13 June 2021

FWS Forgotten Classic: FIREFOX (1982)

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

What is 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. 
At this time in Eastwood's career, he was taking more risks with roles that were not the Man with No Name. This is shown in Bronco Billy and Any Which Way But Loose. Eastwood knew that the heart-and-soul of the picture rested in the FIREFOX plane and spent much time, labor, and money into selecting the correct look of the fictional Soviet MACH 6 interceptor. Filmed in California, Greenland, and Austria, the film's budget was mostly devoted to the special effects that everyone knew would have to be state-of-the-art due to Star Wars to sell the FIREFOX. The 2 hour and 16 minute film was released on June 18th, 1982 during one of the best summer movie lineups of all time. Despite the number of legendary films at the box-office, Firefox made $46 million on a $21 million investment and was released on every home media format to this very day. The first public premier and showings of the finished film was at a June  14th for Veteran Charity event for the USO at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. hosted by Jane Weinberger, the wife of Reagan-era Casper Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense and Ursula Meese, the wife of Reagan-era advisor Edwin Meese. The film and its plane are still mention and discussed to this very day.   

What is the Difference between the book and the film?
There is always a compromise when bring a book to the silver screen, and throughout the history of cinema, those compromises have fueled debates and hard feelings of betrayal by fans and the authors. However, sometimes, the jump from the page to the screen has been good one with some of the changes making the film as good or even superior to the original text...as is the case with BLADE RUNNER. When Craig Thomas's 1977 Cold War Techno-Thriller was transformed into a big Hollywood film, there was some differences...some good, some bad. In the original text and the film, Major Mitchell Grant was a Vietnam War era F-4 Phantom pilot that was shot down and captured by Viet-Cong forces. 
During the operation to rescue him from his captors, a little Vietnamese girl is killed in front of Grant. This experience haunted him and left him mentally scarred with PTSD. This is the point where the book and film separate on the Grant character. In the original text, Grant worked for the CIA on keeping tabs on some Russians, but then fell into drink to numb with the PTSD. At the end, Grant was homeless and living as some vets do, with their ghosts on the streets. 
Now, in the film, Grant's skill as a pilot and Russian heritage has him recruited into the elite USAF "Aggressor Squadrons" that trained US pilots to go up against Russian pilots in force-on-force training. It is likely that Grant served in either the 18th Aggressor Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base or the 64th and/or the 65th Aggressor Squadrons at the super secret Nellis AFB near Dreamland Area-51. About three years before the film, Grant left the Air Force and moved to a isolated corner of Alaska to be alone and deal with his demons. Personally, I think the film does a much better job with Major Grant's background. It makes sense based on the film character that the CIA would come knocking for Grant to steal the MiG-31, but that is not true of the book. Besides that, there are few major plot differences between the film and book and it seems that for the most part the film was faithful to the 1977 novel. One difference that was made for the plot of the film and the audience was that the Soviet test pilot, Lt. Colonel Yuri Voskov, was not killed by Grant, but spared to go head-to-head in aerial combat, one warrior to another. Again, I think this works better than the book. It should be noted here that I did not have time to read the book and I am trusting the internet on this one. 
Then there is the major difference...the plane itself. In the original 1977 novel, the author used the current and scary MiG-25 supersonic interceptor and recon plane for the template of the FIREFOX MiG-31. It should be noted that at the time, the defection of Lt. Belenko to Japan with his MiG-25 was big news and the event is mentioned by some of the characters in the book itself. This event, which happened prior to the book being finished (as far as I can tell), altered some of the book and certainly some of the dialog. When it came time to publish the book, some of the cover art, like the one here by Lou Feck, was based on the MiG-25 FOXBAT, which the real MiG-31 FOXHOUND is based. We will discuss in massive detail the development of the movie plane itself below, but it was decided in pre-production to design a futuristic plane not entirely based on the Soviet Red Air Force MiG-25. More of the movie FIREFOX looks based around the Lockheed A-12 OXCART/CYGNUS and the SR-71 BLACKBIRD than the MiG-25. After the film came out, the future editions of the cover-art based the plane on the film FIREFOX and the sequel of the 1977 book, 1983's FIREFOX Down had its cover-art depicted match the film plane along with text descriptions as well.    

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.  
  • One piece of odd/interesting trivia is the watch worn by Mr. Eastwood in the film. True confession, I love watches and so did my father. While I cannot afford the famous dive watches of MI6 agents, I inherited my Grandfather's original Omega Seamaster and my daily wear watches are all Casio brand. Most of these Casio watches are G-Shocks with my daily office watch being an $19 a168wa-1. Due to this love affair with watches, I noticed in the film that Grant wears the two-tone 16753 "root beer" Rolex GMT-Master. The GMT Master Rolex is widely known as the "Pepsi" Rolex due to the red-&-blue colors in the dial face. and there was a famous Seiko Dive watch based off it as well that my father owned. The type worn by Grant in the film is not the iconic blue-and-red, but a golden-brownish toned Rolex GMT that was issued to pilots, especially international pilots at Pan-Am. This would make sense that a career pilot would own an Rolex GMT watch. Oddly, Grant does not remove it through the film and sports it while even undercover as an GRU officer in the USSR. Fatal mistake if you ask me. During a behind-the-scenes documentary on the film, I noticed the same Root Beer Rolex GMT on the wrist of Eastwood and it seems that this Root Beer Rolex was his own personal watch and he worn it in several of his film, including In the Line of Fire. Currently, the Root Beer Rolex is discontinued and is very collectible with a high price tag. Okay...that is enough about watches this is not the Urban Gentry channel after all!  
  •  The scene where the US Navy submarine codenamed "Mother One" breaks through the icepack
    is recycled footage from Ice Station Zebra
  • 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 author of the 1977 book, Craig Thomas did a smart thing that I did not realize until I was researching the film: the reality of name of the MiG-31. NATO reporting names for Soviet aircraft follow a naming pattern and fighter aircraft are named with words beginning with the letter "F". The real Soviet Red Air Force MiG-31 was codenamed "Foxhound", the MiG-25 was named "Foxbat" and the fictional (and mythical) MiG-31 from the book & film was named "Firefox". This was originally done in the book to keep within the real world naming system for the Warsaw Pact fighter aircraft and it was a clever move. I assumed that a firefox was some sort of mythical animal like a Griffin, but I was wrong. An Firefox is actually a rare and endangered mammal living in China and the Himalayas that used be classified within the Raccoon family. 
The Firefox is more commonly known as a "Red Panda", but are not related to Pandas though. Some believe that the Mozilla Foundation "Firefox" browser is named for the aircraft in the film, but this is also not true. The software was named for the animal after the developmental team and their attorneys searched for a good name and after the name "Firebird" was rejected for the public name. The original name of the Mozilla browser project was indeed, "Project Firebird". There was also talk of using "Phoenix" as well for the browser, but that was rejected. In 2004, the name "Firefox" was officially used for the Mozilla browser and this only mudded the waters for the 1982 film and the 1977 book. Seriously, it was a real bitch researching this film and book without Chrome selecting articles and links about the goddamn browser!    

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 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.
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 FireFoxs...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 cockpit 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 Specter 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. 


  1. Superb work, and a great read.
    I loved this movie back in the day, and you're spot on - 82 was such a great year for movies.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    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.

    clear ether


  5. 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.

    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.

  6. 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.