Fire Birds

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Fire Birds
Firebirdsposter.jpg
Movie Poster
Country USA.jpg USA
Directed by David M. Green
Release Date 1990
Studio Nova International Films
Touchstone Pictures
Distributor Buena Vista Pictures
Main Cast
Character Actor
CWO Jake Preston Nicolas Cage
CWO Brad Little Tommy Lee Jones
CWO Billy Lee Guthrie Sean Young
Col. A.K. McNeil Dale Dye
Sharon Geller Illana Diamant
CWO Scott Buzz Scott Williamson
Eric Stoller Bert Rhine
Janet Little Mary Ellen Trainor
Gen. Olcott J.A. Preston


Fire Birds (also known as Wings of the Apache) is a 1990 action film starring Nicolas Cage and Tommy Lee Jones as US Army Apache helicopter pilots who battle drug cartels. With support from the Department of Defense, the film was one of the first to feature the actual AH-64 Apache.


The following weapons were used in the film Fire Birds:

Contents


Handguns

M1911A1

There are several appearances in the film of the M1911A1, first in the hands of the drug cartels' mercenary pilot Eric Stoller (Bert Rhine) in briefing photos of him, then seen in holsters on South American & U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency operatives during the mission towards the end of the film. Little can also briefly be seen carrying one when he arrives in South America.

M1911A1 - .45 ACP
Eric Stoller (Bert Rhine) brandishing an M1911A1 in a briefing photo.
A South American operative (left) with a holstered M1911A1.
CWO Brad Little arrives in South America carrying a holstered M1911A1.

Smith & Wesson Model 15

Most of the U.S. helicopter pilots can be seen armed with Smith & Wesson Model 15 revolvers as their sidearms, another anachronism since Army chopper crews carry semi-automatics such as the M1911A1 or M9 Beretta as their issue sidearms.

Smith & Wesson Model 15 - .38 Special
CWO Scott Buzz (Scott Williamson) runs for his helicopter carrying a holstered Smith & Wesson Model 15
Col. A.K. McNeil (Dale Dye, right) with a holstered Smith & Wesson Model 15

Submachine Guns

Uzi

There are several appearances of IMI Uzi submachine guns in the film, primarily in the hands of South American operatives, as well as Stoller in a briefing photo.

IMI Uzi - 9x19mm
A U.S. DEA agent (left) armed with an Uzi
South American operatives wielding Uzi's moments before setting off a booby trap bomb during a briefing video
Eric Stoller brandishing an Uzi in a briefing photo. Note that the folding stock appears to be removed in this shot

Rifles

M16A1

During the mission near the end of the movie, U.S. Army soldiers can be seen carrying M16A1 Rifles, though none are fired on-screen. The M16A1 was transitioned out for the M16A2 during the time of the film, set in the early 1990's.

M16A1 - 5.56x45mm
A U.S. Army soldier carries an M16A1 slung on his back
A U.S. Army soldier carrying an M16A1 rifle

Shotguns

Smith & Wesson 3000

In one briefing photo, Eric Stoller can be seen carrying a Smith & Wesson 3000 Shotgun customized with a side-folding stock, pistol grip, high-capacity magazine tube, and vertical foregrip.

Smith & Wesson 3000 with folding stock - 12 Gauge
Stoller carrying a customized Smith & Wesson 3000 in a briefing photo

Machine Guns

M60

At the beginning of the film, a member of an ill-fated D.E.A./South American anti-drug operation can be seen carrying an M60 machine gun while riding in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter which is shot down by Stoller.

M60 machine gun - 7.62x51mm NATO
A U.S. DEA agent (center) holds an M60 machine gun

Browning M3

As the primary antagonist of the film, Eric Stoller flies a "Scorpion attack helicopter" (in reality a McDonnell Douglas MD 500 Defender) armed with a 2.75" rocket pod and a Browning M3 heavy machine gun in a SUU-12/A gun pod. Stoller uses this pod to shoot down Little's AH-64 Apache by knocking out the tail rotor and damages Chief Warrant Officer Jake Preston (Nicolas Cage)'s Apache, resulting in his gunner, Chief Warrant Officer Calvin Breaker (Bryan Kestner) being wounded when a round penetrates the cockpit.

Browning M3 heavy machine gun - .50 BMG (12.7x99mm NATO)
Stoller firing the Browning M3 heavy machine gun on his "Scorpion attack helicopter"

GE M134 Minigun

At the beginning of the film, Preston can be seen flying a Cobra helicopter armed with two nose-mounted GE M134 Miniguns. The Cobra proves to be no match for Stoller's Scorpion and Preston barely escapes alive. What's interesting is that this weapon configuration was only used on the original AH-1G Cobra and yet the Cobras appear to be the upgraded model which replaced this armament with a single M197 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon.

Special Note (Update): The aircraft pictured is not an AH-1F. It is an AH-1S (MOD) belonging to the 1-285 Attack Helicopter Battalion that was stationed at Silverbell AHP, Marana, AZ. You are correct that the dual minigun configuration for the M28 turret is unusual. Ordinarily the left hand gun would be a 40mm grenade launcher. However we went with the dual minigun because it looked "cool". In practice the left hand minigun was prone to jamming, additionally the 40mm was an excellent suppressive weapon and was actually more reliable in combat. By the way, that's me in the back seat (User:132.79.9.16).

GE M134 Minigun 7.62x51mm NATO
An AH-1S (MOD) Cobra armed with twin nose-mounted GE M134 miniguns. (That's really Nicolas Cage riding in the front seat).

Special Apache Weapons

M230 Chain Gun

The secondary weapon of the AH-64 Apache throughout the film is the M230 Chain Gun. The M230 is used alongside the Apache's 2.75" unguided rockets during air to air engagements (even though the Stinger missiles mentioned below would be a far better choice against aircraft than unguided rockets).

M230 Chain Gun - 30mm
An Apache fires a volley of 2.75" unguided rockets with the M230 chain gun visible.
Closeup of an Apache's M230 chain gun.
The M230 chain gun being fired.

FIM-92A Stinger

In addition to the M230 chain gun mentioned above, the Apache helicopters in the film are also armed with FIM-92A Stinger missiles when deployed to South America. After the Apache flown by Chief Warrant Officer Brad Little (Tommy Lee Jones) is shot down, CWO Billy Lee Guthrie (Sean Young) lands her helicopter to assist him, and the two are attacked by an enemy J35J Draken fighter jet. Little then instructs her to remove one of the still-functioning Stinger missiles from his AH-64 Apache and reconfigure it to be shoulder-launched, allowing Guthrie to shoot down the enemy aircraft. This is one of the earliest appearances of an actual FIM-92A, as previous launchers seen in film and television were actually the discontinued FIM-43 Redeye.

FIM-92A Stinger 70mm
An AH-64 Apache with four Stinger missiles mounted two each on the wingtips.
CWO Billy Lee Guthrie aims the salvaged FIM-92A Stinger at the enemy fighter jet.

Other

BGM-71 TOW

In addition to the nose armament, Preston's Cobra is also armed with eight BGM-71 TOW missiles mounted in groups of four on the outboard pylons. These missiles are not fired though, as Preston has no chance to return fire during Stoller's ambush and the TOW is intended for use against ground targets, not enemy aircraft.

BGM-71 TOW mounted on AH-1W - 152mm
The AH-1S Cobra is seen armed with BGM-71 TOW missiles.

M242 Bushmaster Chaingun

At one point in the film, Little devises an unorthodox method of helping Preston overcome his eye dominance problem which is hindering his training on the Apache; blindfolding his dominant eye and forcing him to drive a Humvee at high speed using only his other eye, the protagonists having several near-misses with other vehicles on the base, including an M2 Bradley armed with an M242 Bushmaster chaingun.

M242 Bushmaster chaingun - 25x137mm
Preston has a near-miss with an M2 Bradley, armed with an M242 Bushmaster chaingun. The Bradley's twin TOW missile launcher can also be seen folded on the side of the turret

ADEN Cannon

The J35J Draken that attacks Little and Guthrie can be seen armed with ADEN cannons as its primary armament, firing them on the protagonists several times, though fails to score any hits before being dispatched by Guthrie.

ADEN cannon - 30mm



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