Monday, October 23, 2017

The Best Movie Airstrike Scenes

  Since this weekend turned out to be a wash as far as getting any modeling done, I decided to have a little fun with a blog post. As someone who appreciates ordnance delivered from fast moving aircraft I thought I would put a list together of the most compelling scenes Hollywood has been able to conjure up involving the placement of warheads on foreheads.
  While they may not be completely accurate - movies never are - the scenes in the list share a common quality of realism and, in some, attention to detail. But before I share the cinematic gems of aviation air support, let's look at a few that didn't make the list...

The Worst

Tears of the Sun (2003)

  The movie was as good as you'd expect with Bruce Willis as the action hero. While it proved why Navy Seals are the coolest operators on the planet well before they got Bin Laden, it climaxed with an over the top pyrotechnic display delivered by two naval aviators who ultimately get no credit for saving the good guys' bacon by frying the enemy's.

The Rock (1993)

  The Rock was actually entertaining though completely far-fetched, so it almost seems unfair to pan it this way. I mean, what should I expect from a Nicolas Cage movie after all? The slick visuals of the low level F-18's don't even make up for this scene.

Iron Eagle (1986)

  Iron Eagle holds a special place in my heart, right below Top Gun. Both were movies I grew up watching and influenced my interest in aviation. Looking back on them, however, for all it's cheesiness, Top Gun will still hold up for years to come. Iron Eagle, on the other hand...

The Best

Forrest Gump (1994)

  This is one of my favorite movies so its only fitting that it has a scene with some decent aviation footage...or maybe that's why the movie is one of my favorites. Any way, the scene precedes one of the saddest moments of the film (spoiler alert: Bubba's death) and puts a visual effects exclamation point on Gump's tour in Vietnam. 
  There is nothing flashy, the scene doesn't try too hard. Three Phantoms roll in, one marking the target with WP rockets while the trailing F-4's douse the area with napalm. It is simple and tense and for it's time, impressive. 

Apocalypse Now (1979)

  Personally, I hate this movie and I don't know why it always manages to end up on every top ten war movie list in history. But here we are and its made my list of top airstrike scenes in movie history. Ironic. It is the only scene on my list that does not show the aircraft releasing ordnance, but there are other factors that make up for it. It displays the coordination of ground ops with a forward air controller and the inbound fast movers - in this case, little F-5B's. For as cluttered and chaotic as the scenes preceding this one are, the airstrike is smooth and to the point. The radio chatter is not full of Hollywood-esque keywords and bravado. Finally, for a movie I hate, it resulted in one of the best lines in film history...

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

  A great all around film and one of Harrison Ford's best. Being written by Tom Clancy it should be no surprise that the airstrike scene is depicted as realistically as possible. I appreciate that the F-18 carrying out the strike is as much of a character in the movie as the other actors. It doesn't just appear out of no where but instead the viewer can clearly follow its origins. It is loaded with a bomb and remains so until its release. There is none of that awkward Hollywood bungling where an aircraft is loaded in one scene, but in the next it is completely empty. It is one of the more technical movie airstrikes, involving a laser guided GBU-12, rather than a low and fast pass that yields a giant fiery explosion.

Flight of the Intruder (1991)

  Speaking of low, fast passes, fiery explosions and Hollywood bravado, what's not to love about this movie? It features the A-6 in all of its utilitarian ugliness and stars Willem Dafoe, Danny Glover and Brad Johnson. Brad Johnson, folks. The same guy who brought you Nam Angels. But I digress. As a matter of fact, there are two scenes from this movie I've included here. The first is from the final attack downtown on SAM city where we get to see the good guys drop some Snakeyes on the bad guys.

  The next scene delivers some intense aerial footage as Sandies swoop in to support our hero, Brad Johnson, as he attempts to save the day. This video does a nice job highlighting the realism.

Empire of the Sun (1987)

  This movie ranks up there as one of my favorites of all time. Watching it as a kid I remember connecting with Christian Bale's character, Jim, and his enthusiasm for aircraft. The scene shows P-51D's attacking a Japanese air field. A great deal of effort must have gone into the scene, using a mix of both real and large scale model aircraft to create a sequence that is totally convincing.

We Were Soldiers (2002)

  While not as good as the book, the movie stands up as one of the best war films and the "Broken Arrow" scene stands as one of the best airstrikes Hollywood has produced. The sequence includes cameos of many different USAF and USN/USMC aircraft such as the Intruder, F-100, F-4, A-1, and an incredible strafing run by an A-4. 

BAT 21 (1988)

  Danny Glover makes another appearance on the list, as does the Vietnam War. This strike is dull compared to the others above but like the Apocalypse Now scene, I like interaction between the FAC, the jets, and Gene Hackman's character. Plus I like that the F-5's are actually filmed with a bomb or two loaded. Though it's not "nape and snake" like the pilots say in the film, something is better than nothing.

Do you have any favorites that I missed? Do you totally disagree with my list? Let me know what you think!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sidewinder Overview Part IV: AIM-9J/N/P



The tumultuous years of the Vietnam War challenged the tactics and strategy of United States military air power. Air to air combat involving missiles was still fairly new and the fledgling technology was unreliable, so much so that the US Air Force was forced to concede that fighter aircraft did indeed require guns to defend themselves. Never the less, missiles were improved and developed at a rapid pace and the AIM-9 Sidewinder essentially grew up in the skies over south east Asia. The AIM-9B would be the first version to deploy to Vietnam, followed by the D, E, G, H and finally, the J. All but the AIM-9H would score at least one victory against North Vietnamese aircraft. The AIM-9J arrived in Vietnam in July of 1972 and would be responsible for several of the final aerial kills of the war, downing three MiG-21's in September and October of the same year.
  In service with the United States, the Juliet was only used by the Air Force. It was an improvement upon the AIM-9E by incorporating partial solid-state electronics, a gas generator that increased the flight time, and square tipped double delta canards (its defining feature) with more powerful actuators. It also featured an expanded target engagement cone, allowing it to track a larger area of the target aircraft rather than just the exhaust. Large numbers of the missile were built, a process facilitated by simply converting older B and E model Sidewinders to the J standard. In 1973, the three main circuit boards were improved in the Juliet, enhancing the seeker head performance. This version was called the AIM-9J-1 which was soon after redesignated the AIM-9N. Both the J and the N would see extensive use by export customers.
  In the midst of Juliet development, the Air Force and the Navy recognized the need to collaborate on missile technology and agreed to jointly invest in the AIM-9L. The Lima was a vastly improved Sidewinder based on the Navy's definitive Hotel version. As such, foreign countries looking to improve their air to air capabilities were either not allowed to receive the AIM-9L, or simply could not justify the expense. There was a need for a second tier missile that would meet the requirements of less demanding environments and be acceptable for export to countries that were not America's closest allies.
  The AIM-9P would fill just that role. It was derived from the J/N series and used new electronics for guidance, an upgraded rocket motor and a new active optical fuse. Though less capable than the L, the AIM-9P would continue to improve with the P-2 through P-5 variants. With 21,000 built, its has given export customers the affordable yet effective missile they needed. It is important to note that even though the P was intended primarily for export, it was still utilized by the USAF until being replaced by the AIM-9L.

CATM-9P-3 on a USAF F-15

For Modelers

A comparison of AIM-9 guidance and control sections. You can see there is little physical difference between N and P versions and such variations would be difficult to decipher in smaller scales.

  The AIM-9J was based on the Echo and the heritage is apparent when looking at the picture above. The evolution from Juliet to Papa is less apparent and if the missiles are not compared side by side, the differences are negligible. As a modeler and one who studies ordnance, I believe any version of the J/N/P could pass for any other without a second glance. The most important thing to remember is that the series of missiles were only employed by the USAF within the US military and saw no action with the US Navy or Marine Corps. 
  The series saw extensive use overseas but it is difficult to tell what version is loaded on an aircraft unless you have a decent knowledge of that air force's inventory, or at least a close up photograph. The colors tend to vary, as we will see, from country to country, as do the designations. The Swedish Air Force, for instance, refers to their Sidewinders as Rb24's and their Juliet versions as the Rb24J which they received in 1978.

A Swedish Rb24J on display in its distinctive green "inert" coloring.

  Bodenseewerke Geratetechnik (BGT) in Germany developed a conversion kit which allowed users of the J/N/P Sidewinders to upgrade their missiles to the AIM-9L standard. The basis for this conversion is the DSQ-29 guidance unit, the same one used by the Lima which increases the older missile's capability. Sidewinders featuring this enhancement were being marketed as AIM-9JULI. The JULI retains basically the same outward appearance as the J/N/P line but upon closer inspection, the anodized metal guidance unit is a stand out difference.

A JULI, which is virtually identical to its J/N/P cousins in terms of appearance. Note the anodized metal guidance and control section stenciled with "AIM-9JULI" on the side. The guidance section is the same as what would be found on the AIM-9L.

 The JULI was apparently a point of contention between the United States and Germany as BGT decided to sell the missile to Spain outside of the appropriate diplomatic channels. From what I can tell, Spain was the only country to procure the converted missiles.

Another view of a Spanish CATM-9JULI.

But don't let the anodized metal guidance unit fool you into believing it's a JULI. As you can see, this is a museum displayed AIM-9P-5. The difference between a P-5 and a JULI is that the anodized metal extends all the way to the warhead section on a P-5 while the JULI stops just shy of the canard retainers.


  The AIM-9J/N/P was used by air forces from all over the world. Here are a few examples from as many of these countries as I could find. This is by no means a definitive list, but it should be enough to get you started.

The United States Air Force

These are inert CATM-9J/N/P's as you can tell from the blue band around the missile body. Another way to tell they are not live is the placard on the missile trailer does not display an explosive hazard sign.

The second Viper in the photo is carrying an CATM-9J/N/P

These are live AIM-9P-3's on a trailer above several AIM-7 Sparrows. Note the variation in color between the Sidewinders.

Live AIM-9J/N/P's.

A mixed load of CATM-9J/N/P and CATM-9L/M.

A bright blue CATM-9J/N/P on an F-104. Note the rollerons on the missile's rear wings have been removed.

AIM-9J/N/P on an F-111.

F-4 out of Udorn with AIM-9J's.

356th TFS A-7 with a live load, including an AIM-9J/N/P,

A CATM-9J/N/P on station 1 off set by a CATM-9L on station 9.

A similar load to the one above.


Likely AIM-9P-4 or P-5 Sidewinders on a Draken.

A set of AIM-9P-4 or P-5 Sidewinders near an Austrian F-5E.

A colorful Austrian example.







AIM-9J/N/P on a HAF Mirage F.1.

Probably an AIM-9P.

AIM-9P next to an AIM-9L.



Though this AIM-9J/N/P is painted in live colors, it is not a live missile. There are no rollerons on the aft wings.

  They likely would have been loaded on their F-4 Phantoms as well, however, I could not find a photo example of one.


Presumably the AIM-9J series was carried on their F-15A's as well, but I could not find photo evidence to share here.






Yellow markings indicate a live AIM-9J/N/P on this Mexican F-5E.


Sometimes you must look hard for the references. In this case, our subject is just barely visible on the other side of the closest F-5E.



The CATM-9J/N/P is just visible on the left wingtip.




Republic of China

Republic of Korea

Saudi Arabia



A colorful CATM-9JULI on a Spanish F-18.

Another CATM-9JULI. This time its on a Spanish Mirage F.1.

Spanish Navy Harrier with inert AIM-9J/N/P.


Swedish Draken with inert Rb24J's.


The Swiss seem to have the most diversely colored collection of Sidewinders and the best references for live AIM-9P's. 

This is likely an AIM-9P-4 or 5, not a JULI.

A better look at an AIM-9P-4 or 5.




For Your Kit

  If your model does not include a set of AIM-9J/N/P's to complete the look you are after, Eduard Model Accessories has released two sets to meet your needs - one in 1/72, the other in 1/48.

  I hope you gleaned some valuable information from this lengthy study that you can put to good use for your next project. If you have any photo references you think would be a beneficial addition to this post, please feel free to share them here or on my Facebook page. As always, thanks for reading!

Sources, Further Reading on Sidewinders

"Armaments Coproduction at a Crossroads - US Policy Options After the Cold War", Frans Nauta, April 1993
Military Power
Arboga Missile Museum
Designation Systems
Aus Air Power