiracy scenario that Murhpy unwittingly discovers one night while he's tracking the sinister Cochrane to a clandestine meeting. After eavesdropping on the villains' plot concerning Project THOR (Tactical Helicopter Offensive Response), Murphy and his tech partner "JAFO" Lymangood (Daniel Stern) become the targets of some ruthless killers, and that's when the heroic Murphy starts fighting back...

firepower demo in Blue Thunder

Malcolm MacDowell and Hughes 500D gunship

Blue Thunder
aerial spying in Blue Thunder

Blue Thunder - Special 02 helicopter
helicopter theft in Blue Thunder
flying under bridges in Blue Thunder

Blue Thunder flies into trouble

Blue Thunder hovering

In the movie's rotary action scenes, Blue Thunder suffers damage resulting in a malfunction of its main weapon as the targeting controls freeze. This gives Cochrane in his Hughes 500D gunship an opportunity to fire at will upon the hero's now 'unarmed' helicopter, generating more exciting airborne thrills, and 'war zone' style havoc when downtown L.A. buildings are hit during an ensuing dogfight.

In one of many great scenes in this movie, the Blue Thunder helicopter perfects its role as 'machine character' of remarkably fearsome appearance - and yet director John Badham ensures there's an element of good humour in most action sequences. This is most obvious when Murphy intervenes as his wife is stopped by a patrol car on the bridge. The helicopter pops up and hovers, creating a distraction so that Kate (Candy Clark) can escape, and then Blue Thunder unleashes a hail of bullets which hack the pursuing cop car in half, though without harming the uniformed officers inside.

Blue Thunder versus Hughes 500D

A short-lived television series, starring James Farentino, followed in 1984. But, without the original film's impressive visual style or high quality of production values, this spinoff was a failure compared to superior TV show Airwolf, and it only lasted for 11 episodes. Blue Thunder: The Complete Series has been released on DVD.
Blue Thunder TV series

Toys and models of the Blue Thunder chopper have been made to various scales in die-cast or plastic kit forms. Most of these are very rare now as collector's items. There are also radio-controlled flying models of Blue Thunder available, plus a Hughes 500 model (so fans can stage their own aerial chase scenes).

Blue Thunder die-cast toy
Blue Thunder flying model

"The Blue Thunder helicopter was originally an Aerospatiale SA341G Gazelle, built in 1973, and once flown by a coal mining company in the 1970s before Columbia Studios bought it. There were actually two Gazelles used in the Blue Thunder production, of course. After the movie wrapped, the first Gazelle was sold to an aviation salvage company in New Mexico, who leased it to a film company making the ABC TV mini-series Amerika (1987). Later, the salvager dismantled the machine for valuable spare parts. The second Gazelle is on display at MGM Studios in Florida (pictured in 2002), and can be seen on the backlot bus tour. It is in fairly poor condition." - NATHAN DECKER

Blue Thunder on backlot