"The approach will not be easy. You're required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point."The Impossible Mission, but with Cool Planes. Other vehicles in other mediums may be used (spaceships in space, submarines underwater, etc) if necessary. In any case, the impossibility of the mission comes from the fact that the vehicle in question is forced to operate in an environment it wasn't designed for. Instead of soaring through the open skies, the Cool Plane will be forced to maneuver through a narrow canyon; the spaceship will be in an Asteroid Thicket, near an Unrealistic Black Hole, or through the guts of a massive ship or space station; the submarine will be forced to operate at (or beyond) its maximum diving depth. Basically, our heroes are forced to take a route that would be a bad idea at the best of times, much less under enemy fire, on a time limit, with dire consequences for failure. For additional entertainment, the path will often destroy itself as it's being travelled. A common form of The Climax. Done correctly, it shows off the main character's courage, resolve, and Improbable Piloting Skills, allows them to defeat the Big Bad in one fell swoop, and provides plenty of chances for Visual Effects of Awesome. Rather than trying to top this, it's often best to just put it at the end of the story and wrap things up as soon as it's over. Since The Dam Busters, or rather, A New Hope's homage to The Dam Busters for the fight against the Death Star, there has been in increasing chance such missions will require flying though a canyon, shaft, city, or other form of trench or absurdly long and spacious corridor to reach the target.
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Anime and Manga
- One episode of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny features Shinn flying though a cave in the separated parts of his Impulse Gundam in order to avoid Earth Alliance defenses protecting a Wave Motion Gun built into a mountain, and then reassemble it once he reaches the gun itself.
- In Macross: Do You Remember Love?, after the allied Zentradi forces and the Macross itself have punched into Boddol Zer's moon-sized fortress, Hikaru Ichijo flies his VF-1 Valkyrie, alone and armed to the teeth, into the very heart of the installation. He must weave through Laser Hallways, twisting corridors, and impossibly thick laser barrages — all set to the movie's titular song — until reaching Boddol Zer himself... and blasting him to atoms point blank.
- Macross Frontier has a homage to the above-mentioned sequence at the climax where Alto must destroy the Vajra Queen's head, and Grace along with it, but first he has to blast his way across the surface of an orbital ring structure and survive the onslaught of the Vajra and the Galaxy Fleet's assault carriers.
- In Macross Plus, for the climax of the personal conflict between Isamu and Guld, they take their grievances to each other to the streets of Macross City.
- All versions of Area 88 has the base pilots flying through a canyon to evade radar and SAMs en route to an enemy base. A few of them don't make it.
- Deff Skwadron:
- Sink Da Grimlug involves an airstrike against a gigantic ship equipped with anti air weapons. The orks end up landing (crashing) onto it and just igniting the ship's ammo supplies after it becomes clear they can't destroy it via airstrike.
- 38 Seconds Over Big Scrap Alley is a bombing run over heavy anti-air fire. Rather than dropping bombs, they drop in hungry squigs (and an unfortunate Killboy).
- The Dam Busters, based on a Real Life example. Hitting a concrete dam with strategic bombers from high above was virtually impossible with 1940s technology. Hitting it from the side is child's play, but requires approaching it at almost ground (or water) level.
- 633 Squadron, which climaxes with a fictional assault by RAF Mosquito aircraft on a Nazi rocket fuel plant, sited at the end of a long, narrow fjord.
- Star Wars:
- Episode IV: A New Hope, directly referencing both The Dam Busters and 633 Squadron, only Luke's run is so difficult that the only way he was able to do was with some timely assistance by Han and Chewie eliminating his pursuers while he used The Force to hit the impossible target.
- Also done by Lando and Wedge in Return of the Jedi, as they plunge into the depths of the Death Star to blast the core at short range, and then fly back out of the superstructure as they Outrun the Fireball. The same movie also has the speeder bike chase where hero and enemy have to maneuver through a very thick forest, functioning in much the same way as an asteroid field chase.
- Referenced in The Phantom Menace, when Anakin (accompanied by R2-D2) flies his appropriated Naboo starfighter into the Trade Federation's central droid command ship, and hits something inside with a "lucky" shot that ultimately causes it to explode. The Force is with him, bigtime. Likewise, the podracing sequence constantly veers into this territory, particularly the cave segment and near the end - with close racing in a relatively slim and craggy canyon.
- The Force Awakens features Poe and his wingmen flying through the trenches of Starkiller Base, with him going into the interior of the anti-planet weapon and back out to finish it off.
- Memphis Belle, the first B-17 crew to achieve twenty-five missions in the European theatre in WWII. Because of the propaganda needs, the crew hopes for a milk run (a propaganda drop in occupied France). Nope. They're bombing a factory (wedged between a hospital and an orphanage, of course) deep in Germany.
- Down Periscope, A newly appointed submarine commander must take a renovated Korean War-era diesel submarine and evade the American Navy's detection to shoot mock targets in Charleston and Norfolk during a war game exercise. If that weren't hard enough, an admiral is determined to see him fail through any means necessary. Interestingly, the crew that Admiral Graham handpicks for Dodge (because he considers them unworthy of his navy) ends up being exactly what Dodge needs to win (except, maybe, Lake, as Dodge is actually just as good a diver as her but felt sorry for her).
- The climactic battle in Iron Eagle II requires the pilots to hit a terrorist base located inside the side of a mountain. It had a decidedly Death-Star-attack-esque feel to it.
- In the Climax of Iron Man 2, Tony plots a short but tight course through the globe at the Stark Expo to shake some of the Hammeroids on his tail. It works.
- Flight of the Intruder features a scene where two characters infiltrate Hanoi under heavy antiaircraft fire in an attempt to destroy a missile depot. Since their bombs don't drop on the first pass, they have to do the whole thing over again.
- Das Boot: A Nazi German submarine is told to redeploy to the Mediterranean, which means sneaking through the narrow Gibraltar sound, which at the time was swarming with warships and planes. It gets worse: since the crewmen are unaware of British radar innovations, they are detected and bombed outside the strait, before they can even submerge and properly begin their approach.
- During the attack on Iscandar in Space Battleship Yamato, Yamato dives into the atmosphere while launching fighters in a very Battlestar Galactica (2003)-like fashion, complete with jumping out before she hits the ground. The fighters proceed to fly through a cave system.
- At the beginning of The Guns of Navarone, we see the debrief of the survivors of a failed mission to bomb an artillery position in a cave dug into the side of a cliff. They categorically refuse to try it again, so command has to send in a ground mission to spike the guns, which the main characters of the movie get chosen to do.
- The Fire Dream, the protagonist and his fire direction unit have to call down a napalm strike to support the lead company of his brigade, which is being overrun by superior enemy forces. He is several miles behind their position. He cannot see either the enemy or the troops they are engaging. The enemy is almost directly adjacent to the friendly troops. And the planes cannot see the ground because of the bad weather. The spotter is reduced to using dead reckoning, a stopwatch, and listening for the sounds of the plane's engines (a technique normally used in the book for guiding planes to a general area for saturation bombing) to try and drop a precision strike on the advancing enemy without hitting any friendlies, because the situation is so desperate that everyone is reduced to praying for a miracle. Fortunately, he gets one.
- The X-Wing Series is generally about Old School Dogfighting and daring commando missions, but highly improbable airstrikes have a place too. One mission has them virtually recreating the iconic Death Star mission, with a run through a canyon followed by a proton torpedo strike on a pipe embedded in the canyon wall.
- The series even gives a name to the "maneuver through this difficult terrain in order to bypass enemy defenses" tactic. Targets destroyed by those means are said to have died of "Trench Run Disease."
- The Guns of Navarone begins with planes coming back from such a mission against the titular fortress. At Navarone, however, it was impossible, which is why the mountain-climbing team had to be sent in.
- A possible subterranean example in Perry Rhodan would be the kidnapping of the visiting Emperor of Arkon off the planet Ertrus (occupied by said Empire at the time), which due to all the security measures aboveground necessitated the commando team in question infiltrating the area (and ducking underneath a force field) by taking an only somewhat vaguely defined route through the high-gravity planet's rather geologically active underworld...in midget chameleon submarines because the way back to the surface led straight through a geyser right in the middle of the capital.
- The climax of Ender's Game.
- This is a recurring element in Dale Brown's books. One of the best examples is Flight of the Old Dog, where the eponymous bomber has to fly deep into well-defended Soviet airspace to destroy a superweapon.
- In Nimitz-Class, the investigators on the case of the surprise nuclear strike against an carrier group determine how a rogue submarine could have made the attack by taking an identical model submarine and maneuvering it through the Bosporus Strait, proving their theory that the attacker traveled from the Black Sea to make the attack. Until they complete their test, nobody believes that it's even possible for a submarine to traverse the strait without being detected.
- The plot of The Bridges At Toko-Ri focuses on a US Navy pilot with a wife and children undertaking a high-risk mission to destroy a pair of strategically-vital bridges in North Korea.
Live Action TV
- Battlestar Galactica: In one episode Apollo ends up flying through a tunnel to hit a Cylon target that was otherwise unreachable. The commentary specifically notes that this was intended to be the moment that proved Apollo had chops, by giving him something that was, on the surface, practically impossible.
- Later, in the opening arc for Season 3, Galactica circumvents a Cylon blockade around New Caprica to deploy fighters to help the resistance... by FTL-jumping in behind the lines, in the atmosphere, and essentially belly-flops down to a kilometer or so above the surface, launching fighters all the way, before jumping back out again. All the Resistance members on the ground are basically dumbstruck (along with most viewers of the show) as they watch the stunt.
- Airwolf: Stringfellow Hawke never had to perform one of these directly; the closest he came was in "Proof through the Night", where String and Dom had to fly a weaponless Airwolf deep into the USSR to retrieve a defector and his family. However, Airwolf's creator (one Dr. Charles Henry Moffet) performs one in the pilot episode Shadow of the Hawke. (Granted, it was only supposed to be a demonstration of Airwolf's capabilities... but Dr. Moffet had other ideas.)
- Hilariously parodied in Firefly, when Wash flies Serenity through a canyon in an attempt to shake off a pursuer...who simply flies above the canyon.
- Wash's reaction sums it up: "I didn't think of that..."
- Done in Stargate SG-1 with a Space Fighter, where O'Neill and Carter have to take out Anubis's mothership's Wave Motion Gun before he fires it. However, his shield is impervious to conventional weapons. They end up making a short hyperjump to bypass the shield and launch a missile at the target. Lampshades are hung.
- In one episode of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Pilot has to fly the main ship down an entrenchment leading to the control center for Lord Dread's Icarus Platform while Power, Tank and Scout assist her against the trench defenses on their skybikes. Pilot's job is to blow the doors of the control center using a proton missile so that Power and crew can get inside and blow the platform before it can be used to digitize a whole lot of people.
- JAG: In the Pilot Movie, Captain Boone, flies a reconnaissance mission in an F-14 Tomcat twice on very low altitude over Bosnia. On the second run he’s hit by AA fire, but backseat rider Harm (who hasn’t flown himself for five years) manages to land it sound and safe on the carrier.
- The Nova episode "Bombing Hitler's Dams" profiles Operation Chastise (see Real Life, below) at the same time as it follows a real life team trying to recreate the raid in British Columbia. Of course, dropping actual explosives from civilian aircraft is illegal, so they dropped a dummy bomb and then blew the dam up remotely after hitting it.
- The Ace Combat series is in love with this. There are several commonly used variations:
- At least once per game (with the exception of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon), you will fly through a tunnel, bunker, or some other underground structure in order to destroy something inside, usually during the last or second to last mission.
- Another popular type is a mission in an area with obscene amounts of anti-air firepower, requiring you to fly through a canyon (complete with ground strikes and dogfighting inside the canyon itself) to avoid the AA. Fly out of the canyon and you get hit by a swarm of missiles from all directions.
- Unsung War/Squadron Leader did this best: you are attacked by a wing of the Yuke counterparts of the squad that has been plaguing you all game, flying Sukhoi Su-35s and obviously not under the same altitude restriction you are. The canyon is particularly low in this instance (although it's rather lenient with its anti-air, as it simply causes an automatic missile lock and fire which can be evaded like any other missile), and much of the Enemy Chatter (and your chatter) is devoted to how insane the skills going around are.
- Not completely related, but Joint Assault have you do a canyon run in a Boeing 747-200, which is completely unarmed and has ridiculously heavy controls, and the game exploits this by telling you to fly under a bridge.
- Ace Combat 6 had a particularly ludicrous example: during the final mission (after the standard "fly underground to destroy something" bit), you have to fly down the barrel of a giant railgun as it's firing. Time it wrong and you get vaporized by the shot.
- Starting with Assault Horizon, we have a mission where you have to avoid pockets of enemy radar in an attempt to slip into an area undetected.
- Ace Combat Infinity's remake of Excalibur as a raid adds more lasers than ever, transforming it into a gigantic web of blue laser where you must watch where you're flying as you destroy the installations powering said web. The harder variants also add elite enemy squadron to defeat while the laser web is active.
- After Burner Climax is similar to Ace Combat, but deserves mention for the times the enemy uses Frickin' Laser Beams as "tripwires" to damage your plane with.
- War Thunder offers a couple maps in which the enemy has a naval task force hidden in a fjord. The targets are entirely optional, but if a player is going for the big payoff by taking out a surface ship, he'll need to fly down the fjord in a bomber, dodging flak from ships and shore, and praying that the enemy fighters stay distracted long enough for him to drop his bombs or torpedo.
- Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge involves flying through two zeppelin-eating grinder machines to take out their power cells, before diving into a giant rotor to blow up more of them. In order to prevent it from using its weather control weapon from leveling Chicago. Hey, Rule of Cool.
- In Star Fox, several missions could be considered this.
- The mission "The Space Armada" in the original SNES game has you flying through a battleship's interior in order to destroy its core.
- The "Venom Core" missions have you flying through the conduit leading to Andross' inner chambers. The "Venom Surface" mission in the second route, additionally, pulls you through a very highway path with a roof and a wall to the right, so the only opening is to the left.
- Star Fox 64's penultimate boss fight on easy-mode Venom, where you chase a Humongous Mecha enemy through an imposing stone structure of some kind as he flings obstacles in your path, comes to mind.
- Star Fox: Assault's final mission has you flying into the core of the Aparoid home world, where the Aparoid Queen waits for you. The mission isn't actually all that difficult, however, given that it's a fairly wide tunnel and the enemies all approach from the front.
- Any mission on Solar, which has the team flying far too close to either a really hot gas giant or a fairly cold star.
- In Rogue Squadron 2, the last mission in the regular campaign is the attack on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi (above), it's not only Airstrike Impossible but adds components of an escort mission. Naturally, high-speed flight down winding tunnels, mooks-a-licious and getting out before it all goes boom are all featured.
- Star Wars Episode I: Starfighter, the training mission falls into the trench category of Airstrike Impossible, thanks to an invisible ceiling keeping the player inside a wing-scrapingly narrow canyon. The self-same canyon (complete with ceiling) is reprised in an escort mission filled with Trade Federation baddies to make That One Level. Interestingly, while tunnel fighting appears in the final level (attacking the Droid Control Ship, including getting inside around the same time Anakin did), side-tunnels actually provide time to hide and recharge shields, hence subverting the trope into a tactical advantage.
- The sequel, Jedi Starfighter, has some more open-air missions among broken sea cliffs, and a few missions that involve flying inside of surprisingly small installations.
- X-Wing, the player is encouraged to fly down the trench (they get an arbitrary speed boost given only within the trench), but you can just as easily ignore the trench entirely and dive-bomb the target if you prefer.
- Star Wars: The Arcade Game's trench run, which now has barriers blocking your way to the exhaust port, making that part more reminiscent of the Death Star reactor core shaft run from Return of the Jedi.
- The final assault on the Death Star is reenacted in Star Wars Battlefront's "Battle Station" mode, where the Rebels can only win if one of three randomly assigned players can pass a series of ten checkpoints throughout the Death Star trench that ends in front of the ship's exhaust port, where they must make the final shot to destroy the space station. All this goes on while the enemy team is fully aware of who's been assigned to make the run and equipped with just as much firepower as your entire team.
- Secret Weapons Over Normandy, at least in the dambusting mission, which is of reasonable difficulty. Later missions tread a jot into Airstrike Impossible territory, though.
- Strike Gunner, the final level one-ups the typical Shmup by including dead ends. Thank god the rest of the game is kinda easy, but still, it's hell if the final two bosses managed to clip a few lives from you. The final trench run has killed more than its share of one credit runs.
- Air Force Delta, as Konami's answer to Ace Combat, of course has to attempt to one-up it at every opportunity, but the original takes the cake by being an homage to UN Squadron of all things. A cavern, strewn with girders, with the target on the ceiling.
- Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. had an entire level based around three such airstrikes. If you deviate from the course the game sets you up with at all, you'll be targeted by a buttload of SAM batteries and most likely killed.
- A fanmade Vasudan installation (the GVI Karnak) includes destructible doors and a hollow superstructure, specifically to allow this trope to be pulled off. The campaign Silent Threat: Reborn plays with it by having an enemy fighter attempt to do this, with the player having to fly inside to defend the station's reactor.
- Several more mods have gone this route: the Star Fortress Amaterasu and the Hertak Flagship both have hollow areas on the interior that a pilot can exploit to blow up their weakpoints. There have also been several hollow asteroid models for use as installations.
- Note that FreeSpace fighters are far slower and easier to maneuver in the tunnels than, say, Ace Combat planes.
- Blue Lightning has a mission where you fly through a set of narrow canyons to take out enemy bases, complete with an invisible ceiling keeping you near ground level.
- Wing Commander III, The final mission was supposed to be this, with staying in the canyons on the way to the fault target to avoid attracting the attention of infinitely respawning Ekapshii, but a glitch in the transition from the space leg of the mission to the atmosphere leg allowed the "one time" cloak to be used again, making it trivially easy to get there, by cloaking and flying above the mountains in a straight line.
- In the video game adaptation of Airwolf, the whole game was like this.
- While it is a side-scrolling shump, the Area 88 game (UN Squadron in the United States) has the player fly into canyons and caves for a few missions.
- The suicide mission to Ilos in Mass Effect has a particularly spectacular version. Joker, an Ace Pilot that came across as arrogant the entire game (he straight up says he is the best human pilot, period) proves his skill here. Flying a frigate in a near vertical dive, straight at a small clearing of 20 meters (one-fifth of the minimum for such a drop), pulling up at the last second to fling the Mako—with your commando team inside—straight at The Dragon. The blast doors close, and the Mako pulls to a stop...five feet from the doors. To put this in perspective, Saren was always one step ahead of you, mocking you each time, and at this moment, he has a brief Oh, Crap! moment at seeing a combat drop flung at him from nowhere.
- The Suicide Mission in Mass Effect 2 is mostly a commando operation, but Joker's insertion operation has shades of this while engaging in a dogfight with enemy constructs a fiftieth the size of the Normandy in a field full of the debris of every spacecraft that has tried to make it through the Omega-4 Relay in the entirety of galactic history and blowing up a cruiser-sized vessel (the same one that destroyed the original Normandy) equipped by the Reapers with a scout frigate.
- The Full Motion Video game Sewer Shark is based entirely around this premise.
- In Scramble, the player had to do this after getting through the enemy base and navigating a maze of Deadly Walls.
- Star Strike for the Intellivision and Atari 2600 had the player flying down a Death Star-like trench to bomb five missiles poised to destroy Earth.
Foehammer: I hope your analysis is on the money, Cortana. This Pelican won't turn on a dime.
- In Halo: Combat Evolved, the mission where the Master Chief goes to find Halo's control center has an example when Foehammer flies you within walking distance of your objective.
Cortana: Look on the bright side, Foehammer. The last thing the Covenant will expect is an aerial insertion from underground.
- Halo 4 one-ups that with the final mission, which starts with Master Chief taking a Broadsword fighter through the outer hull of the Didact's flagship as it makes its way to Earth via slipspace...
- F/A-18 Hornet has a few missions like this. One of the finale missions, "Pull the Plug", has you fly through a river valley to avoid bombardment by SAM's, then take out a dam with a nuke. In one of the Expansion Pack missions, "Neighbors", you have to bomb a nuclear missile launch silo at very low altitude, which detonates the warheads as well.
- Battle Pirates recently introduced a set of single-player campaigns, the first four of which introduce the player to certain basic tactics. One of these focuses on the use of fast ships and short-range weapons to exploit the minimum firing range of certain long-range defensive turrets; appropriately enough, this campaign is called "Run The Trench".
- Super Robot Wars Original Generation used the submarine version, with the Hagane trying to bypass the Divine Crusaders' aerial fleets by traveling underwater past it's normal depth tolerances, fighting against a pack of enemy submarines the whole way.
- Grand Theft Auto V offers a rare civilian example in the knife flight challenges, half of which must be done as part of the 100% Completion package. Although the game world (and downtown Los Santos in particular) offers countless opportunities for knife flights between tall buildings, only a select few of them actually count. One of the most difficult examples involves flying through a gap between two buildings that's barely wider than the smallest stunt plane in the game is high (and stunt planes are not only the smallest of all available planes, but also the only ones manoeuvrable enough to have a chance in hell to pull this off). Factor in the game's random gusts of wind while flying aircraft, plus the fact that the slightest collision with anything will see your plane go down in flames, and you have yourself one of the most frustrating challenges in the whole game.
- Ghost Recon Wildlands contains dozens of supply raid side missions where your Ghosts can steal an aircraft (bush plane or Blackhawk helicopter) loaded with enemy supplies and deliver it to the nearest rebel airstrip. Some of these airstrips are far away, with the most direct route being dotted with impossible-to-evade SAM batteries, which often forces you to fly extremely low above ground (<5-10 meters) or through canyons if even that's not enough. It's not helped by these SAM batteries being virtually impossible to spot from the air until their detection meter starts filling up, and by then it's usually to late to salvage the mission, turning some of these tasks into extended exercises in trial-and-error to find a viable path through the AA network.
- Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, a series of animated videos were pretty much all this, each complete with a corridor run of varying levels of justification.
- Duck Dodgers Subverted and Lampshaded, where Dodgers tries to make a Trench Run to take out Marvin the Martian's new Dreadnought, while Marvin calmly aims a laser cannon at him and wonders how many fools die trying to recreate that scene.
- In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Far From Home", Brainac 5's spaceship performs a Trench Run maneuver to ram the hangar doors of the Fatal Five's baseship.
- The Soviet Baltic Fleet spent most of the Siege of Leningrad moored at the Kronstadt Island Naval Base or the Baltic Shipyards. Bombers trying to strike at either location had to run the densest concentration of AA fire in the world (Ploesti had more guns but over a larger area), yet they managed it on several occasions. Taking out the fleet's larger ships was key to Army Group North's hopes of taking the city by force in late 1941, as the fleet's naval artillery would made a direct attack on the city very costly. Their destruction was also key to General Erich von Manstein's plan for starving the city into submission in August 1942's Operation Nordlicht, as they allowed the Soviets to deploy most of their artillery to the east of the city to defend the lifeline through Lake Ladoga which Manstein was hoping to cut note . The Fleet's greatest and most-targeted asset was the Oktoberskaya Revolutsiya (formerly the Gangut, lead ship of the Imperial Russian Navy's Gangut- class battleships). She was actually partially sunk by a daring dive-bomber raid on the Baltic Shipyard, after being critically damaged at her moorings once before, but fortunately was refloated and restored to working condition in time to help drive the Germans out of the Baltic in mid-late 1944.
- As part of the British counter-operation against the Kriegsmarine's Channel Dash in 1942, the Fleet Air Arm's 825 Squadron, consisting of six Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers, was ordered on standby to perform a night attack (to minimize the Swordfish's disadvantage of low speed). When the German fleet was detected during the day, however, the Swordfishes were the only aircraft available to perform a strike, and so, 825 was launched, despite the known danger. Though five fighter squadrons were promised as escort, in the end, only a single squadron of ten planes arrived on time. Nearing the fleet, the force found their target - the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen - escorted by at least 40 other warships and over 200 aircraft. Nevertheless, the Swordfishes pushed on for the attack. In the end, all six of the Swordfishes were lost to fighter or anti-aircraft fire, with only five out of eighteen crew members surviving, while damage to the German fleet was minimal. Nevertheless, the crews' courage was recognized, even by the German officers.
- The German battleship Tirpitz, like her sister ship Bismarck, had proven to be very difficult to sink, due in large part to the Germans harboring her in fjords which presented many natural protections against sea and air attack, in addition to the use of Anti-Air defenses and torpedo nets. Even repeated raids using six-ton Tallboy bombs had failed to do fatal damage, though one bomb had traveled through the ship before detonating in the seabed below, crippling the ship for a time. The third attempt to use Tallboys against Tirpitz, (Operation Catechism), involved dropping twenty-nine Tallboys over the target. They scored two hits and one near miss, and several of the other misses destroyed the sandbank and torpedo nets which had been built up to help protect the ship. Tirpitz finally met her end with one last internal explosion (blowing one of the turrets off the ship) before she capsized in the fjord.
- Operation Tidal Wave a low-level strike against the Ploiești oil refineries conducted by 178 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers of the US Army Air Forces. These facilities supplied Germany with 1/2 of her petroleum products, and taking them out was widely regarded as the most critical element of the USAAF’s “Oil Plan” targeting all natural and synthetic oil production facilities including the wells at Balaton (west Hungary) and Auschwitz-III/Monowitz plant (Upper Silesia). Ploesti was believed to be the Third Reich’s Achilles' Heel, and the bomber crews were all warned in advance that as long as the target was destroyed, it would be considered worthwhile even if every plane was lost and every man was killed. The attack force was assembled in Libya, where a full-scale mock-up of Ploesti was assembled in the Sahara Desert for practice runs, as the mission required careful choreography and split-second timing to hit the target area from multiple directions at treetop level (well below the minimum safe altitude to drop bombs, requiring the ordnance to have time-delay fuses), overwhelming its defenses while also preventing any American planes from being hit by the blast of bombs already dropped. Originally called Operation Soapsuds, it was renamed Tidal Wave at the recommendation of Winston Churchill. To avoid tipping off the Germans as to Ploesti’s vulnerability, Allied commanders chose to stop all reconnaissance flights over the area. Unfortunately, this meant they weren’t aware of a failed Soviet raid that prompted the Luftwaffe and the Romanian military to heavily augment the defenses. Things immediately started going wrong once the mission got started. One bomber crashed on takeoff, one of the lead planes (Wong Wongo, flown by 1st Lt. Brian Flavelle) crashed into the Mediterranean, eleven more had to abort due to fuel problems, the bombers got separated because two Group commanders couldn’t agree on engine settings, and mission commander Brigadier General Uzal Ent made a critical navigational error. Only one plane, 1st Lt. John Palm’s Brewery Wagon, attacked as planned, and was shot down in flames with no survivors as they made their bomb run. The carefully-planned timing went completely to hell, and the attacking bombers faced not only much heavier opposition than anticipated, but also friendly bombs exploding in their faces and many near-collisions with other B-24s. The incredibly low altitude resulted in the bombers' gunners trading fire with anti-aircraft batteries at point-blank range and pilots having to maneuver over and around smokestacks, trees, and even fence lines and haystacks. 53 American bombers were lostnote , and 55 more came back with serious damage and casualties aboardnote . 440 men (average age 19) were killednote and 220 more captured or missing. Five men received the Medal of Honor, more than any other single operation in history, three of them posthumousnote . The refineries were damaged, but not critically, as most of them were operating below capacity anyway. Ultimately the Ploesti refineries only stopped supplying the Germans in the aftermath of Malinovsky and Tobulkhin's Jassy–Kishinev Offensive of August 1944, during which Soviet troops secured the facilities as Rumania switched sides.
- Several major air strikes by USAAF B-17s against targets in central and southern Germany without friendly fighter escorts. The first Schweinfurt-Regensburg raid, for instance cost 60 bombers shot down, another 60 damaged beyond repair, and over 1,000 casualties, without doing enough damage to the target (a ball-bearing manufacturing plant). Missions against Stuttgart and Bremen had a similar butcher’s bill for equally-disappointing results. In the face of unsustainable losses, the 8th Air Force had to limit its bombing missions to occupied France and the Low Countries where Allied fighters could protect the heavies in the fall of 1943 until the long-range P-51 Mustang became available.
- The events in MiG Alley also served as inspiration for canyon runs (certainly for the one in Firefox, if not Star Wars), since a plane in pursuit often took damage from the dust kicked up by the running plane, aiding evasion, and that region of North Korea (and northeast China) is lousy with convenient canyons.
- In 1981 the Israeli Air Force pulled off an impossible mission in Operation Opera, the long range attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor. A force of heavily laden F-16's and F-15's traveled across Jordan and Saudi Arabia at altitudes as low as 30 meters before popping up to completely destroy the reactor complex. Ground defenses were taken completely by surprise and not a single Israeli aircraft was damaged.
- The Israeli Air Force conducted an encore against Syria in 2007's Operation Orchard, where they destroyed what is now suspected to be a covert nuclear reactor (never mind that the operation doesn't officially exist).
- Operation Focus was the opening series of air strikes that Israel used to preempt an Arab invasion and win what came to be known as the Six Day War. The attack made use of almost the entire Israeli Air Force with only a handful of planes left in reserve to defend its home airspace and comprised a go-for-broke gamble to disable the air forces of its enemies to pave the way for an Israeli ground strike. Preceded by detailed planning and practice to, especially in the area of quick turning its strike aircraft to make followup sorties, Operation Focus achieved complete surprised and by noon, the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian Air Forces, with 452 aircraft, were completely destroyed.
- And then there's Ran Ronen, an Israeli Air Force ace who in 1966 engaged in a dogfight with Jordanian aircraft and chased one into a canyon, eventually shooting it down and making it out unscathed. He later said the Jordanian pilot was one of the best he had ever fought.
- 1965 India-Pakistan War. The Pakistan Air Force converted the C-130 Hercules transport planes, known (and not affectionately) as "buses" or "trucks" and used them to bombard Indian positions. And no plane was lost.
- Not an air-strike (usually) but Pakistani (and Indian) operations in Siachen, routinely flying helicopters at altitudes of 22 thousand feet or more through the highest mountains in the world. And did I state that the altitude is more then 10,000 feet above the normal operating ceiling of the aircraft?
- The famous RAF Dambusters Operation Chastise mission involved flying big, lumbering strategic bombers so low over the target dam reservoirs that the German AA guns couldn't depress enough to fire at them. They were in fact flying so insanely low that at least one of the bombers had to abort the mission because it took damage from clipping a tree. Not surprisingly, it was that unit which later attacked the Tirpitz.
- During the first deployment of the F-22 at Red Flag, the U.S. Air Force's largest air war exercise, the single squadron operating it was effortlessly curbstomping everyone. At one point, out of desperation, the Red Flag Ace Pilots mounted a run through a canyon at night in an attempt to ambush the F-22s. Didn't work, as the F-22s still managed to pick them up, but an impressive attempt nontheless.
- Operation Jericho. What do you do if you learn the Gestapo have captured some of the leaders of La Résistance, are holding them in Amiens prison, and are going to execute them in the morning? Well how about sending a flight to bomb the guardhouse and blow holes in the walls - without hitting the cell blocks - so the prisoners can escape. All done at low level, in broad daylight and with unguided bombs to boot. Also, the officer in charge of the operation had no prior experience in low-level attacks, and - more to the spirit of the trope - the bombers had to attack in bad weather.
- This was the basic mission of the Blackburn TB. It stands as the most highly-specialized aircraft in history, and also one of the most spectacularly awful aircraft ever built. It was a twin-fuselage long-range anti-Zeppelin floatplane. Allegedly. The Blackburn TB had a maximum speed of 85 mph, which is slower than some Zeppelins. Compounding the TB's difficulties was the sheer impracticality of its means of attack: it was unarmed, save a mere 60 pounds of exploding darts, of all things, and had to climb over the Zeppelin, somehow evading its anti-air guns, and drop them on top of it. Which is somewhat difficult, considering that Zeppelins flew at nearly four times the TB's maximum altitude. The 9 TB fighters built never so much as CAUGHT a Zeppelin, much less destroyed one. So for the Blackburn, it really WAS an Airstrike Impossible.
- December 7th, 1941: The Japanese military attacks American bases in Hawaii (The Philippine Islands were also attacked that day), catching the defenders by surprise and causing widespread damage. The Americans thought that Hawaii was too distant from Japanese bases to be vulnerable to attack, and assumed that the assault would focus on the Philippines. The Americans would lose over 2,400 men, with 19 ships sunk or damaged in the battle and nearly 200 aircraft destroyed. Military thought at the time believed land based aircraft would almost always defeat carrier aircraft, making such an attack very risky.
- Also a bit of a subversion: Pearl Harbor was thought too shallow for torpedoes, despite the existence of such torpedoes in the hands of the British.
- During World War II, one of the earliest Allied victories in the Pacific was the Doolittle Raid, named for the commander, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. To pull the raid off, they had to strip any excess weight from a group of twin-engined B-25 Mitchell bombers and launch them from an aircraft carrier that was barely long enough to actually get the planes airborne, all so they could drop a few firebombs on Japanese cities and make the Japanese think they were at greater risk of attack than they actually were. Most of the planes ended up ditching in China or crashing in the sea, with only a one landing successfully in Siberianote .
- To put this into perspective, A B-25 was about 6,000lbs heavier than a Harrier GR.3 to start with and about 10,000lbs heavier than a Harrier GR.3 at max take-off weight. The B-25 wasn't designed for Carrier use and getting a B-25 into the air off a carrier deck with only 460-ish feet to work with practically required 30+ knots all-ahead flank into a headwind.
- When Argentina landed forces on the British-controlled Falkland Islands in 1982, the nearest British ships were weeks away; plenty of time for the Argentine forces to dig in on the Falkland Islands. Even with in-air refueling, the distance from the nearest British airfield to the Falklands exceeded the maximum operational range of the best British bomber aircraft several times over. But there's nothing stopping you from refueling the tanker aircraft in-air. or refueling the tanker aircraft refueling the tanker aircraft in air. Or refueling the tanker aircraft refueling the tanker aircraft refueling the... you get the picture. The end result was that eleven 'Victor' tanker aircraft were used to bring a single 'Vulcan' bomber from Ascension Island (off the western coast of Africa) to the Falkland Islands and back again. The 'Victor', which had three pilots in the two-man cockpit, was refueled four times on the approach and one more on the return. It held the record for the longest-distance bombing-run until 1991.
- Torpedo bombing in general. Early air-launched torpedoes required the bomber to fly at low altitude and low speed to properly lay in their attacks, all while enemy Anti-Air gunners and fighters did their damnedest to shoot them down. And once you released the torpedo, there was no guarantee that it wouldn't malfunction, sinking into the water, drifting off target, or even striking the target directly and failing to detonate at all. Torpedo designs were improved considerably by the end of the war, but the days of dedicated torpedo bombers were numbered with the introduction of the first anti-ship missiles in 1944.
- To emphasize the difficulty of torpedo bombing, at the Battle of Midway four American squadrons (three Navy, and one Army) launched torpedo attacks on the Japanese carriers. Not a single American air-launched torpedo struck its target that day. The three Navy squadrons were savaged by Japanese defenders, with Torpedo 8 being almost entirely wiped outnote . Ultimately the Japanese carriers were destroyed by American dive bombers, which had the good timing and luck to press their attacks while the Japanese fighters were away, and the carriers arming and fueling their planes for their first attempt at sinking the American fleet.