THE SPECIAL presents an exclusive bulletin from the halls of the San Hose Convention Centre where the above images of a familiar r/c model were captured by keen-eyed exhibitor Jason Beckwith (of Never Static Pictures.com).
Indeed, those who attended the Silicone Valley Comic-Con this past weekend were treated to a unique pop-up museum of vintage prop vehicles, featuring everything from a 1:1 scale Spinner car from Blade Runner to a filming miniature of the 1989 Batmobile.
Appearing at a glance to be a clutter of dusty broken kit parts dumped in a glass case, the stunt helicopter fuselage from Blue Thunder appeared from nowhere in, incredibly, exactly the same state as it was discovered in storage in 2004. Identified as ‘The only R/C Helicopter to successfully perform a 360 loop onscreen’ the prop still endures (even if the pilot figure is MIA) and can obviously attest to being in original condition –
But what of this? is it an unspoiled piece of movie history or a model in desperate need of cleaning and restoration? Spare canopy parts permitting there appears to be 90% of a complete representation of the helicopter as seen on screen and could be repaired with minimal intervention. THE SPECIAL is currently in the process of trying to track down the current owner for comment but if anybody has any leads or more images from the exhibition please feel free to get in touch by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let’s see what else can be revealed about this iconic prop…
Enjoy these random snippets from various vintage Radio Control helicopter magazines rescued from the Google ether.
The article by Diane Cameron-Tough is particularly interesting as it claims Hollywood remote flying supremo John Simone Jr. (third pic) performed the famous climatic loop over forty times before making a suitable take. Between this and often flying blind through miniature street sets its a minor miracle any of his four handmade models survived the shoot to this day.
Not so lucky, however, were the original molds of the scale chopper which were destroyed before the mass market replica’s (5th & 6th pics) could be produced, forever depriving enthusiasts of what would now be considered a genuine replica prop…
From 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…
It 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…
Dumped in a corner and left to gather dust, this fantastic piece of movie history was unearthed Auction Hunters style in 2004 by a fan smart enough to recognise and photograph the neglected carcass of what I presume to be the primary R/C Helicopter used in Blue Thunder.
Although obviously left in pitiful condition the pics tell us that most, if not all the parts were still present (remote control, cannon assembly and even a spare canopy, 5th & bottom pic) and offer conclusive proof that the ship was once airborne, (judging by the bird poop) and that Roy Scheider’s stunt double was a smiling Ken doll.
While researching these pics I was lucky enough to get in contact with ‘Lee S’ of the Replica Prop Forum who was kind enough to share the story of how he made the discovery below;
“…It was mostly by chance. I’d bid on a huge miniature of the Roger Young from Starship Troopers that Sony was selling off on eBay. I didn’t win, but I asked the seller if it would be possible to take some pictures of the model before it left with the new owner. I was working in Culver City CA, just behind Sony and the guy from Sony said sure. I zipped over and had about 20mins to take pictures right before the Roger Young was loaded onto a truck. This wasn’t AT Sony, it was across the street in an old bank that they were storing stuff in, mostly it seemed bits & pieces they were selling off. After taking pictures of the RY I took a couple of minutes to look around and found the Blue Thunder model around a corner. So I snapped the pics you see and then asked if it had been on eBay too as I’d not noticed. The guy said it wasn’t but he thought it might be at some point. I asked if he’d let me know if it was listed, but I never heard from him again. The date/time on the pictures was Oct 29th 2004 around 8am. The date sounds about right, but it wasn’t 8am as I recall it was mid afternoon 3-4pm.
And that’s about all I know :-)..”
Although R/C Helicopter models from Blue Thunder have been restored and offered in auction over the last 10 years, the lack of pilot figure in the Profiles In History lots make me more inclined to believe that this one may have been salvaged for display in the Sony offices (see post below) rather than offered up anywhere else (possibly due to its condition) if indeed it was salvaged at all…
My sincere thanks go to Lee for permitting use of this fascinating gallery of pictures showcasing this intriguing find. If you have anything to add to this story, feel free to get in touch..!
Further to the last post regarding the fate of the Blue Thunder R/C helicopters – here are a few images culled from Google (apologies for the quality) showing an alternative model currently on display in the Sony offices. Notable differences between this and the Planet Hollywood version are the stabilizing paddles for the rotors, missing rung on the left hand skid and the addition of a Murphy pilot figure. (all of which leads me to believe it was used in the final Cochrane confrontation scenes). One sad parallel is the treatment of the cannon, although the salvation in this instance is that at least its still present. (top pic in side window…) Anybody with better, more current pics please feel free to contribute…
Another highlight of my trips to Florida was the discovery of this – incredulously tucked away in a dark corner of Planet Hollywood in Downtown Disney, Orlando. Suspended by wires at considerable height but otherwise unmolested, this genuine R/C miniature of the Blue Thunder helicopter may well still be in situ today. As the pics show there had been no restoration to the chopper (broken cannon/canopy windows missing) before mounting and the sign (accompanied by original lobby card) was partially hidden behind a plant. If any fans out there happen to be passing and confirm its still there by shooting some more recent pics, I’d be happy to host them here…