What is FireFox?
During the Cold War, there was a concern held by NATO, the US Intelligence agencies, and the general public that the big bad Soviet Union was ahead technologically when compared to the western powers. This collective fear was likely rooted in the 1957 launch of Sputnik. In 1977, Welsh author Craig Thomas published the techno-thriller novel Firefox playing on those fears and when only a few years, a major motion picture that was under the helm of none other than Clint Eastwood. For many of us growing up in the 1980's, this was a cool film about a cool airplane with a cool actor...however, the film seems to have been more forgotten in later years. In this installment of Forgotten Classics, we will be examining one of my favorite films of my childhood: 1982's Firefox!
The 1982 Warner Brothers movie was based on a 1977 book by Welsh author Craig Thomas. The book that would become Firefox was written part-time by Thomas with editing by his wife while he worked as an English teacher. This was not his first novel nor his last. The novel would take four-and-a-half months to write with research help from friends in the RAF and he used guidebooks to help him write the city of Moscow which he could not visit. At the time, the fictional MiG-31 with the NATO name of "FIREFOX" was based around the real-world MiG-25 FOX BAT. Oddly, the MiG-31 was known to the West around 1976 with intelligence from Lt. Viktor Belenko, and why Thomas chose the "MiG-31" name when a real-world plane was being tested is unknown or it is also likely that Thomas did not know about the MiG-31 at the time. However, the stellar defection of Lt. Belenko was highline news and Thomas mentions Belenko in his book, Some have concluded that Thomas used the name to connect his MiG-31 to the mysterious unknown real-world Soviet plane to build some interest in the pages and play on Cold War paranoia. Successful when published, the book was optioned by Warner Brothers Studios at the request of Clint Eastwood, who was eyeing the book as a Thriller vehicle for himself as both star and director to do something different than he had done in his long career.
What is the Difference between the book and the film?
Interesting FIREFOX Trivia:
- Many of the actors would appear in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, DUNE, and The Hunt for Red October.
- Many western movies could not film in Mother Russia and so Soviet-era Russia, especially Moscow had to be reproduced by other European cities. The Moscow segments of the picture were filmed in Vienna, Austria. The scenes at the subway in Moscow were filmed in an Vienna tube station very late at night so that the art department could transform the Viennese tube station into one that could appear as if it was in Soviet Russia.
- The opening scenes with Grant jogging and running back to his cabin were filmed in California, at Clint Eastwood's own rural ranch estate at Hat Creek, California and not in Alaska.
- The sky footage of the sky was reused by Back to the Future II flying DeLorean sequences.
- The scene where the US Navy submarine codenamed "Mother One" breaks through the icepack
- Rather than construct a plane, the original plan was to use the futuristic looking Swedish JA-37 Viggen jet fighter, however the Swedish government refused permission for it to be used.
- This is the film that developed "Reverse Blue Screen".
- There are several versions of the film. Clint Eastwood would re-cut the picture, by 13 minutes after the film came out. Then 16 minutes was added back for the ABC's television version that I watched as a kid. Then there is the two hour and four minute version that has been used by cable television. Then there is the "full longest version" that clocks in at 2 hours and 17 minutes which is used for the home media releases.
- Out of the $21 million budget (58 million in today money), it is reported that $20 million was spent on the special effects!
- Clint Eastwood's film company Malpaso Productions is named for a creek in Carmel, California.
The Name of the MiG-31
The Historical Context of Firefox
The centerpiece of the book and film is the fictional MiG-31 “FIREFOX” and this hypersonic futuristic interceptor is the most remembered element of the entire of the film to this ever day. Even if you have not seen the 1982 film or read the 1977 book, you have likely seen the plane. In the original book, author Craig Thomas used the Mikoyan-Gurevich-25 FOXBAT. At the time of the book, it was one of the fastest interceptor aircraft in the world, achieving MACH 2.35. This Soviet aircraft was the foundation for Thomas’s fictional MiG-31. When the book was optioned by Warner Brothers, everyone knew that the star of the show was not Eastwood, but the MiG-31 and the bar for fictional aircraft had been sat high by Star Wars in both design and SFX. To this end, the vast majority of the budget for the film was committed to the special effects.
Which Japanese cartoon that they were speaking of is impossible to say, however, my money is on the G-Force’s Phoenix plane from Battle of the Planets. After finding scans of the Cinefex #10 from October of 1982, I was able to add more to the origin story of the Firefox plane. The original screenplay was given to Eastwood’s production company, Malpaso, in 1979; just two years after the release of the book! When the film moved over to preproduction, Eastwood hired Doug Trumbul's group, EEG, to handle the special effect and other production work.
This iswhen people were being assembled for the most important aspect of the film: the MiG-31. According to the CineFex article, this is when Trumbull contracted with Greg Jein. Greg worked with Trumbull’s art director Bill Creber, who had worked out one of the basic designs of the FIREFOX. The goal of Greg was to design a fighter plane that was not like current aircraft design, but based in aerodynamic principles and current research. There are some that believe the design of the FIREFOX came from the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic plane. When the F-117 “Nighthawk” Stealth Fighter was revealed to the world, some who worked on Firefox stated how much Greg Jein was correct on the steath design and geometry.
During the spin-up on the design for the MiG-31, Clint and Greg worked together and Greg was surprised the strong feelings Mr. Eastwood had towards some of look for the Soviet Next-Gen interceptor. He was the one that wanted it black and shiny, when the model at that time was a gunmetal grey. During this timeperiod of development the final design was not nailed down. While at EEG, Greg Jein and Bill Creber worked together to forge 9 different designs for the MiG-31, which included the original Trumbull design prior to the arrival of Jein. In order to finetune the FIREFOX design for Mr. Eastwood’s approval, Creber and Jein construct 18-inch foam models of each of the nine designs.
It was then, that Mr. Eastwood selected the design that would become the MiG-31 FIREFOX. However, around this time, Malpaso and EEG separated company and Jein was left on the preproduction team with the selected design work as Creber went with EEG. After the 4th refinement of the selected MiG-31 design to present to Mr. Eastwood in the form of a four-foot study model. This model was assembled by Robert Short, Mark Stetson, Bill George, Dave Hellman, Sean Casey, and Pat McClung. It was during this time, the Malpaso was in talks with John Dykstra and the study model was given to Dykstra’s Apogee, Inc. as proof of concept and progress. In February of 1981, Malpaso and Apogee, Inc. signed their deal for Apogee to handle the extensive SFX work for the film. When the work was assigned to Apogee, Grant McCune was tasked to examine Jein’s design and McCune openly said in an interview with CineFex Magazine that they looked at getting away from Greg Jein’s design. In addition, McCune was going to construct Radio-Controlled flyable models of the Jein MiG-31 design, which he had not considered when designing the craft.
While the Apogee team was looking at changing the design, it was Clint Eastwood that stepped in and informed Apogee that the design for the MiG-31 was basically set. In total, about fifty models of various sizes were constructed for the production, with the largest being the full-sized model that came in at 61.5 feet long and 42 feet across, wing-to-wing. This full-sized mockup was seen in the film when Grant finally witnesses the mysterious MiG-31 in the flesh. It was much more than a simple set piece, the full-scale mockup had an electrical system designed to move the flaps, the cockpit and was even fitted with an chain-driven Volkswagen 1500cc engine to propel the FIREFOX up to 30 MPH for taxing. It is this one that is still
Some of these mock-ups were designed to be Remote Controlled airplanes, with two crashing. Besides testing the design, there was an attempt to use the RC FireFoxes in Greenland (where the Arctic ice pack scenes were filmed) to capture the Soviet plane flying. However, the performance and believability was poor with wind gusts thrown around the RC Foxes. There is no footage in the film of the two RC Foxes. Many of the shots in Greenland were done using the 63-inch models. Given the importance and extensive nature of the special effects for Firefox, Apogee was working on the effects shots up until just a few days before the film was released in June of 1982.
This would prevent overflights from taking place. Powered by twin Tumansky RJ-15BD-600 turbojets creating 50,000lbs of thrust a piece. This would propel the stealth aircraft to MACH 5 and even MACH 6 with the range being 3,000 miles and a ceiling 120,500 feet. There was also six Soyuz/Komarov solid rocket boosters for take-off operations with some experiments in using them in atmospheric flight conditions. While this was to be the first stealth aircraft of the Red Air Force, using RAM coating and stealth design geometry, the heat generated by the massive thrust did demise the stealth abilities of the aircraft. Another revolution in aircraft technology was the Thought Controlled Weapon Management System (TCWMS). This fully functional system allowed the pilot to select and fire the weapons of the MiG-31 just by thinking in Russian, allowing for a cutdown in response time of 2-3 seconds.
The Story of Lt. Viktor Belenko and his MiG-25: the Real Firefox
While the USSR gave up on the pilot, they did get their plane back on a Soviet ship on November 15th, 1976 in 30 boxes. When the parts were cataloged, there 20 pieces missing and the Soviet government attempted to bill the Japanese, who in turn, billed the Soviets for the damage to their runaway during Belenko's landing. Naturally, this story was import to the book and film of Firefox. The Belenko defection was a key news story in the West and author Craig Thomas was keenly aware of it. This event was included into his book and his publisher attempted to capitalize on the event with a large first printing. In some ways, Lt. Belenko defection with the MiG-25 was the real life Firefox. This event was also referenced in the briefing that Jack Ryan gave at the White House in the 1990 film, The Hunt for the Red October.
The Impact and Legacy of Firefox...The Tale of Two Firefoxs
Why was Firefox Forgotten?
Does FireFox Hold Up Today?
Was there Going to be Sequel?
The 2 Mysterious ATARI Firefox Games: LaserDisc & 2600
Where Else Have We Seen MiG-31 FIREFOX?
The G.I. Joe: Real American Hero COBRA "Night Raven" & the JOE "Sky Raven" Play Vehicles
The F-200 Efreet from UN Squadron
The COBRA "Night Raven" seen in GI Joe: Rise of COBRA
In the 2009 live-action film, Ripcord of the Joes steals the prototype MARS Night Raven hypersonic suborbital interceptor/reconnaissance stealth fighter to intercept and destroy two of the missiles bearing down on two world capitals. During the chase to take down the missile flying toward the White House, Ripcord cannot fire the weapons until he says “fire” in Gaelic…I guess Russian doesn’t work? This is a redesign of the original 1980’s toy, but still has elements of the SR71 and the FIREFOX. Along with the CGI plane in the 2009 film, there was tie-in toy release of the Night Raven (or “the Night Bird” outside of the US market) that is different the original 1980s toy.
The Various F-19 Stealth Fighters of the 1980s
With RADAR playing a bigger role every decade of since the 1st World War, there has been attempts to design military vehicles that could defend RADAR…the world of stealth technology. The world of stealth technology has always been wrapped up in cloak-and-dragger intrigue, rumors of alien reverse engineered, and secret black projects and budgets. This is the world that the film and book of Firefox entered into and this inspired others to enter into the shadowy world of black project stealth aircraft. During the 1970’s, it became clear that RADAR surveillance systems, RADAR-guided AAA would inflict heavy losses on NATO aircraft if NATO and the Warsw Pact locked into armed conflict. This was shown in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and this fueled DARPA to seek stealth technology from five defense companies.
During this time, the model company Testor of Rockford, Illinois model designer John Andrews began to work on an stealth fighter model kit that would be called the “F-19”. This came from that the US military had not used the F-19 name and even skipped it. Some believed that this was due to a secret black project aircraft that involved stealth technology. In 1986, Testor would release the 1/48 F-19 Stealth Fighter. This became a massive hit and sparked much interest in both the hobby community, aircraft engineers, and even the intelligence community. This kit was even bought by those employed by Skunk Works, causing the hobby shops around their labs to be sold out.
The MiG-37 FERRET Russian Stealth Aircraft
The "Thinking Caps" from the ROBOTECH Universe and the BCS/BDIS from Macross Plus
One of the most hotly debated issues within the fandom of ROBOTECH as been the concept of the "thinking caps" that partly control the RDF/REF of the series and how canon these brain control system are. I can recall there being debate about this back when the series was first running on TV. As far as I am aware, the concept of Thinking Caps for use in controlling/piloting the mecha, especially the Veritechs, is an invention only mentioned in the ROBOTECH novels written by the two-man team under the Nom de Plume of "Jack McKinney". Some fans have declared that the Jack McKinney novels belong in their own alternate universe (ROBOTECH Novel Universe "RNU"), and should be regarded as "beta canon". This also goes along with the entire concept of the Thinking Cap brain-control system.
Scott, his body sheathed in lime-green armor, was strapping himself into one of the Veritechs now. Fifteen years had seen only minor changes in armor and craft. Lang's Robotech design team had maintained the "thinking caps" and sensor-studded mitts and boots that were so characteristic of the first-generation VT pilots. Armor itself had become somewhat bulky due to the fact that these third-generation warriors were involved in ground-assault missions as often as they were in space strikes; but there was none of the gladiatorial styling favored by Lang's counterparts in the Army of the Southern Cross."
Then there is the Brainwave Control System that was seen in the UN Spacy YF-21 02 prototype Veritech from the Macross Plus movie and OVA. This new type of Veritech was fitted with an experimental Brainwave Control System that allowed the pilot to control the flight of the aircraft without touching the physical controls. This was unlike the MiG-31 FIREFOX that had only the weapons and aiming system under the control of the thought-control device. In the 2nd prototype of the YF-21, there was attempt to unify the pilot and the machine into a seamless machine via two radical systems: Brainwave control system and the Brain Direct Image system. The Brain Direct Image System allow the pilot to see more clearly around the aircraft than ever before. With the some of the issues with the BCS/BDIS and the massive expensive, the YF-21 was not put into production with the YF-19 being selected as the next Veritech for the UN Spacy Forces.
MiG-31 ICEFOX & FLAMEFOX from Sonic Wings/Sonic Wings Special/Sonic Wings Limited
MiG-39 FIREFOX from Air Combat: Insurgency
F-119 from Air Diver F-119 Stealth Fighter Simulator
The "Blue Thunder" from Blue Thunder (1983) and the Lady from Airwolf (1984)
In the realm of techno-thrillers, often a piece of technology in the form of a military vehicle is the key element of the work, like the FIREFOX or the “Caterpillar Drive” in the Hunt for the Red October. There two works in the 1980s that capitalized on the trend that the Firefox film laid down: 1983’s Blue Thunder and 1984’s Airwolf or “The Lady”. Both featured advanced controls schemes, stealth capabilities, and deadly abilities. And their pilots were people with issues and trauma that we saw in Major Grant. When comes to their relationship with the 1982 Clint Eastwood movie, I believe that Airwolf was based on some elements of Firefox, but the script for Blue Thunder was well before the film and the movie was being made concurrently with Firefox. BTW, if anyone wants to read an head-to-head article on The Lady vs. Blue Thunder, here it is.
Next Time on FWS...