“Pull up, Pull up..!”


THE SPECIAL is honoured to present this unique account shared by the son of one of the unsung heroes of Blue Thunder and a significant contributor to its nail-biting aerial authenticity.

Veteran Helicopter pilot Karl Wickman (above) performed a number of stunts on the show, flying everything from the camera ship to the Police Jetrangers to doubling Malcolm McDowell for the climactic dogfight between Murphy and Colonel Cochrane.

Karl’s son Kurt contacted THE SPECIAL with his incredible recollections having spent time on the set with his father.  With photographs culled from the Gary Mason archive and screencaps from the Special Edition re-release of the film on DVD, this courageous and gifted pilot can finally be given the recognition and credit he deserves for making the stunt flying in this 1983 film the standard by which all others are judged over thirty years later. Kurt takes the story from here –

“Blue Thunder was a joy to watch being shot, my dad had multiple flight duties on this picture, he flew the police helicopter (tail no. N250CA) this was one of the two Bell jet rangers that Jim had I his company Cinema Air, the other was a maroon Long Ranger, (N230CA) which usually was used as the camera ship. He also flew the Hughes 500C with Malcolm McDowell, whom, by the way, was terrified of flying – 


During the rehearsal of one of the chase scenes, through and around LA, the turbine wheel separated in the 500.  Its very surreal seeing puffs of smoke coming from the exhaust and it (the 500) immediately pitch forward and straight down. It looked like it had the glide slope angle of a set of keys! The camera followed him down as far as he could articulate because it was shooting from the top of a building with 2 – 3 foot high false wall so it didn’t catch the landing, and even if it had, the camera man put his hand over the lens as if he didn’t want to see the end results.  This is captured on tape and was later given to my dad.

He also flew the police helicopter that chased Blue Thunder. During the sequence that has the story ship evading the police and trying to (and succeeding) lead the police into a bridge spot, just prior to the collision, there are two quick shots of the front of the helicopter and it’s occupants, the gentleman with the cyclic occupying the left side is my pop (below)

PDVD_058  He worked closely with Ross, Jim, and Frank (Holgate), when he flew for Cinema Air Corp. back in the 80’s. My dad was later asked to fly the story ship in the up and coming series, and did so until it was cancelled…”


Karl under the direction of John Badham and on the far right as second unit director Jim Gavin discuss the battle above the streets of LA with John Badham and (second pic) far right again joined by Ross Reynolds (left) doubling Roy Scheider (note the olive jacket with bloodstained sleeve)

PDVD_108karl, (left) in Astro Division flightsuit, relaxing between takes at Parker Center with colleagues Ross Reynolds and Frank Holgate…

17 thoughts on ““Pull up, Pull up..!”

  1. That area where your Pop went down, Kurt, was near the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Film and television pilots still call that area the “Wickman Triangle” to this day in honor of your dad. If you ever have an opportunity to transfer that incident film, there’s plenty of us guys who’d like to see it.

    • I didn’t know about this “Wickman Triangle”. That is so awesome. I dont even know if my dad knows about it. He will now. Thanks a million for this post, reading it brought tears to my eyes.

  2. Hi Thomas, my name is Diana Wickman, and I am Karl’s daughter. So neat to hear that the area is named after my dad! I think he has stock footage of the incident – I’ll ask him about it tomorrow. Again, thanks so much for the info – this has made my day and I’m sure it will make his as well.

  3. Hi guys –

    Thomas, thanks so much for your invaluable input as ever!

    Kurt and Diana – should you manage to obtain said footage I’ll be only too happy to post it up here but what I’d really like to do is interview your dad for the site and get his recollections up on here (along with any pictures he may have kept from the set). Kurt has my contact details so whenever you’re ready get in touch.

    And thanks to all for your contributions to help make this site the definitive Blue Thunder resource..!

  4. Fantastic website – I have been an obsessive fan since seeing the movie on vhs in 1985. First time I ever went online Blue Thunder was the first thing I looked up – no helicopter comes close looks-wise to the special, even that charcoal grey and white Bell 222 that stole its thunder somewhat. I check this website daily keep up the amazing work. I am the only Special fanatic I know so great to know there are others who love Blue Thunder at least as much as I do…

    • Jonathan, my dad had always called the “Airwolf” series a “s*** show” and you had it right, it did steal the thunder…
      thanks for your comment, it is well recieved.

  5. living in northern ireland i used to see and hear a lot of gazelles flying over they were british army scouts beautiful machines in their own right and that wonderful fenestron sound always reminded me of blue thunder no silly scream sound effects needed for that beauty but i have always wondered was the gazelle the first and only choice for the special? were there any other types of chopper considered? could something so perfect be got right first time? if i can get any answers it will be here. also if they were to remake the movie with an actual chopper and not a drone what would be your choice of machine and will u go and c beyond blue thunder drone?

  6. Thanks for your comments! Some great observations there –

    The DVD/Blu-Ray Documentary ‘Ride With The Angels – Making Blue Thunder’ states that the production design looked at every helicopter in service at the time before settling on the Gazelle. Director John Badham always mistakenly refers to it as the ‘Alouette’ but credits pilot Jim Gavin with the final selection due to its sleek appearance.

    The scriptwriters were allegedly not too enamoured with the modifications made (having originally described the Helicopter as a ‘Sleek, Black wasp’) condemning the finished product as ‘Like a tank with crap hanging off of it’ and later staggered by the appearance of Airwolf which was much more in line with their vision.

    I personally hope the remake never happens as I can’t name one that’s been an improvement on the original. Should it reach screens I anticipate The Special itself to be an entirely CG creation with maybe a design nod here and there to the original, chopper or drone…

  7. Kurt, your Dad contacted me several years ago in regards to his work on Capricorn One (1978) where he worked with legendary screen pilot Frank Tallman; plus other pilots George Nolan and Clay Lacey. He sent me details of his logbook, he flew Hughes 500 N501WH, one of the sinister “black helicopters” tracking the fleeing astronauts.
    He was in the process of sending me logbook entries for his time on Rambo II (1985) filmed in Mexico in 1984-85 but never got back to me. Karl flew the Bell 212 in that film I think. The Hughes 500D Karl flew in Blue Thunder N58428 was also used in Airwolf, The A-Team, Street Hawk and others and still flies today. Excellent website. Simon D. Beck, Film Aviation Historian.

  8. Hello Karl. I miss the time we spent working on blue thunder and other films. It was a great pleasure, the guys on my truck Karl, Ross, Earnie Gufston, and me Jack Zahniser. I hope this finds its way to you.

    • Hello Jack, I’m forwarding your greeting to my dad right away. I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear from you.
      Best regards.
      Kurt Wickman

  9. Hey Kurt,

    Wow! Go Blue Thunder! I just ran across this info…Yes, by far, the Blue Thunder helicopter scenes will go down in history as the greatest! Due to current regulations, the FAA would never approve that kind of low level flying in a downtown area. Blue Thunder set a benchmark that has never been duplicated and probably never will be.

    As a helicopter pilot in the LA area, over the years I have worked with a number of the 1st generation helicopter movie pilots, such as Jim Gavin, Harry Hauss, Chuck Tamburro—all these guys became legends in the game among others.

    I also had the opportunity to work with your dad Carl at Mercy Air Service, one of SoCal’s premiere EMS helicopter company. EMS flying is one of the most demanding jobs in the industry and Carl was one of the established professionals in the company when I started there back in 2000. Many people do not know the positive influences to aviation that people like your father have contributed and the lives he saved by flying the copter.

    Please say hello to your father and let him know that people like me appreciate his aviation skill and dedication to the industry. Unfortunately, many of our fellow aviators have not stood the test of time and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

    Fly Safe, Craig Dyer

    • Mr. Dyer,
      My dad has always led by example and raised me in that respect. I will forward your communique to him. I am sure he’ll be happy to hear from you. Thank you for your kind words. Fly safe but have fun as well.

      • Hi Kurt. My name is Danny Smith. I worked ground support on jobs your Dad flew in the early 70’s at Western Helicopters in Rialto CA. ( I was also a kid pilot, having soloed illegally at age 14, joined the USAF, worked in aeromedical evacuation for 25 years, made Major, then another 13 years for The VA homeless Vets in Alaska before finally retiring). Your Dad may not remember me, but I surely remember him. I do remember (I think) one job in LA, where he was heavy lifting equipment to the top ok a multi story building. I was in the Bell Huey on intercom, right aft of him, acting as his eyes looking straight down. We were close enough to the tall building, while ascending with a heavy load – that you could see people’s faces inside. The helicopter had been slightly modified to allow the pilot to lean his body to the left, supported by a pillow – to allow him to see nearly straight down, while still maintaining control of the copter. As we were in a precarious position the support (padding) that had been rigged so support and steady his arm – started giving way and he called me on the intercom to push things back into place & the emergency averted. I did ground support for your dad, Kurt – on many USFS jobs. So glad when I (71 y/o now) looked him up – he is hopefully still alive & kicking, and telling & making new stories. Please tell him Danny says hello!

        • Danny, I’m Karl’s daughter and rest assured, he is still alive and kicking, along with my mom. They both live about 5 minutes from me in Sequim, WA. I’ll pass along your wonderful memories. Dad is now in his early 80’s and he’d doing great! So sorry I haven’t been on this site lately, but I will check in more often.

          All my best,

          Diana Wickman

Leave a Reply