The Historical Context of Firefox
In the world of film, 1982 was a busy and iconic year with such legendary fpictures like TRON, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Crystal, Blade Runner,
fucking Beast Master, Gandhi, Poltergeist, The Secrets of NIMH,
and Conan the Barbarian
! Some damn legendary titles here and during the packed summer film season, came Firefox
on June 18th starring one of the big names in cinema: Clint Eastwood. At the time, Eastwood was still maintaining success with films like Honkytonk man
and Any Way But Loose
along with directing some of his own movies.
At this time on the world stage, the Cold War was entering a new phase of heating up with the Reagan Administration new policies and the rapid increase in computer technology that was shifting the nature of warfare and society at large. At this time, the western nations were operating on the theory of countering the Warsaw Pact's greater numbers with better technology. One of the technological battlegrounds between the Superpowers had also been in the realm of attack fighter aircraft, and the book and film played on that. There was much written in western intelligence circles and civilian analysts that the Soviet were working on some high-tech weapon systems for both here on Earth and in orbital space, like the Polyus.
The Star of the Film: the Advanced Mach-6 MiG-31 "FireFox" Interceptor
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.
The design of the fictional MiG-31 FIREFOX came originally from the creative talents of Robert Short and Greg Jein, who are both legends in the SFX/model/design world who have worked on Star Wars, E.T., and Star Trek
productions. In an Cinemagic
article from issue #21 from 1983, Richard Short stated that Greg Jein was the one who got the contract for Firefox
and Greg contracted with Short to supervise the construction of the first five-and-half foot model based on the design laid down by Jein. Once the model was complete it was shipped over to Star Wars
& Battlestar Galactica
veteran John Dykstra’s Apogee, Inc. SFX company. According to the 1983 interview with Richard Short, Jein based the design on the then-current Soviet MiG-25 FOXBAT, much like the original novel, and a “Japanese cartoon” plane.
Which Japanese cartoon that they were speaking of is impossible to say, however, my money is on the G-Force’s Phoenix pl
ane 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.
In the fictional account of the film, the MiG-31 was an advanced high-altitude, hypersonic fighter-interceptor designed and built by the legendary Mikoyan-Gurevich company with some of the best minds that Mother Russia could offer, even if their religion and culture was banned by the USSR government. This black aircraft project was the work of husband-and-wife team of the Baranovichs and Dr. Semelovskyin and represented a massive amount of investment by the People of the Soviet Union at a time of great change in the geopolitical situation in the world. The mission of the FIREFOX was to intercept (and shoot down if needed) Western surveillance aircraft like the SR71 Blackbird and the D-21 MACH-3 drone.
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.
This allowed the pilot to fire a weapon on a target very rapidly while flying a hypersonic speeds and not distracting the pilot for the difficult flight operations they were involved in with such an aircraft at such a speed when intercepting the SR71. The plan after the stealing of the aircraft was to move the FireFox to the Nevada Groom Lake base and have the EG&G engineers reverse engineer the aircraft and probe its secrets with the MiG-31 also going to Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB soon after. While the MiG-31 FireFox was never going to be a mainline fighter-interceptor in the spirit of the MiG-25 FOXBAT, it would have been a limited fleet interceptor that would have been a stepping stone to next technologies and design for the Red Air Force. It was cutdown its prime and sadly, it would have been a limited lifespan anyways. With the advancement in satellite technology, planes like SR71 had their days numbered along with their hunters, the MiG-31.
The Story of Lt. Viktor Belenko and his MiG-25: the Real Firefox
On September 6th, 1976, when I was just a few days old, an MiG-25 FOXBAIT flew into the airspace of Japan. At the controls was Lt. Viktor Belenko of the Soviet Red Air Defense Force. He had flown one of the premier Soviet air combat planes from his base in Chuguyevka, Primorsky Krai, Russia to the Hakodate Airport on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. While this was not the first time that an MiG fighter had been delivered to the West via an defecting pilot, it was intelligence goldmine for the US and her allies. They got to see and poke around on the MiG-25 FOXBAIT and debrief an Soviet pilot. The question is why did Lt. Belenko risk his life to defect to the West, especially given his job with the USSR? It seems that Viktor Belenko was stationed at a base that was falling apart, his superiors did not listen to him about conditions on the base, and morale for the soldiers stationed out in the Far East of Mother Russia. Added to this, Belenko's wife was leaving him and moving back to western part of Russia to be with her parents with his son.
All of this added up to Belenko taking his MiG-25 on a trip to Japan to seek a new life with the cash from turning over the plane. After the confusion of the MiG-25 in Japanese airspace, the plane with some excitement and it become clear very rapidly that this was an important event. Belenko asked for and got asylum by the US government and even became a US citizen in 1980 by the signature of President Carter. From September to November of 1976, US intelligence were able to examine the plane, pull it apart, and examine the documents Belenko had brought with him. It was an windfall for western intelligence and Soviets wanted it back with their pilot.
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
At the time of release, the film garnered much attention due to its arresting movie poster, the star of the film, and it being based on a successful book. When released into theaters, the film was a success at the box-office, both nationally and internationally, making back its money and then some...but, it was not a massive blockbuster like other films released at the time, like E.T.
Then the film faded from theaters due to the busy film season and in time, it made its way to the home market with being run on the ABC network and on home media. However, when it comes to the legacy of this 1982 Clint Eastwood film, it is really the story of two FireFox
s...one being the fictional MiG-31 "FIREFOX" plane and the film itself. While there fans of the film itself, it does not receive the love and attention that other films of the 1980's do or even the similar The Hunt for the Red October.
None of the big YouTube retro movie channels, like Oliver Harper, do not have videos about Firefox.
This really speaks to how little consideration or thought is paid to this Cold War-era Thriller by those that did not grow-up with the film. And this was not a little film starring someone who was not known, it was a major summer film, starring and directed by a major star, and was released by one of the biggest movie studios at the time. Then there is the legacy of the plane itself.
To this very day, the Greg Jein-designed MiG-31 FIREFOX is widely and currently celebrated in video games, model kits, custom 3D printed copies, toy knock-offs, and fan art. Hell, the longest section of this article is about the MiG-31! While there is not much exploring or explaining the film in the realms of the internet, there is many online articles and entries about the Soviet FIREFOX plane. It is often referenced online as one of the best fictional planes of all time and even Hasbro used the Firefox
as a reference for the COBRA "Night Raven" and the "Sky Raven" toy planes during the run of the Real American Hero
line. As this article is being written, I ran across several post on a starship modelling forum all about people working on their own plastic copies of the famous plane. Given all of this, I firmly believe that the fictional MiG-31 FIREFOX (and the whole "think in Russian" meme thing) will be the true ongoing legacy of this 1982 Clint Eastwood film until the sun burns out .
Why was Firefox Forgotten?
As I mentioned above, the true legacy of the film is the fictional MiG-31 "FIREFOX". This is the element of the film that remains remembered and celebrated to this very day with RC planes and models being made of the Soviet advanced MACH-6 interceptor. What was forgotten was the film itself...but why? Part of this is when the film came out, the summer of 1982, when some of the best movies were being released and it was under their shadow in some ways. In addition, the film is good, but not great and some of the use of Cold War politics made a turn-off to some audience members. Again, they remember the scenes with the FIREFOX, but not with Grant in Russia and those that helped him into the cockpit of the Soviet plane. If this had been a Bond film, it would have been remembered for much more than the plane. Another reason for the general public forgetting about Firefox
is that the film is obscured by the western films of its star and the incoming genre of 80's action films. Firefox
did not fit into any box, and what people carried away was the MiG-31 FIREFOX plane, not the cloak-and-dagger movements of Clint Eastwood behind the iron curtain.
Does FireFox Hold Up Today?
This film has been part of my life for sometime and as I said above, I watched it many times as a kid...and then not so much. I've never owned it on home media and I likely never will. For the purpose of this review, I checked out the DVD from my local library and decided to see how Firefox
had aged and if it was still a good film. Given the topic and time period when written and filmed, the 1982 film is a now a Cold War Thriller that is often mentioned alongside The Hunt for the Red October. Firefox
is really a movie of thirds, like most films, but they are not quite equal and Firefox
is quite uneven when watched today. As a kid, I thought the buildup to the stealing of the MiG-31 aircraft was boring and long, however, today, I don't think it is long enough.
Overall, I think the film should be longer with more of the first parts of the film fleshed out and that would have helped its tone and complexity. When re-watching a few weeks ago, I noticed the film does not state why Grant accepted the mission and what drove him to complete this mission...the Hunt for the Red October
did a much better job of this. Perhaps these were more fleshed out in the original book, but there should have been more of those portions to establish the Thriller atmosphere in the film. There is just too much dumb luck that help get Grant into the seat of the MiG-31. The last 1/3th is exciting with the twin FIREFOX
aircraft chasing and hunting one another like two knights jousting on an aerial battlefield. Much credit goes to Mr. Eastwood and the production for the look and lighting of the cockpit scenes which are still very good. While the SFX is dated, it does have a certain look and coupled with the 1980's soundtrack, it all gels together during those scenes. I think for a true verdict on if it holds up to this very day, that would have to come from someone that did not grow up with the film and see it through fresh eyes and ones that are not colored by nostalgia.
Was there Going to be Sequel?
So, there was a sequel to Firefox
the book, not the film. In the 1983 sequel to the 1977 book, Major Grant is forced down after his dogfight with the 2nd prototype of the MiG-31 in Finland on a frozen lake due one of the cannon rounds hitting the fuel tank. The weight of the plane breaks the ice and the FIREFOX sinks to the bottom of the Finnish lake as Grant is captured by Soviet forces. Then it is a race against time for western intelligence to recovery and repair the MiG-31 before the Soviet destroy it. During this race in rural Finland, Major Grant is attempting to escape from his captors via KGB agent. As mentioned above, Craig Thomas changed the description of the FIREFOX to match the film version of the plane and the cover-art of the book was changed to match the text and capitalize on the film itself. In fact, Mr. Thomas dedicates the book to Clint Eastwood. Some internet sites have stated that there was going to be a Firefox Down
film. One site has stated that a production company is looking into the rights for the book for a film adaptation. Honestly, there is not much on this and there were even rumors at the time in 1983 of a sequel. As far as I know, Eastwood and the studios involved with the original film were not exploring the possibility of a sequel based on Firefox Down
. Simply put, the film did good, but it was not a blockbuster and Eastwood moved on to other projects like Sudden Impact
and the excellent Pale Rider.
I doubt very much that a sequel or remake of the world of Firefox
will ever be made.
The 2 Mysterious ATARI Firefox Games: LaserDisc & 2600
Around the time of the release of the film, ATARI had secured the rights to product video games under the name of "Firefox" and connect those games to the film. Two games were under development during these troubled times at ATARI, one being an LaserDisc-based arcade cabinet game in the spirit of Dragon Lair
and then there is the lost ATARI 2600 home console prototype game. At this time in the early 1980s, there was much hype and buzz about LaserDisc based games and many at the time thought it was the future of arcade games...how wrong they were. This is the time that ATARI entered into with their own LaserDisc game for the arcade market with the success and press around Dragon's Lair
. The VP of ATARI arcade marketing sector was Don Osborne and he wanted an LaserDisc arcade game and used new Clint Eastwood Firefox
movie as the vehicle for that endeavor. The "FireFox
team" was composed of many that had worked on the 1983 Star Wars
vector graphic arcade game: Mike Hally Greg Rivera, Norm Avellar with the entire Firefox
project was done under the head of ATARI research department Roy Machamer and this was the department's first project. These were rough times for ATARI and they needed a massive hit that would also showcase the company was looking to the future to attract investors and gamers. For this expedition into LaserDisc, the first ATARI game would be Firefox
In 1982, the powers at ATARI wanted a working prototype at the October 1983 Amusement & Music Operators Association (AMOA) show in New Orleans. This gave the developers not even a year to create the company's first LaserDisc-based game and this forced long hours and massive stress on the team. One feature that was being worked on and abandoned was a moving/reactive seat to engage the player in both eyes and body, but the team could not get it to work prior to the release date. Three years, SEGA would release After Burner
with a similar idea. The game was set to premier at the October 1983 Amusement & Music Operators Association (AMOA) show in New Orleans, but technical issues grounded the Firefox
game and only the dead full-sized cabinet was on display due to issues with the disc system and the rush job to finish it failed.
This was despite the rushing of the master disc from ATARI HQ to the New Orleans via Nolan Bushnell's private plane! According to an article I read from the time, there were rumors Clint Eastwood would be on-hand to show off the game, but that never happened...maybe due to the failure of the game. This was massive hit to ATARI at the show and the writer says that many people were disappointed in the failure of the game. The stress of this failure likely caused the heart attack death of the VP of arcade marketing Don Osborne. The Firefox
Project team dedicated the game to him. The main board for the game was worked on for 12 hours a day for three weeks and it was finished only to have more issues on hardware/software fronts. The game used an Phillps LaserDisc player that was not up to the task of handling an arcade game, but the team worked to solve that problem.
The public would see the game in full with Clint Eastwood at the controls on March 15th, 1984, nearly two years after Firefox
was in theaters. The cabinet was properly expensive, coming in at about $14,000 per unit and it was a two credit game to play due to this. At the premier of the Firefox
arcade game, some literature from ATARI stated that more LaserDisc based games were incoming to the arcade. In this time period, about seven LaserDisc games were under some form of development, including the already covered Battlestar Galactica
LaserDisc game for the under-development 7800 home system. Despite the technical issues and a patch for the game to have it work faster, it did arrive into the arcade in the fall of 1984.
After all of that work, blood, sweat, and tears...what was the final accounting on the arcade game? ATARI's Firefox
was the first video game to footage from the actual movie and used 12 minutes footage of the terrain to match up for the aerial combat action. Some Clint Eastwood's dialog was digitized for the game. It was groundbreaking and it has a place in video game history. However, the Philips LaserDisc player failed on many machines and caused these expensive arcade games to be junked. Then there is the gameplay, it is more of a rail-shooter than a flight combat game and it is cool in some doses. According to some arcade and ATARI sites, there were between 50 to 200 of the full-sized Firefox
arcade machines were sold...worldwide. There are more of the standup units, which had much of the physical controls borrowed from the ATARI Star Wars
machine, but they are rare too when compared to other machines, especially Dragon's Lair.
As far as I can tell, Firefox
was not a successful arcade game and it could not rival the profits earned by Dragon's Lair
. This was another nail in the coffin of the original ATARI. ATARI was sold n pieces between 1984-1985 with Jack Tramiel buying much of the company and Namco buying the coin-op.
While the LaserDisc arcade game is more well known in gaming circles, there is also the abandoned prototype for a Firefox
tie-in game for the legendary ATARI 2600 home machine. In 1983, Chicago-based Roklan Corporation was a video game developer that had worked in the industry since the 1970's and was working with ATARI on several games for the 2600 and one was a tie-in game for the Clint Eastwood film. In the collection of a former Roklan programmer, Bob Curtiss, was the remains of a prototype of the 2600 Firefox
game (and possibly an 5200 game later on). Designed as a never-ending flight simulator aerial combat game, the player took control of the MiG-31 and did battle among the clouds. For the time, it would have been one of the more complex games on the system if it had been finished. It was never released by ATARI due to Bob Curtiss leaving Roklan in 1983 during the development of the game. Instead of Firefox,
Roklan and ATARI rebranded the game Fighter Command
and then Combat II
to salvage what had been already worked on. These were never released either.
Where Else Have We Seen MiG-31 FIREFOX?
The G.I. Joe: Real American Hero COBRA "Night Raven" & the JOE "Sky Raven" Play Vehicles
During the apex of the G.I. Joe: Real American Hero
toyline by Hasbro, the evildoer enemy of the Joes, COBRA would get an awesome fighter plane in 1986: the Night Raven S3P interceptor/recon 3-man plane. Designed by COBRA's main supplier, MARS, to be a MACH 3.25 aircraft, the Night Raven was the most expensive aircraft in their fleet to construct, operation, and crew. With that, only 12 were in serve with COBRA. The Night Raven was crewed by two pilots, or one pilot and one VIP transport and then the 3rd pilot manned the mini-jet attached to the dorsal portion of the aircraft. Sold from 1986 to 1988 for about $19-$17 dollars, it was one of the best looking planes in the line and the first time I saw it, I knew that it had been based on the MiG-31 FIRFOX. However, the design of the Night Raven was Steve Reiss and he has stated that the Night Raven design was taken from the SR-71 BLACKBIRD. I do believe that the design is a fusion of the SR71 and the FIREFOX.
Then in 1990 for the "Sky Patrol" line, the JOEs got their down MiG-31 FIREFOX plane...the chromed copy of a reverse-engineered captured COBRA Night Raven: the Sky Raven. Only made for one year, the Sky Raven is stunning in the chrome paint. This was basically the same vehicle save for the paint job and the pilot. This stunning vehicle was only on the US market for one year and it was a vehicle I never actually saw on the shelf, partly, due to my age at the time. Both of these today can be expensive, especially, in the box. Of course, they are less expensive than the USS Flagg
and the Space Shuttle.
The F-200 Efreet from UN Squadron
UN Squadron is a very successful and much loved 1989-1992 side-scroller combat flight shooter game for the arcade and home vide game consoles based on the long-running Area-88 manga. This game would have its own take on the MiG-31 FIREFOX with the F-2000 “Efreet”. This take on the movie plane was only included only in the 1990 SNES port of the UN Squadron and this plane was not featured in the Area-88 manga. In the game, the F-2000 Efreet was developed by the Soviet Union was damned expensive, costing $1 Million Dollars and being one of the last planes to be unlocked. The F-2000 (which is the name of a real combat fighter!) featured all the weapons and the best stats.
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.
In the end, Lockheed’s Skunk Works was tapped to develop the Stealth Fighter under their “Have Blue” Project and Northrop Grumman would work on a Stealth Bomber via their “Tacit Blue” Project. Both of these projects were being tested at some of the most secure and secret facilities, including Groom Lake or Area-51. In 1983, the first F-117 stealth fighters were being delivered to the USAF and B2 bomber was close behind by only a few years.
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.
This was the best-selling model kit in Testor/Italieri history and one of the best selling model kits of all time with over one million kits sold. To anyone alive and interested in aircraft and/or models, we can remember this kit on the shelf or being built. According to the company and designer, the design originated from photographs snapped of secret aircraft around Area-51. Some have claimed that US intelligence planted the information to Testor/Italieri to thrown them off of the trail of the F-117.
It also likely that some of Jein’s design for the MiG-31 FIREFOX also was part of the design matrix. In the 1986 Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising, the F-19 named was used for a two-seated stealth aircraft. This just solidified the name of “F-19” to the mysterious USAF stealth fighter. On July 11th, 1986, Major Ross E. “Mule” Mulhare was killed when F-117 number 792 crashed. Given that this was two years before the general public would be show a blurred photo of the F-117, the USAF attempted to keep the plane a secret. When the news media need an image or prop for their discussions, the Testor/Italieri F-19 was used.
In 1987, Monogram would released their own black stealth F-19 Fighter kit in 1:72 scale and while the name was the same as the Testor model kit, the design was culled from an Northhrop-Loral concept of the F-19 Specter aircraft with the artwork being designed by Erik Simonsen. Some sites have claimed a few F-19 Specte
r aircraft were delivered and the fall of the Soviet Union ended the project. Added to this list was the 1988 F-19 Stealth Fighter
computer game by noted game designer Sid Meier. This arresting box-art is something I fondly remember back-in-the-day. It was not over...yet with the model kits.
In 1988, Revell released their own 1/144 F-19 Stealth Fighter that was closer to the Testor F-19 model kit. Even Hasbro got into the action with the GI JOE: Real American Hero
X-19 Phantom Stealth Fighter toy vehicle that was in production until 1990. Even the Transformers got into the F-19 action with the “Whisper” Decepticon that was packaged with 3 other robots in the “Air Strike Patrol pack” released in 1988. Then on November 10th, 1988, Assistant Sec. of Defense for Public Affairs Daniel Howard showed the world a blurry photo of the F-117 stealth figure and this took some of the wind of the F-19.
The MiG-37 FERRET Russian Stealth Aircraft
Another model of a rumored fighter was released by Testor in the fall of 1987: the MiG-37B “Ferret E” Soviet Red Air Force stealth fighter. This was one of the concepts for a Soviet stealth aircraft, the other was the MiG-2000 by Richard Ward of General Dynamics. Some of this design was taken from the F-19 model and the movie FIREFOX plane, especially in the black-and-red paint scheme. Was there an actually Russian stealth plane that was not stolen by Major Grant? There is one currently, the Sukhoi SU-57 “FELON” and there was prototype plane back in the 2000s called the Mikoyan Project 1.44/1.42.
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.
In the ROBOTECH book "Invid Invasion" by Jack McKinney that details the beginning of the 3rd ROBOTECH Series we get this description: "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
If you are like me, I had never heard of “Sonic Wings Special” video game before we found a MiG-31 FIREFOX references in several of the Sonic Wings vertical-scrolling shooter games that originated in Japan. The Sonic Wing games were ported to a number of home console systems and arcade cabinets, including the holy and mystical NeoGeo AES and the much-forgotten SEGA Saturn system. In the original 1993 game, Sonic Wings, the MiG-31 ICEFOX appears one the Russian Stage as a level boss for you to engage and it was also known as “Siberia Crafts” in the SNES US manual for the game. The MiG-31 would reappear in 1996’s Sonic Wings Special, which was a combination of the three pervious Sonic Wing games, as the FLAMEFOX on the Red Square Stage. The FLAMEFOX would also appear in the 1997 Sonic Wings Limited arcade as a level boos and this game would have limited international release as “Aero Fighters Special”.
"Thinking in Russian" Reference in Family Guy "A Hero Sits Next Door (1x5)"
It is amazing that the amount of references that Family Guy
makes in one single episode, let alone, the whole the series. Due to the popularity of the "Think in Russian" part of the film, in one of the early episodes, Stewie makes a reference to the MiG-31 thought control system in regards to Joe's wheelchair. Stewie believes that Joe is a cyborg and that he will take control of the mechanic part. When Stewie sits in Joe's chair, he attempts to get the chair moving and during this Stewie says: "Ah! Excellent! They detached the human component form the machine. Machine...I am your new master and I order you to go! I order you to GO! Blast! Must be some kind of proprietary command system. Now on the Russian MiG, its next to the altimeter
MiG-39 FIREFOX from Air Combat: Insurgency
This series of combat flight simulator games is one of the best on the home consoles and within one of the games, there is the MiG-31 FIREFOX. According to the Wiki, the MiG-39 FIREFOX is only in the Air Combat: Insurgency game (which I cannot locate) and is in the upgrade Tree for the real MiG-31B FOXHOUND and it costs 280,000 RM. This is one of the fastest planes in the game and looks just like the plane in the movie.
F-119 from Air Diver F-119 Stealth Fighter Simulator
This is yet another combat flight simulator cockpit-view video game I had never heard of until this article. Released in 1990 for the SEGA Genesis/Megadrive home console system, this is one of the first 3rd party games developed for the SEA Genesis/Megadrive. Oddly, the sequel to the game was released only for the SNES, and both were rated badly by video game critics. As the pilot of the fictional F-119 stealth fighter, your mission is to defend America against Middle East terrorist that are being backed up by the USSR or aliens. The fighter in the game on the box-art looks very much like the MiG-31 FIREFOX, but the cockpit does not.
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...
One of the key feature of modern warfare and conflicts is the weapons and technology used across the globe. While nations like the US, China, and Russia have tons of money to develop and field vehicles, other nations and groups do not. With this being the mother of invention, we got a symbol of modern warfare...the Technical. In the next installment of Motor Pool
serial, we shall be exploring and explaining these machine gun mounted pickup trucks that seem to be everywhere in these modern wars.
Superb work, and a great read.ReplyDelete
I loved this movie back in the day, and you're spot on - 82 was such a great year for movies.
As I remember, the best part of the novel was the preparation and insertion of Gant into the USSR prior to stealing the Firefox. It was only after the plane lifts off that the story gets bogged down. The movie reversed this.ReplyDelete
Another remarkably well researched article. I only saw Firefox once back in the early 80's. It was on HBO and I remember being extremely disappointed. It was very boring for a 13 year old. It just took too long to get to the plane parts.ReplyDelete
According to the late John Andrews, the Chief Designer (in Russian terms) at first Hawk and then Testors, the “MiG-37 Ferret” raised some hackles at DoD.ReplyDelete
The design was based on a combination of known Russian design principles and the formulae in the Radar Cross-Section Handbook. The copy on the instructions said that the “Russian” design used “faceting” with flat plates and odd angles because Russian materiels technology was not as “advanced” as America’s.
It also had dorsal intakes and a V-tail, plus a "flat-plate" canopy and in infra-red search-and-track (IRST) scanner in the nose. Plus an internal weapon bay for two precision-guided munitions (PGMs) as opposed to the Maverick missiles in the "F-19" kit.
In reality, it was the F-117 that used “faceting,” precisely because forming curved pieces of radar-absorptive material (RAM) had proven to be so difficult; it wasn’t until the B-2 Spirit that the bugs were worked out of that.
The other features of the "Ferret" were also quite similar to the F-117's "real-life" attributes and capabilities.
In DoD’s minds, the worst part was that the “MiG-37” gave the world- and the Russians- a look at “faceting” almost a year and a half before the true shape of the F-117 was revealed.
The U.S. Air Force was not amused.
Read the novel a year or two prior to the film's release. Loved the book; just a great Cold War tech thriller. Couldn't wait to see if the movie did it justice.ReplyDelete
It did not, imo. Eastwood did an okay job directing, but mistakenly cast himself in the role of a short, skilled, but PTSD-stricken former pilot who few replica Soviet fighters to train American pilots in aerial combat. Gant was not described in any way like Clint Eastwood. And Eastwood's abysmal attempts speaking Russian would not fool a Russian wolfhound, let alone ANY of the multiple Soviet KGB and military his character needed to convince.
The coup de gras, however, was how Eastwood completely destroyed the book's most exciting climax, which was brilliantly written by Thomas to truly capture how the thought-controlled weapons system saves Gant's skin. The reader is on the edge of his seat, realizing Gant has lost and is about to be blown to kingdom come by his Soviet counterpart. But instead of figuring out how to emulate the climatic paragraph into its cinematic equivalent, Eastwood opts to blatantly steal the climactic moment from Star Wars IV, even mimicking the ethereal VO from Obi Wan Kenobi with the voice of Baronovich, reminding Gant to "think in Russian." By this time, even viewers who'd never read the book knew exactly what was about to happen to save Gant's neck, and the moment is ruined and disappointingly ANTI-climactic to say the least.
Sorry to be a bit cryptic about the ending, but don't wish to completely spoil it for anyone out there interested in either book or movie. I highly recommend you just read the book and leave it at that. But if you're curious to see if I'm right about Eastwood completely screwing up this incredible novel with his film version, by all means watch it.
I have no gripes about the MiG-31 design, though I thought the original concept from the pre-movie paperback cover was much more intimidating. The movie version looks more like a black goose in flight than an 80's era Soviet fighter. And beyond Eastwood's awful acting, I did enjoy all of the lead-up scenes getting the story moving, and all the other cast members were believable and skilled in their various roles. Wish a much better director would remake this great story and cast the lead role with a name talent with the ability to at least pronounce a foreign language fluently, if not fully speak the language as such.
One of your better articles! Extremely detailed and even tied in Robotech! Must it be marred with taking the Lord’s Name in vain and the profanity? You’re more intelligent than that.ReplyDelete