Top 5 Sci-Fi Helicopters

blue-thunder-1983-helicopter-gary-meyer

The high-tech helicopter from Blue Thunder in pursuit through downtown Los Angeles (fan art by Gary Meyer).

Helicopters are like a sci-fi dream come true! There’s something magical about these machines. Here are my favorites from sci-fi films and TV shows over the years.

We’ve covered planes and spaceships on this site. So, what about those other amazing flying vehicles? Helicopters! Let’s face it, it’s one thing to be able to fly from place to place; it’s another completely amazing thing to be able to hover! The whole concept is like a sci-fi dream — especially if you go back far enough in time.

I always remember the moment in the film The Final Countdown (1980) where Senator Sam Chapman, a man of 1941, marvels at the Naval helicopter from 1980 that comes to rescue him from the sea after an attack by Japanese Zeroes. There is something truly magical about these machines. Every time a movie or TV show features a cool modern helicopter, I take notice. Here are a few of my favorites from over the years (listed chronologically).

1. Blue Thunder

This 1983 film follows the exploits of veteran Frank Murphy (played by Roy Scheider) as he pilots a super-advanced stealth military coper that has been repurposed for police use. The climactic dogfight with Malcolm McDowell in a Hughes 500 over downtown Los Angeles includes a spectacular 360º loop through the use of a special ‘turbo boost’ function. The film was followed by a short–lived television series on ABC. Cool stuff!

2. Airwolf

Who could forget the awesome techno-inspired theme to this 1984 CBS television series? It was right up there with Knight Rider for hippest opening credits at the time. I really loved the pilot episode of Airwolf — the whole concept of stealing and hiding a super-advanced helicopter in the mountains of Arizona was very cool.

Yet, while Jan Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine did their best to keep the show interesting during its run, it became pretty difficult for the writers to find interesting ways to run into villains with enemy helicopters every week!

3. Scorpian (from Avatar )

James Cameron is committed to realism and technical plausibility in his films. The Scorpion from Avatar is one of his best designs. It really seems like it could actually function. I’m a big fan of the double-enclosed rotors connected to a seemingly realistic fuselage. The flying scenes involving this vehicle were truly breathtaking — especially considering the film’s CG nature.

4. The Bat (from The Dark Knight Rises )

I wrote an article about the plausibility of The Bat’s design last summer. The vehicle was yet another piece of amazing tech from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. It was really fun to see a craft that actually disrupted the air around it. I get so tired of movies with flying cars and small craft that take off, but barely make a dent on their surroundings. The Bat rocked it, yet seemed real and believable at the same time.

5. The Bubbleship (from Oblivion )

My final entry leads us to more recent times and this year’s spectacular sci-fi film Oblivion. I haven’t felt so giddy seeing a flying vehicle since the Snowspeeder from The Empire Strikes Back. As you may have read, I love the design of the Bubbleship!

I SO want to jump into this cockpit and fly around post-apocalyptic landscapes. But, to be honest, I would just settle for flying it around in today’s world. It has amazing maneuverability with sleek curves and lines. It really feels like it was purchased off a showroom floor. I seriously hope someone will make a model or toy of this, so I can at least put it on my desk.

3 Comments


I agree that the Whispercraft was a beautiful piece of industrial design. Plausible and good looking in a consumer product kind of way that suited the plot perfectly.

But my favorite sci-fi chopper was the amphibious helicopter from Stanley Kubrick’s A-I. Sleek, handsome, and versatile — it left me feeling like “why didn’t somebody think of this before?”.

Alan J. Garner
1 year ago
(Reply)

What about the Whispercraft from The 6th Day? Not a true helicopter, more of a convertiplane, but nonetheless very cool when in chopper mode.

Amra
2 years ago
(Reply)

AIRWOLF all the way!

Admittedly, the chopper-or-jet-of-the-week thing did get old, but they managed to intersperse some actual drama in there — at least early on. The second season felt like the AirWolf had jumped the shark, to be certain; ironically, The Lady was shaped more like a shark herself, than a wolf!

Blue Thunder came in second. The movie was WAY cooler than the show.

Bubbleship looks dang cool, to be sure.

Scorpions. If they weren’t the bad guys’ ships I’d like ‘em more. But have to admit I ogled Michelle’s boat almost as much as I ogled her.

The Bat has the disadvantage of being YET ANOTHER hi-cost military contract that no one notices Batman is using. Did they shoot all the engineers who worked on it? Breaks suspension of disbelief on THAT ground alone. Looks decent, tho.

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