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…”

Gazelle_Conversion1Gazelle_Conversion_2Gazelle_Conversion_3Gazelle_Conversion_4

What we started with.

BT_Apache

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

BT_Camera_Ship1BT_Camera_Ship2BT_Camera_Ship3

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…’

BT By American RC…

FM1FM3FM4FM5FM6FM2It may/may not have been aerodynamically impossible, but in 1977, 20 year old wunderkind John Simone Jr. would pioneer a technique to fly his R/C Helicopters in an perfect 360° loop to win a national competition.

As that same stunt had been written into the closing scenes of an upcoming film from Columbia Pictures about an experimental full-size helicopter, the producers of Blue Thunder lucked out with both manufacturer and ‘pilot’ by commissioning American RC Helicopters Inc. to produce no less than 6 models of The Special itself in various scales plus its Hughes 500 and F-16 adversaries, respectively.

A detailed account of John Jr’s rise to fame in the Movie Business could be found in the October 1983 issue of Us Publication Flying Models, (above – click to enlarge) where its revealed the complexities of recreating scale models indistinguishable from the ‘real’ thing are second only to performing airborne stunts with little or no margin for error.

With a swelling reputation and a list of Hollywood blockbusters on their resume, (including Eastwood’s Firefox – a movie with more than one BT connection) American RC forged ahead with capitalizing on their success by offering kits of their greatest performers – firstly the ‘Supermantis’ (used as a rehearsal stand-in for the Blue Thunder stunts) and then, amazingly, The Special itself, struck from the original molds.  Although these were advertised (bottom pic) tragedy struck before they could be mass-produced when the American facility was destroyed by a crashing light aircraft.

Though his father’s company wouldn’t survive the devastation (closing in 1985) John Jr. is still active and still performing the stunt in shows that gained him such recognition back in the day…

MTC 1984…

MTC1To secure the license for what was, at the time, the most expensive show on TV must have incited much excitable palm rubbing from the execs at MultiToys Corp.

Announced amongst what could only be described as an eclectic line of action figures, playsets and dolls (from the Bugmen of Insecta to The Love Boat) and showcased as hastily produced mockups (some represented only by artwork) the MTC 1984 catalog is a glorious rare-as-you-like piece of nostalgia and insight into the toy industry.

Of particular interest, however, were the company’s ambitious plans for ABC’s Blue Thunder, where you may be both surprised to learn the extent of the line and saddened by how little of it actually made production -

MTC2MTC3MTC4From the top we see the whole main cast of the Blue Thunder TV show represented as articulated 4″ scale figures (even correctly scaling Bubba and Ski) intended for interaction with the Blue thunder Helicopter, Rolling Thunder van and Blue Thunder Jeep.  Only the Blue Thunder Helicopter would survive the cull and be sold complete with what is described as an ‘Astro Division’ pilot (even in this scale easily identifiable as Roy Scheider) as, sadly, the other figures & vehicles were never made.

The items on the following page, however,  were also successfully marketed with the Flying Blue Thunder (featuring great box art) and battery operated Blue Thunder Giant Helicopter eventually becoming the most rare and sought-after toys associated with the subject.  Coming in at a whopping 28″ long with sound effects and lights, this toy (though hardly the most accurate rendition of the helicopter) in its complete form commands an appropriate sum to obtain today if you can find one at all.

Conversely, the 18″ Blue Thunder Helicopter has become somewhat of a cult toy classic over the years, (appearing in TV’s Toy Hunter, etc.) and still appears (albeit more infrequently) on auction sites for reasonable prices (note the artwork for the box on catalog cover, top pic). As it forms part of my collection a full pictorial review here on THE SPECIAL will be a subject of a future post, but for now, enjoy indulging yourself in what could’ve been…

Thunder Down Under…

AUS_Thunder1AUS_Thunder6AUS_Thunder5AUS_Thunder4AUS_Thunder3AUS_Thunder2In what must be the most unique ‘abandoned project’ opportunity of a lifetime, an unknown Australian seller is offering this partially converted Gazelle Helicopter should anybody want to complete its transformation into Blue Thunder.

Intended as a static display rather than a fully-operational mockup, the exterior metalwork and wooden/fiberglass modifications are of considerable standard (even if the interior falls short in the accuracy stakes) and clearly the chopper was well on its way to being finished before the builder (obviously a huge BT fan – he even has Frank Murphy’s ’79 Trans Am garaged up! second & third pic down) for whatever reason withdrew.

Despite its appearance on auction sites the project apparently and inexplicably remains unsold.  Should anybody be interested in starting a similar project in future however, I have it on good authority the tooling for the original ‘copter still exists in storage and all that  would be needed to recreate an accurate full-scale replica of The Special would be a donor Gazelle and a suitably stratospheric budget.  Theoretically speaking, Blue Thunder could fly again.

How do I know all this?  Watch for future posts..!!

Patch Of The Month…

The revised continuity of the Blue Thunder TV Series meant that the Astro Division established in the movie was eclipsed by a generic government agency named APEX (through which the Blue Thunder Unit would continue operations while still based at Police Headquarters.) and headed by Captain Braddock.

Where there’s a unit there’s a patch and both airborne and ground crew were bestowed with this simple yet iconic design featuring the helicopter at sunrise for the duration of the show;

BT_Real_PatchSince the show was cancelled there has only been one reproduction made available for fans and it leaves much to be desired in the accuracy stakes to say the very least but for decades its all we had;

bluethunderlogopatchUntil the timely arrival of popular baseball cap vendors Lucky Seven, whose contemporary updated take on the series patch design is much more detailed and betters the original to a considerable degree;

DSC_2586Not only that, but the site offers entirely customisable caps from a multitude of cult TV series and Movies with a colour & crest, making the Blue Thunder version both an obvious choice and instant hit.  From the Lucky Seven Blog;

BT_Cap1DSC_2583DSC_2588THUNDER-01-600x340As the only Blue Thunder apparel to be released in at least 20+ years, this cap is long overdue so its gratifying the final product (pics from my collection above) is of such good quality (despite the curious combination of artwork pulled from the MultiToys Blue Thunder toy box and still of Organic Die-cast model used to advertise it.).  As Lucky Seven seems to be the go-to site for celebrities this cap has already seen TV airtime atop the head of chef Jamie Oliver.  Sadly the patch is not available separately so my ambition of customising a Blue Thunder jacket remains a pipe dream for now.  Meantime, order your cap today..!!

Das Fliegende Auge…

Auge1Auge2Auge3Auge4

West Germany has the curious distinction of having Blue Thunder (or Das Fliegende Auge) released there both first and well in advance of the rest of the world. Indeed, as the vintage programme above testifies (bottom pic) it would open in February 1983 while other territories waited until at least June and at latest September.

Whatever Columbia Pictures strategy may have been, it certainly paid off.  Auge broke box-office records and would make 2,355,048 theatrically (according to IMDB) with much more to follow in rentals (where the fierce onset of the video industry first threatened to eclipse cinema) and remains a popular title there to this day.  Given the minimalist theatrical poster campaign (below) one wonders if its initial European appeal hinged instead on something as basic as the surname of its leading man..?

German_Poster

The Book Of J-Bad…

Badham_BookOne of the mission prerogatives for ‘THE SPECIAL’ Is to keep Thunderfans appraised of all relevant news and merchandise both vintage and current.

What a pleasure, then, to discover that one of Hollywood’s most prolific Auteurs has put pen to paper to share his wisdom and experiences with the rest of us.  Why should we care?  Because the author is none other than Blue Thunder director John Badham.

JBMore an anecdotal ‘How to’ rather than a straightforward autobiography, the new book ‘Badham on Directing’ may well prove to be an indispensable user guide for aspiring filmmakers.

Exerpted below are passages from a recent interview by cult website Topless Robot, where interestingly, Brit-born Badham is keen to cite Blue Thunder as the adult-oriented opening to his signature ’80′s Techno-trilogy –

LYT: I wanted to ask you a question about technology in general, since you’ve made two sort of iconic movies: Short Circuit and WarGames, that both ultimately come to the conclusion that technology that we create to destroy will ultimately become benevolent. Was that a coincidental theme that you just happened to like the stories and that was the theme there, or was that something you really think about a lot?

JB: Yeah, I would actually add into that and make a little trilogy, adding in Blue Thunder, because Blue Thunder deals with a lot of stuff that we’re looking at right now very hard – government’s intrusion into our lives and how much intrusion is okay. Blue Thunder was released before the year 1984; that was an iconic year because of George Orwell’s novel all about government intrusion, looking into the future. All three of these films deal with the dangers of technology and how it can go off-track, sometimes in a very funny way, as in Short Circuit, or in scary ways, as in the other films. We’ve always been worried about how computers can go wrong, but what we’re seeing mostly is either computers going wrong mechanically, or because of elaborate hacking designed for pretty malevolent criminal purposes.

bluedirectorLYT: When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of the Blue Thunder TV series, which I think lasted an entire season.

JB: Right, right; just one season.

LYT: I don’t think any of those themes really made it into the show, did they? How did you feel about the show, in general?

JB: I was not a fan of the show. I had a lot of troubles with it. I think they just were looking to make an entertainment, and it was kind of, not a clone, but a copy of The A-Team. It became that pretty quickly. As I told them when they talked to me first about it, I said “I know you’re not going to be able to fly that helicopter very much – it’s bloody expensive! And on a TV show budget, I don’t think that’s really in the cards.” Sure enough, after 3 or 4 or 5 episodes, they put people down on the ground in a big van, running around that way, doing something more affordable, and forgetting about any themes of invasion of privacy, or anything like that. It just became another cop show.

Full interview can be found here.  Book is now available from Amazon.com and will be released towards the end of the month on Amazon.co.uk.  Review in future post…