It is time to look to the skies and pay tribute to the iconic helicopters of film and television.

In case you missed it, the helicopter is 100 years old. Ever since French inventor Etienne Oehmichen took to the skies in his experimental flying machine in 1921, it paved the way for helicopters of today. With its many uses, extending from rescue to military operations, the helicopter boasts expansive capabilities.

Apart from cars, the helicopter has also been known to be the focal point of numerous film and TV productions. It is an aircraft that undoubtedly has had its fair share of the limelight. Here are some of the most iconic helicopters that have taken to the skies in film and television.

Fire Birds

iconic helicopters in film fire birds
The Apache graces the poster for Fire Birds (Image: IMDB)

When this action film came out in 1990, it was billed as Top Gun with helicopters. To be frank, it was not even close to Iron Eagle with choppers. That said, Fire Birds was not a complete dud. It had Nicolas Cage, Tommy Lee Jones and Sean Young as well as the Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The film revolved around an Apache helicopter pilot leading a mission to bring down a South American drug cartel. The film had ample helicopter dog fights, showcasing the capabilities of the US attack chopper.

Airwolf

airwolf
Airwolf flew for four seasons (Image: its.airwolf on Instagram)

Those who grew up in the ’80s will surely remember the synthesiser-skewed theme from this action series. Created by Donald P. Bellisario, Airwolf revolved around a top-secret high-tech helicopter and its crew who undertook secret missions. The series ran across four seasons from 1984 to 1987 before it was canned. The main stars of the show were Jan-Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine who shared screen time with the fictional helicopter. Although it looked sleek and futuristic, Airwolf was a modified Bell 222 chopper in disguise. But its cosmetic alterations were effective enough to make you excited enough to tune in each week.

Blue Thunder

iconic helicopters blue thunder
The Aérospatiale Gazelle in Blue Thunder guise (Image: Blue Thunder on Facebook)

When it comes to discussing iconic helicopters in film, Blue Thunder is always a part of that conversation. After all, some consider this ’80s action film as one of the best helicopter films ever made. Starring Roy Scheider and Malcolm McDowell, the film centred on a secret military chopper made for the Metropolitan Police Department. Armed with sophisticated surveillance and attack capabilities, the Blue Thunder aircraft is one of film’s most memorable aircrafts. To bring the chopper to life, the designers utilised a French-built Aérospatiale SA-341G Gazelle with bolted on parts and weapons. The film also spun off a short-lived TV series in the mid-80s.

Little Nellie

iconic helicopters little nellie
You Only Live Twice’s scene stealing gyrocopter (Image: licencetothrill on Instagram)

Fictional superspy James Bond is widely known to utilise a wide array of gadgets and vehicles in his missions. Throughout his 25 cinematic adventures the British Agent commandeered several choppers.

However, in the 1967 film You Only Live Twice, Agent 007 (Sean Connery) pilots a unique flying contraption. Developed by Q-branch, the single-seater gyrocopter called Little Nellie was used to take out the baddies. It easily dispatched them too thanks to its arsenal of machine guns, aerial mines, and rockets. The actual aircraft was a British made Wallis WA-116 Agile autogyro developed by Ken Wallis, a former Royal Air Force Wing Commander in the early ’60s.

Black Hawk Down

An action sequence from the film (Image: black_hawk_down_official on Instagram)

The Sikorsky UH-60 stands as one of the world’s foremost military aircrafts. Known by many as the Black Hawk, it is also one of the most iconic helicopters ever built. It has been used extensively in numerous wartime efforts including one that was adapted into a motion picture.

2001’s Black Hawk Down by Ridley Scott featured an ensemble cast including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor and Eric Bana. The film recounted the US military’s 1993 raid-turned-rescue-op in Mogadishu, Somalia after two helicopters were shot down. One of the most memorable sequences in the film featured several Black Hawk and AH-6 “Little Birds” choppers flying into battle to the tune of Voodoo Child. It was arguably the coolest shot after Apocalypse Now’s iconic ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ scene.

Subscribe to the magazine

Subscribe Now