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Flight of the Intruder

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Flight of the Intruder (1991)

Flight of the Intruder is a 1991 Vietnam War film which was an adaptation of a Stephen Coonts novel and starred Brad Johnson, Danny Glover, and Willem Dafoe as US naval aviators serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence during the height of the conflict. These aviators fly the A-6A Intruder, a carrier-based strike aircraft that carried offensive missiles and bombs but was not outfitted with defensive guns. The film was directed by John Milius, best known for helming such notable war films such as The Wind and the Lion and Red Dawn, as well as being the screenwriter of Apocalypse Now and Magnum Force. Despite being a high octane action film with outstanding aerial combat sequences and excellent special effects by ILM, Flight of the Intruder suffered greatly from being released during the height of the real life ground war in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. With assistance from the US Department of Defense, the film also was one of only a few to feature actual A-6 Intruders in carrier flight operations. Several scenes from this film would also be reused in such war films as We Were Soldiers and Charlie Wilson's War, as well in the television show JAG.

The following weapons were used in the film Flight of the Intruder:

Rifles / Carbines

Berthier Rifle

Near the start of the film where a peasant in a rice paddy takes a pot shot at the A-6 Intruder piloted by Lieutenant Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton (Brad Johnson) and his Bombardier/Navigator LT Morgan "Morg" McPhearson (Christopher Rich) with a French-made Berthier bolt-action rifle (possibly either the Model 1907-15 or the Model 1907-16 rifles). "Morg" was fatally wounded by the shot and was bleeding to death by the time the two returned to their carrier. It should be noted that French-made infantry rifles like the Berthier series rifles and the MAS-36 were commonly encountered in Indochina during the time of the Vietnam War due to many of these weapons being left behind by French forces after the French Indochina War (1945-1954).

Berthier Model 1907-15 Rifle - 8x50mmR
Berthier Model 1907-16 Rifle - 8x50mmR
The 'well fed' Peasant aims his Berthier rifle at the A6 Intruder aircraft. Like many shots in the film, the 'fire' of the weapon was animated afterwards (this was before digital effects).
An example of the animation of the 'fire' of the rifle. The 'light cast' on the shooter and his cargo was animated into the shot via rotoscope, as the film was made prior to advent of CGI. This is a somewhat bad animation, however it is only for one frame, so it is not noticed by the audience.

SKS Rifle / Type 56 Carbine

The SKS rifle is seen commonly mixed in with AK-47 variants amongst the enemy troops at the end of the film. Due to the fact that they all appear to have the Chinese style 'pig sticker' spike bayonet, they should officially be called "Type 56 Carbines" (the name for the Chinese SKS).

Type 56 Carbine (the Chinese version of the Russian SKS rifle) - 7.62x39mm
A Pathet Lao soldier (Minh Huu Do) prods at the "dead body" of Commander Frank "Dooke" Camparelli (Danny Glover) armed with a Type 56 Carbine.
A Pathet Lao soldier (Minh Huu Do) searches the "dead bodies" of CMDR Camparelli's wrecked A-6 Intruder, armed with a Type 56 Carbine, only to be shot by Camparelli who was playing dead. The Pathet Lao (Laotian Communist) soldier can be identified by his Mao hat, which was not worn by the NVA or Viet Cong.
The NVA Soldier (Eddie Badiang) is caught off guard by Cole, with his Type 56 Carbine. Note that the bolt is completely locked back, indicating that the rifle is empty, however a gun shot sound effect was inserted during editing to indicate that he shoots Virgil with this 'unloaded' rifle.


AK-47s were used by NVA soldiers throughout the film. We never see any truly good closeups of the guns, however, they look to be Poly Tech Legends and not Norinco Type 56 rifles.

Poly Technologies AK-47 - 7.62x39mm. This is the commercial clone of the original Type III AK-47 and is the most used in American films and shows when showing the milled receiver AK-47.
Many times we see a mix of AK47 rifles and SKS rifles (or their Chinese counterparts) from a distance. Here a group of NVA soldiers with a mix of the two firearms are lying in wait beneath the injured Cole (Willem Dafoe).
NVA soldiers fire at the oncoming planes. These actually look to be Poly Tech Legend AKs, thus they have the Russian style front sight and milled lower receivers.
Two more NVA soldiers fire at the planes, the one on the left has an AK-47, the other has a Type 56 Carbine.

Replica AK-47

In some shots, the rifles appear to be the Hudson AK-47 replica (a Japanese metal replica gun) that is commonly used in films for non-firing scenes.

An NVA soldier gets ready to run with his Hudson AK-47 replica rifle.

Long-Barreled AK variant

During one of the interior sound stage "effects" shots on a blue screen, we see a long-barreled AK variant with a strange flash hider. Since most of the interior blue screen shots (they still used blue screen for film at the time, whereas nowadays digital compositors prefer green screens) did not employ actual firing guns, this mockup is probably firing acetylene gas to simulate gunfire.

The long-barreled AK on the right.

M14 Rifle

During Morg's funeral, a Marine Corps honor guard can be seen bearing M14 Rifles fitted with M6 bayonets, with the magazines removed.

M14 rifle - 7.62x51mm NATO
During a montage of the funeral for "Morg" we see briefly a shot of the Marine Honor guard, holding M14 rifles for the ceremony with bayonets affixed.

Mosin Nagant M91/30 Sniper Rifle

Near the end of the film, an NVA sniper (Dr. Akio Mitamura) can be seen using a sniper version of the Mosin Nagant, chasing after the protagonists as they're trying to flee from the combat zone after being shot down, in order to be rescued by helicopter.

Mosin Nagant M91/30 sniper version with PU scope - 7.62x54R
The NVA sniper (Dr. Akio Mitamura) can be seen emerging from the dark jungle with his M91/30 Sniper rifle.
The NVA sniper (Dr. Akio Mitamura) watches for the rescue helicopter with his M91/30 Sniper rifle.



An M1911 appears in the film as the sidearm of Lieutenant Commander Virgil "Tiger" Cole (Willem Dafoe) during the film. He can be seen cleaning it when discussing the 'Sam City' mission with "Cool Hand" (Brad Johnson). It is a Government-Issued M1911, not the M1911A1, as it has the straight backstrap and no relief cuts around the trigger guard on the frame.

Colt M1911 - .45 ACP
LCDR Virgil "Tiger" Cole (Willem Dafoe) holds an M1911, not an M1911A1 as one would expect, as he talks with "Cool Hand" Grafton.
Closeup of the M1911. Note the lack of relief cuts on the frame.

Colt Mark IV Series 70

Virgil "Tiger" Cole (Willem Dafoe) has a blued Colt MK IV Series 70 when he is shot down over enemy territory. His Series 70 pistol has the same diamond grips he had on the M1911 on the ship.

Colt MK IV Series 70 - .45 ACP
A face painted Cole (Willem Dafoe) racks a round with his blued Colt MK IV Series 70 pistol while looking out for the NVA.
Cole fires his Colt MK IV Series 70 at Grafton to keep him from attempting a rescue.
Cole fires at Grafton with his Colt MK IV Series 70. The words "Colt" and "MKIV" are clearly visible on the slide as is the prancing Colt logo, which would not appear on a military-issued M1911A1.


The only instances where actual M1911A1s appear are in the holsters of the Marines who escort Cole and Grafton to their court martial, however, these pistols are always holstered (so it is only a guess that they are indeed M1911A1 pistols) and later in the hands of CMDR Camparelli as his survival sidearm. Camparelli uses the M1911A1 to kill a Pathet Lao soldier and the gun is later used by Grafton to take out an NVA sniper.

M1911A1 - .45 ACP
U.S. Marine guards escort Cole and Grafton to their court martial with M1911A1 pistols holstered (or so it is assumed).
Camparelli (Danny Glover) holds his M1911A1 while Grafton (Brad Johnson) holds his Smith & Wesson Model 12.

Smith & Wesson Model 12

LT Grafton (Brad Johnson) carries a K-Frame 6 shot Smith & Wesson Model 12 "Airweight" Snub-nose revolver. The Model 12 was built between 1953 to 1986 and had an alloy frame, designed for pilots. It is basically an alloy frame Model 10 snub revolver. It is distinguishable from the Model 36 or USAF M-13 because it is a 6 shot revolver as opposed to a 5 shot. The actor Brad Johnson also has large hands, so a J-frame revolver would look much smaller in his grip.

Smith & Wesson Model 12 - .38 Special
Grafton (Brad Johnson) reacts to Camparelli, while holding a Smith & Wesson Model 12 "Airweight" snub revolver.
Grafton (Brad Johnson) holds his Smith & Wesson Model 12 "Airweight" snub while Camparelli (Danny Glover) looks on.
Though a blurry shot, this verifies conclusively that this is a 6 shot revolver, not a 5 shot, so it cannot be a Model 36/38, but looks to be a Smith & Wesson Model 12 "Airweight" revolver.

Smith & Wesson Model 36

Lieutenant Junior Grade Jack 'Razor' Barlow (Jared Chandler) is seen preparing for Operation Linebacker II, and loading his small J-Framed revolver. It appears to be a 5 shot Smith & Wesson Model 36.

Smith & Wesson Model 36 - .38 Special
LTJG Jack 'Razor' Barlow (Jared Chandler) prepares his Smith & Wesson Model 36 "Airweight" snub during the preparations for "Operation Linebacker II".

Machine Guns


Near the end of the film, an HH-3 "Jolly Green" rescue helicopter sent to airlift "Cool Hand" and Commander Frank "Dooke" Camparelli (Danny Glover) can be seen armed with an M60 machine gun for the door gunner, though the choppers relied mostly on the A-1 Skyraider, commonly called "Sandy", ground attack planes to clear out most of the enemy ground fire for them.

M60 machine gun - 7.62x51mm NATO
A door gunner holds an M60 Machine gun at the ready. This is the standard M60 and not a "D" model.
A door gunner stands at the ready behind Camparelli (Danny Glover) with his M60.

Browning M2HB

There are several appearances in the film of Browning M2HB heavy machine guns, erroneously shown being used by North Vietnamese forces as anti-aircraft weapons when in reality they'd be using DShK heavy machine guns instead. M2HB's also appear in a quad mount used as the main armament of a faux ZSU-23-4 anti-aircraft vehicle instead of the real vehicle's quad 23mm autocannons.

Browning M2HB - .50 BMG (12.7x99mm NATO)
Early on in the film, we see a quad gun emplacement that is comprised of four Browning M2HB heavy machine guns, with weird muzzle brakes on the ends, to simulate some sort of Soviet/Chinese AA gun.
As with many of the 'night attack shots' these battle scenes were filmed inside a sound stage and the guns were not really firing. Here we see a relatively unadorned Browning M2HB serving as an NVA AA gun (which they did not use) with the 'muzzle flash' rather obviously rotoscoped into the shot. Hand animation, multiple exposures and rotoscoping all became a thing of the past when technology advanced enough to use computer generated effects.
In the final battle, we see a Browning M2HB mocked up to resemble a DShK machine gun (a similar mockup was used on Rambo III however this film was done four years later and improvements were made to the fake DShK mockup.
Another angle of the Browning M2HB mocked up to look like a Soviet DShK heavy machine gun. All in all this is a pretty good mockup of the Soviet gun.


Hispano-Suiza HS.404 (fake)

The M2 autocannon, the American license-built version of the Hispano-Suiza HS.404 appears in the film as the gun armament of US Air Force A-1H "Sandy" ground-attack planes that are called in to clear out Vietnamese forces in order for search & rescue choppers to safely rescue the protagonists near the end of the film. Since all A-1s were out of military service during filming, the two Skyraiders seen in the film are unarmed warbirds. Mocked-up barrels are seen in certain shots, but not in others.

Hispano-Suiza HS.404 with ammo drum - 20mm
One of the A-1s coming in for a strafing run. In a nice dash of realism, it appears smoke generators were added.
A better shot of the mocked-up barrels. Real A-1s would have two M2s were wing, rather than just one.


Since FAA regulations forbid mounting weapons on civilian aircraft, any weapons on seen on the civilian-owned warbirds are mock-ups. The mocked-up barrels are only seen in certain scenes, however, and the A-1s are clearly unarmed in certain shots.

FotI Sandys 01.jpg
FotI Sandys 02.jpg
FotI Sandys 03.jpg


Seen briefly, an NVA soldier carries an RPG-7 while riding in a troop truck. Though the RPG-2 was much more commonly used by the NVA (known as the B-40 rocket), the RPG-7 is not impossible, considering that the events occur in 1972.

RPG-7 - 40mm
NVA soldier holds an RPG-7 while riding in a truck. This RPG-7 looks very much like the same RPG mockup used in the film Red Dawn. Both Flight of the Intruder and Red Dawn were directed by John Milius.

Gun Platforms

Mocked up Soviet ZSU-23-4 Mobile AA gun

Seen during the final bombing mission is the excellent mocked up ZSU-23-4 Mobile AA gun originally mocked up from an M8A1 Cargo Tractor chassis for the film Red Dawn, also directed by John Milius. However, it makes one wonder what the cost was of shipping it from Newhall, California to the island of Kauai, HI. This ZSU is armed with quad Browning M2HB heavy machine guns for its main armament (note the guns in the Red Dawn ZSU were different as they were mockups that never fired). This ZSU does fire its Browning M2HB machine guns at the oncoming American planes. It should also be noted the ZSU-23-4 is an anachronism as the system did not enter into Vietnamese service until 1975, well after the period in which the movie takes place.

An excellent mockup of the Soviet ZSU-23-4 mobile AA gun, this one using Browning M2HB heavy machine guns as its main armament - .50 BMG
The "ZSU-23-4" lies in wait, as a face-painted Cole (Willem Dafoe) lies seriously injured on the next hill.
The ZSU's main guns - quad Browning M2HB heavy machine guns all fire at the sky.
Another shot of the Quad 50s firing from the fake ZSU turret.

Miniature Fake ZSU-23-4 Gun

In the studio soundstage shots, we see a lot of excellent, but obvious miniature models. One of the models seen firing "acetylene flashes" to simulate AA fire is a miniature model of the ZSU-23-4.

A turret of the miniature ZSU-23 fires puffs of flame from its working acetylene 'cannons'.
In this composite scene, live actors are matted into the miniature shot via a special effects process called "Introvision". We can also see the model guns 'firing' their acetylene gas flames to simulate gun fire.
In some of the frames, the lighting on the actors playing NVA soldiers doesn't match the miniature set, however, these shots are quick, thankfully enough.

Miniature Fake AA gun

Another AA gun miniature (not a full scale weapon) is seen firing 'acetylene gas' flame flashes to simulate gunfire. There were many excellent miniatures on this film, mostly limited to the special effects technology that existed at the time the movie was filmed.

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