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..!