The Unknown Stuntmen…

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These rare behind-the-scenes pics have been haunting the hard drive of THE SPECIAL for years so it is with some satisfaction they can finally be shared.  While apologies must be made for the poor size/resolution I hope you enjoy this brief insight and tribute to the stunt players and brave/crazy cameramen of this film and maybe even help identify some?

While I’m fairly certain the gentleman immediate right in the top pic is the late Jim Gavin the pilot on the left in the shades (featuring prominently on the set wearing Roy Schieder’s bloodied jacket in Gary Mason’s incredible album) and the other two men’s identities remain unknown…

Chopper Wars…

SL 81 APRIL84 CHOPPER 2_0001SL 81 APRIL84 CHOPPER 3SL 81 APRIL84 CHOPPER 1Always beloved and now universally regarded as the ‘internet of its day’, US published Starlog Magazine now serves as an exhaustive chronicle of three decades of Sci-Fi/cult material.

Issue #81 (cover bottom pic) had a little treat for fans of the ‘super-vehicle’ based TV show that started with Glen Larson’s Knight Rider in a feature that would predate an argument that still endures today – which was better, Airwolf or Blue Thunder..?

Thankfully writer Lee Goldberg merely presents the facts for both productions here without the benefit of comparison as both shows were yet to be aired.  So it is with considerable surprise that I discovered none other than Buck Rogers himself (Gil Gerard) was to be Roy Scheider’s successor at the controls and that writer Dan O’ Bannon (despite later penning an episode for the series) was pretty rudely indifferent to his creations success.

Also telling is the first paragraph in the Airwolf case (second pic, middle) where it could be argued some of its eventual dominance/success was down to the grittier aspects of character traits (e.g. PTSD) explored in both Blue Thunder: The Movie and Firefox that ABC’s kiddie-friendly series actively avoided.  All this would’ve been academic though, had the closing paragraph about Columbia’s consideration of a Blue Thunder sequel been realised…

THE SPECIAL expresses thanks to SLOW ROBOT’s blog for use of its scans here – for much more vintage magazine coolness head over to STARLOGGED without delay…

Listening, Watching, Waiting…

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Printed in Spain and published (solely?) In Great Britain by Dumper Publishing, this nostalgic, pulpy annual is nevertheless 100% dedicated to the US.

Though by April 1984 its eleven-episode run was over, Blue Thunder took pride of place among the most revered cult TV of the era in the TV Favourites Annual 1985, featuring on the cover, insert (second pic) and double page spread (bottom) however this was, amazingly, not enough to qualify for an annual all its own (in an age when most shows of this genre warranted one however long its run)

While the cover shot is a generic still from the movie, the others are notable for their behind the scenes nature (from the episode ‘Payload’) – notice the backup chopper still has the mounting plate for the camera (top of second pic) and the shot in the feature is flipped – something that occured in the show itself (look for the ’02′ switching to ’50′).

Obcsure as it gets and therefore a rarity now, THE SPECIAL brings you another pictorial exclusive charting the history of Blue Thunder in the media…

“Gee, neat shot..”

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Motion2Motion3Motion4BT_AdMotion5Enjoy this final article from the May 1983 American Cinematographer – bringing this series of posts to its conclusion.  I’ve also included a scan of the full-page ad taken out by Tyler Camera Systems congratulating the crew on its aerial photography work on the film.  Will we ever see its like again the digital age..?

Movie Mecha…

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Though it is yet to be added to the extensive collection of THE SPECIAL, this first of many Blue Thunder merchandise/kit reviews takes precedent due to the discovery of this impressive Youtube video (top) showcasing an amazing buildup.

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Part of the ‘Movie Mecha’ series (including tellycopter rival Airwolf) introduced at the 49th All Japan Model Hobby Show 2009 by Aoshima, this 1/48th scale replica of the Movie version of the helicopter (see original sale sheet/promo 3rd pic) is notable for being released in two versions – the first basic kit in a white box with painted art (below) and a special variant with metal gatling gun, also benefitting from a more attractive blue box with a still from the river chase sequence.

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While the kit itself may be disappointingly small in comparison to, say, the vintage Monogram 1/32nd release, it compensates by being arguably be the most accurate tooling of the screen used prop to date – with details such as the video box cables, correct interior with fire extinguisher, oversize monitor at Observer’s station and inclusion of pilot figure. The decal sheet (below) has the correct registration marking and even includes the ‘Big Brother’ tape case -

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With its versatile stand and base made for in-flight display, kit builder Chandler2001tokyo went one better and added working rotors, running lights and twitching gatling gun, with switches neatly mounted in the base for the complete Thunder experience in miniature (top).  Still available as of this writing on auction sites, go here to see another fantastic finish/review from Germany and here to see the creation of an award-winning example (featuring a doomed barbeque shack diorama!)

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The Yoak Odyssey…

THE SPECIAL Belatedly welcomes all Thunderfans to 2014!!

The first post of this year may well be the most significant the blog will ever host.  It is the result of considerable research and collation of new information thanks to the ongoing legacy of the Yoak family, keen to clarify just who was responsible for the design and conversion of the original Gazelle helicopters while righting some of the misconceptions about the handling of the finished aircraft..

With that in mind, this post (and from now on, this site) is dedicated to the life and works of Bill Yoak, who sadly passed away last year.  The text and photographs below are the property of his son, Scott, present in the workshop at the the time of his father’s assignment to build Blue Thunder.

Credit for the creation of the chopper has traditionally been aimed somewhere between Mickey Michaels and Philip Harrison, (interviewed extensively in the Special Edition DVD extras) but here, without diminishing their contributions, the true story of the build will be told for the first time in recognition of Blue Thunder’s hitherto unsung hero.  Patched together from his facebook quotes and remarks on the Warbird Information Exchange, Scott takes up the story from the beginning…

“Dad did ALL the design and building for the helicopters of Rambo 3 and Blue Thunder.  it makes me laugh to hear where some of the myths of these few helicopters came from.  I hope I can clear most of them up…”

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What we started with.

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Another thing that I haven’t found anywhere but when they interviewed my dad about designing and building the Blue Thunder helicopter, they asked what was the main factor that inspired the design. He said the Apache was….it was about the time they lost one of the prototypes (I think it was the second prototype built but don’t quote me).

Note the #2 on the side, this was the second prototype Apache that taxied by dad’s hangar one day, days later the production company came to him and asked him to design Blue Thunder.  He used a lot of the Apache design.  Dad put the #2 on the side after the Apache prototype crashed off the coast of CA

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The finished product.  The main Gatling gun weighed 200 lbs making it very nose heavy, early flight reports were better than expected.

Contrary to what the idiots on Wikipedia say about Blue Thunder, Part of the aircraft certification was to get it up to Vne (max speed). It did and the pilot reported that he had a lot of collective left to go faster. It wasn’t a pig like everyone thinks…”

Finally, in response to the Helicopters eventually being stripped and sold on for scrap, Scott answers a query regarding how difficult it would be to build a Blue Thunder Helicopter today…

“I don’t think it would be too hard. The hardest thing would be to find a owner that’s cool with bastardizing his Gazelle lol. For static though, it wouldn’t be hard at all, we still have a lot of the tooling in our storage containers for both Rambo 3 and Blue Thunder…”

Includes Own Fenestron…

MHW1MHW2MHW3MHW4MHW5MHW6MHW7MHW8From the troubled debut of ‘The Special’ in R/C Kit form by American RC in 1983 (go here) we time-hop three decades later to 2011 for its present day return.

Seemingly not as refined (nor detailed) as its movie-prop quality ancestor, the review above by Denis Stretton of the SmartModel.com 700 Blue Thunder Attack Helicopter is nonetheless an exhaustive account of the new tooling and heralds a welcome return to the R/C world.

Should you be interested in initiating your own scale Project THOR, however, research shows some of the availability info in this excellent edition of UK Magazine Model Helicopter World has already dated.  The Hong Kong site from which the kit was originally marketed seems to have changed location but the UK stockist still lists the fuselage as a pre-order item.

Though the exterior features on the casting would require considerable modification to make screen-accurate (should one wish to make it so) the complex interior/cockpit is an easier proposition thanks to this excellent add-on kit that can incorporate LED’s.  With no shortage of Barbie’s Ken dolls on the market, the option of completing it with a pilot Simone Jr. style remains open.  Regardless, as YouTube videos of finished projects give testimony to, its still a thrill to see the The Special airborne in any form…

9871 Feet…

BT_Camp1BT_Camp2BT_Camp3BT_Camp4BT_Synop1BT_Synop2BT_Synop3BT_Synop4More quaint souvenirs of the pre-digital age, this pair of four page cast list/synopses were distributed to the UK press for the purposes of promotional copy.  The Exhibitors Campaign Book provided by National Screen Service, Ltd. (top four pics) is typical of its kind but especially rare as the ad ‘blocks’ on the back page were inevitably cut out for composition into listings for local showings.  Among the nuggets of information present we also learn that editor Frank Morriss cut the final length to 9871 feet – not bad going when starting with a million…

Click on the scans above for larger, readable versions and look out for the much more exciting/expansive US version in a future post…

Scheider’s Law…

Cosmo1Cosmo2Cosmo3Cosmo4Cosmo5Enjoy this candid and insightful interview with our very own (and dearly missed) actor/ maverick pilot from (of all things) July 1983′s Cosmopolitan magazine.

Once described as a ‘lean cut Giacometti sculpture with a lone wolf aura’ and regarded by both peers and friends as the ultimate consummate professional ‘everyman’ he was known for on screen, Roy Scheider was as talented as he was underrated.  MUCH more to come in future posts on our favourite ‘Man in the sky…’