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Hellish Copter

Watch enough action movies, and you soon realize that the only thing more dangerous than being on a helicopter is wearing a V-neck Red Shirt or being the slutty girl in a Friday the 13th movie.note  They've been described as 50,000 parts flying in close formation.

Obviously, helicopters aren't quite that dangerous in Real Life, or else we wouldn't use them for anything for fear of them haphazardly spinning out of control and crashing into everything all the time. It just wouldn't be a productive way to get around. Indeed, some helicopters, such as the M-24 Hind, are incredibly tough. So why do they get knocked out of the air in seemingly every movie they ever appear in? Rule of Cool. Admit it, it's just cool to watch one of these things spin out of control trailing smoke, briefly becoming a Helicopter Blender for anybody unfortunate enough to be standing around on the ground in the general area.

It's particularly unfortunate if that helicopter was our heroes' ride home.

This trope is about that prevalent tendency of helicopters crashing various media, as well as in situations where a helicopter crash wouldn't necessarily be expected. If a military chopper in a warzone gets hit by a rocket launcher and goes down, that's less of this and more of a Short Lived Aerial Escape—but if half a dozen helicopters get shot down in the same movie, it's probably a textbook case of this trope. If a giant monster smacks the 'copter out of the sky, it's a Helicopter Flyswatter. If a military chopper collides with another aircraft or power lines or something due to remarkably bad luck, then it's this trope. If the chopper goes down because Danger Takes a Backseat, it's this trope regardless of it being a military chopper in a warzone or not. If it's a police or news chopper getting blown up by a rocket launcher over downtown Los Angeles, it's both this trope and Short Lived Aerial Escapenote , as you'd never really expect that sort of thing to happen.

In unusual situations, such as military choppers in a straight-up fight with aliens being taken out in ways that we would consider decidedly unusual (such as the Combat Tentacles example in the Film section), just remember that Tropes Are Flexible.

The fuel for this trope comes from many sources, but the most prominent of which is likely Rule of Cool (combined with Everything's Better with Spinning). Iconic scenes of Blackhawk helicopters getting shot down (an actually rare event) in the famous movie Black Hawk Down are sure to have helped this trope's staying power. It also gives plenty of opportunities for various kinds of drama, badassery, and visceral action, making it as much a tool for creators as a source of entertainment for the audience, if not more so.

Applies to pretty much any helicopter or helicopter-analogue (such as tilt-jet military transports in sci-fi films). See also Short Lived Aerial Escape. No relation to Hellish Horse. Subtrope of Anti-Air.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Amime 
  • Bubblegum Crisis police helicopter more or less just exist to explode every second episode. Fast Karate For The Gentleman eventually proposed that "I'm going in for a closer look!" is in fact AD Police code for "Tell my family I love them."
    Film 
  • Aliens: Corporal Ferro is flying the dropship to pick up the surviving Space Marines to bring them back to the Sulaco. However, she has a hitchhiker, in the form of a Xenomorph which kills the pilot and causes the dropship to nearly crash into the Marines.
  • Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! has an unplanned example: A helicopter that was rented for the movie was supposed to land in the background of a scene, except that the tail rotor struck the ground, causing the chopper to spin out and crash. The pilot escaped relatively unharmed, so everybody on the set decided to Throw It In, as it was too good a shot to hope for otherwise thanks to the small budget. Thus, a helicopter that wasn't supposed to crash in a movie still crashed.
    "A flying tomato? Tomatoes don't fly!"
  • The final battle in Avatar wouldn't count (military choppers being taken down in combat) except for what they were being taken down by: what one would essentially consider dragons swarming and attacking them. Particularly for the gunship that gets grabbed by a dragon and flung into another gunship, one of the gunners seeing the other gunship flying at them just in time to scream horribly.
  • Fire Birds has this happen to Preston (in a flight simulator) colliding with a set of powerlines after he becomes disoriented due to his inability to adapt to the Apache's monocle display.
  • Not a literal example as it hadn't taken off yet, but in Jaws 2 the shark takes out a helicopter by biting one of its floats. The chopper tilts over and the rotor blades hitting the water disintegrate spectacularly.
  • Jaws rip-off Grizzly had the titular bruin attack and badly damage the protagonists' helicopter at the end.
  • Cliff Hanger: Stallone's character takes down a chopper by throwing a bag of money into the rotors.
  • Cloverfield: Towards the very end of the movie the main characters are escaping in a helicopter which is knocked out of the air by the monster. They survive the crash, only to die either from being killed by the monster, or in the ensuing military air strike. Makes for a real Downer Ending.
  • Dantes Peak: Towards the end of the film, the helicopter pilot (along with many passengers paying him to take them away from the volcano) attempts to take off despite the huge amount of volcanic ash in the air. Just as he was warned, the volcanic ash was ingested into the helicopter's engines and choked them up, causing the chopper to crash back to the ground. As a trained pilot, he should have known better.
  • The Dark Knight: A police chopper gets clotheslined by some of The Joker's goons via some harpoon guns and some high-rises it was flying between. The helicopter gets tangled up, hits a building, and then crashes to the street below.
    • Some fun trivia: In Real Life, many helicopters are equipped with blade attachments on the top and bottom of the fuselage, designed to try and catch cables and cut them before they can actually snag on the skids or rotor hub. Aircraft designers are a bit Genre Savvy.
    • Also, when's the last time you saw a real helicopter trying to fly between tall buildings? Reason for that too.
  • Deep Blue Sea has a rescue helicopter trying to take one of the characters to the hospital get towed into Aquatica's control tower by the giant mako, destroying both and setting off the action.
  • Happens numerous times in the Die Hard movies, with various helicopters meeting their ends due to rocket launchers, power lines, and police cars.
    I ran out of bullets.
  • Before Die Hard with a Vengeance, the Clint Eastwood thriller The Gauntlet has a mob sniper's helicopter explode quite spectacularly after its rotor blades become tangled in some power lines.
  • Happens many times in D-War due to the helicopters belonging to the Redshirt Army, though their exploding is mostly due to the pilots' incompetence tather than outside forces.
  • Godzilla 1985, Godzilla blasts a helicopter with his breath and sends it plummeting onto a crowded highway, setting off a massive chain reaction of car explosions.
  • I Am Legend: A series of flashbacks show Neville making sure his family gets to the evacuation point so they can be airlifted out of the city. They board a helicopter which safely takes off and begins to fly across the river when another chopper begins spinning wildly out of control due to being overloaded and misbalanced with people who tried to grab onto the skid as it took off. There is a quick cut out of the flashback just before we can see the two choppers collide.
  • The helicopter in The Life Aquatic; its poor maintenance is something of a Chekhov's Gun.
  • If Looks Could Kill has a particularly silly helicopter crash where the rotor section detaches and comes after the heroes like a gigantic buzzsaw.
  • Helicopters are taken down twice in the Edward Norton-starring The Incredible Hulk, first when the Hulk throws a piece of debris at a military helicopter during the campus fight, and later when the Abomination brings down the helicopter carrying Betty and General Thunderbolt Ross.
  • James Bond is attacked by helicopters in many movies. Needless to say, they go down easily. It's averted when the good guys are in them, except for GoldenEye, where Bond and Natalia are only saved by the cabin ejector (and the helicopter was on ground, anyway).
    • In The World Is Not Enough, helicopter-mounted circular saws, first seen trimming trees to make way for the pipeline, are utilized in the attack on Zukovsky's caviar factory, and one of them saws Bond's car in half.
  • The Other Guys: A helicopter gets taken out by a volley of golf balls.
  • The Matrix: Shortly after their Gunship Rescue moment at the office building, the chopper that Trinity appropriated takes too much damage and ends up crashing into a building.
  • Mega Piranha. Yeah, let's just say killer animal and giant monster movies really hate helicopters.
  • Averted in Red Dawn (1984). Despite the film being notorious for its carnage, none of the helicopters seen are ever shot down. This includes a Soviet Hind hit by a Wolverine RPG - a gunner falls out, but aside from smoke temporarily pouring out of the cabin, the helicopter sustains no major damage.
  • In Sheena the bad guys' helicopter gunship falls prey to a flock of telepathically controlled flamingos.
  • Skyline: A Blackhawk helicopter is taken down by a tanker alien using Combat Tentacles.
  • In the 1978 Superman movie we see a helicopter for the sole reason of having it get in an accident and cause Lois Lane to fall off a building. That gets to lead to a great line in the movie though:
    Superman: Easy, miss. I've got you.
    Lois Lane: You - you've got me? Who's got you?
    • Superman II (1980). During the Army's battle with the three Kryptonian supervillains Ursa blows a helicopter away with her super breath, causing it to crash.
  • In The Towering Inferno, a helicopter is evacuating people from the roof of the burning skyscraper. When two women run after it as it's lifting off, the pilot swerves to avoid them, causing the craft to lose control in the updraft from the building, slam into the roof and explode.
  • Underworld Evolution has Alexander Corvinus' men's helicopter crash into the area where the final battle is taking place. Towards the end the rotors start spinning again and Selene is able to force Marcus back into the rotors, making him go Ludicrous Gibs.
    • This is a case of Hoist by His Own Petard, as he was the one who pulled the helicopter down by the line that Michael used to drop into the building. Obviously, some Required Secondary Powers had to be in play here for Marcus not to be lifted up by the helicopter when he pulled.
  • Edge of Tomorrow. Rita and Cage find a helicopter with fuel, but can't find the keys. Eventually Rita realises that Cage has the keys in his pocket, but is stalling because, thanks to the "Groundhog Day" Loop, he knows that Rita always dies when they take off in the helicopter. She forces the keys off him and takes off in the helicopter herself, only to die when a nearby alien attacks it. Being forced to watch this causes the hero to undergo a Heroic BSOD.
  • Subject of a brief gag in the Cuban Zombie Apocalypse film Juan Of The Dead: The heroes see a helicopter flying in, one of them hopes it will rescue them, and the chopper immediately plows into the side of a building.

    Live-Action TV 
  • ER: At the helipad on the hospital roof, Dr. Romano comes a little too close to the tail rotor and loses an arm. For months after that, he avoids the things by hiding out in the ambulance bay when they land, but in the season finale the same helicopter loses control, falls off the roof, and crushes him to death.
  • Played with in the premier to Airwolf; Santini Air is providing the helicopters and pilot work for the set of an action movie. The star of the movie has an insanely inflated opinion of his own ability to pilot an aircraft and insists, because he anonymously leaked to a popular reporter that it would happen, that he be allowed to do his own stunt-flying. What follows is a hilarious sequence of near-crashes until Hawke, required to be in the helicopter "for insurance purposes," takes the controls at the last second.
    Reporter: [As the helicopter spins wildly but otherwise holds in place] What's that stunt called?
    Santini: Well, it...it doesn't really have a name, generally you don't see that unless you've lost your tail rotor...
  • Subverted on LOST; the second episode of season 4 follows the survivors trying to locate the team of rescuers sent by helicopter to the Island after the helicopter hit turbulence and the passengers parachuted down. They finally track down the pilot and ask him where the helicopter crashed. He replies, "Crashed? What kind of pilot do you think I am? I landed it in that clearing." It does crash later, but only because it ran out of fuel due to a leak.

    Pinball 
  • Occurs in The Getaway: High Speed II if the player goes into the tunnel after getting the multiball jackpot; a police helicopter will try to follow you and crash, awarding the Helicopter Bonus.
    Car 504: "Where'd he go?"
    Pilot: "He went in the tunnel´┐Ż"
    Car 504: "HEY! LOOK OUT!!"
    CRASH!

    Videogames 
  • Modern Warfare: Sergeant Jackson's helicopter, and several others, crashes due to being caught in the pressure wave of a nuclear explosion. Sergeant Jackson barely survives the crash, and lives just long enough to see the results of the nuke before succumbing to his injures.
    • Taken to Serial Escalation levels in Modern Warfare 2, where The Squad survives a conventional helicopter shoot-down, only to find themselves fleeing for safety after an EMP blast causes the rest of the choppers to rain from the sky.
    • Actually, it seems to be noteworthy if a POV character climbs aboard a helicopter in the Modern Warfare games and the chopper doesn't get shot down somehow, though most times it's actually the Short Lived Aerial Escape at work.
      • Subverted in the "Black Tuesday" level in Modern Warfare 3, where the player character's helicopter take a massive hit and almost crashes into a New York high-rise, but manages to level out and fly away to safety.
      • Although played straight with the Russian Hind the player's helicopter was fighting. After getting shot out of the sky by the player, the Hind spins into the player's helicopter (the aforementioned massive hit), before slamming into said high-rise.
    • Call of Duty: Black Ops: One helicopter gets harpooned with the harpoon's cable secured to the side of a building. When the helicopter tried to pull away, it ended up whipping itself around into another building.
    • In "One Shot, One Kill", Price and Capt. McMillan snipe an enemy chopper, only for it to kamikaze towards them and cripple McMillan.
  • UNSC Pelicans time and time again get shot down by the covenant, usually killing everyone inside.
  • In fact, most video games. If said chopper ride starts off the game, don't expect it to last long.
  • Resident Evil is quite infamous for this. The only safe helicopters are the ones at the end of the games. The 4th game in particular has casual mention of a rescue helicopter being shot down off screen, and then another helicopter appearing for all of 5 seconds before being shot down.
  • SimCopter is all about this. Stock up on a LOT of choppers, because you'll burn your way through nearly all of them. A quick and dirty way to lose the game is to use the "RADIOACTIVITY" cheat. Fun stuff.
  • Left 4 Dead: At the end of the first level, the survivors get on a helicopter and all seems fine, until the pilot turns into a zombie, forcing the survivors to shoot them, forcing the chopper to crash. Pretty much the the exact same thing happens in the sequel.
  • Prototype has either Alex shooting things at the helicopter to take it down (which includes people), or him flying to the chopper, ripping it up to remove the pilot (if not invading and devouring him), and hijacking the thing. Crashing it later is optional.
  • This is actually lampshaded in Helloween4545's Let's Play of Singularity. After his helicopter is brought down by an EMP, he hypothesizes that a helicopter in a video game has an 80% chance of going down and characters on it dying.
  • Many many Helicopters meet their demise in the Grand Theft Auto series. The Ballad Of Gay Tony missions "High Dive" and "For the Man Who Has Everything" get a special mention, where multiple LCPD and NOOSE Helicopters are severely damaged or destroyed.
  • In Alan Wake, helicopters get downed twice by birds being controlled by the Dark Presence, rendering them invulnerable to conventional weapons and enabling them to do horrendous damage.
  • Viewtiful Joe. The second mini boss you face in the 1st level is a Black Thunder Helicopter. Upon being killed flies out of control, crashes, and explodes in to large V points (this game's currency).
  • Heavy Weapon has the white non-combat support helicopters that dropped powerups for you. While these were immune to enemies, you could accidentally shoot them down via friendly fire, and if you did, you'd be docked a lot of points from your score. Trying not to shoot them is easier said than done, as they may appear during the worst possible moments when several Demonic Spiders are on the screen.
  • Whenever a helicopter appears in any of the FEAR games, it is almost certain to go down. It gets especially brutal by the third game in the series, where Alma's "contractions" are accompanied by massive red pulses of energy that swat helicopters out of sky, rip apart the earth, and knock over buildings. The only point in the entire series where a helicopter didn't get shot down or otherwise savaged by enemy fire was the intro to the first game's second level, and the ending to the Perseus Mandate expansion.
  • Lollipop Chainsaw features a rescue chopper in the first level, airlifting various classmates that Juliet saves from the Zombies. A pair of zombies climb up the rescue line and get inside the chopper, causing it to crash. Mood Whiplash occurs as Juliet gives out a particularly ditzy example of And That's Terrible in response.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV has a mission in which you chase someone in a helicopter which gets damaged by a missile. Since this is supposed to happen a cutscene plays and everybody gets out before it explodes, like it would if it were out of a cutscene.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has one mission where CJ attempts to take out some rival criminals from a helicopter, only for it to be almost immediately blown up by a rocket launcher and crash in the ocean. CJ gets out okay, but the pilot isn't as lucky.
  • In the opening of Quake IV, the player's dropship is shot down. Then after his Stroggification, the dropship sent to medevac him gets shot down as well.
  • At the beginning of Winback: Covert Operations, the SCAT team's insertion chopper loses control and explodes. Later revealed to be deliberate sabotage by your traitorous C.O. Dan, who was apparently still inside the chopper when it exploded.
  • Saints Row isn't especially kind to its helicopters. If it's on the enemy's side, odds are it's gonna go boom. Especially if the pilot is killed, where upon it lights on fire and goes up in a big fireball upon hitting a surface, killing everyone inside. Heck, one of the first missions of the third game has helicopters shot down en masse by you and and a fellow gang lieutenant.
  • In Double Dragon Neon, after defeating the Giant Tank, the Killacopter inexplicably explodes and crashes into the tank, completely destroying it.

    Webcomics 
  • Concerned: Gordon Frohman takes down a Combine Gunship on accident by trying to dispose of a body by throwing it off a bridge. The body gets caught in the rotor blades of the gunship, which causes a hilarious case of Disaster Dominoes.
  • The Alt Text for this The Adventures of Dr. McNinja comic lampshades the prevailance of this trope, especially in this comic with "Helicopters only exist in this comic to get exploded. They serve no other purpose."

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Helicopter traffic reporter Arnie Pye has crashed at least twice; both times he came back uninjured, even though the first time it was implied he died. "Tell my wife I love..."
  • Futurama: A traffic reporter reports on his own helicopter crashing.
    Jim: I have just been informed that my last words were... "back to you, Linda". [BOOM!]
    Morbo: I HATED JIM! In other news...
  • The episode of The Batman which introduces Green Lantern features a helicopter crash, and Green Lantern using his ring to stop a severed rotor blade from causing any fatal damage.
  • In Batman: Under the Red Hood, Batman takes out a helicopter using an EMP-loaded rocket, and then prevents the thing from crashing using cables and with the help of Nightwing and a giant staple gun. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Seen in the Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated episode "The Horrible Herd" where a helicopter blows up, probably because the producers seem to love explosions.

    Real Life 
  • In reality, the vast majority of helicopters obviously don't crash. However, over the decades, quite a few have crashed due to various reasons. Causes can include mechanical failure, bad weather, and pilot error. If the helicopter is operating in some high-risk situation, such as a Care Flight chopper trying to rescue an injured hiker on a mountainside, the risks can get much higher.
    • Theoretically, a helicopter with engine problems can still use the rotor to slow its fall, due to the inertia of the blades from spinning so fast. This is called autorotation. Practically, success depends on the load inside and what exactly went wrong. In some cases this won't slow the helicoper enough, and the passengers will still get crushed on impact. The good news is that a pilot can make the attempt on nearly any flat surface, without needing a huge open field like an airplane would.
    • Of course it's usually impossible to bail out of a helicopter with parachutes or an ejection seat, because of the large spinning blades on top. However some military models (like the Russian Ka-50) have ejection seats anyway. An instant before the ejection rocket goes off, an explosive inside the rotor detonates, severing the blades and getting them out of the way, because only the Russians are Crazy Awesome enough to avoid this trope and Helicopter Blender through more explosions.
    • There are also helicopters that eject sideways, thus throwing the passenger/pilot clear of the vehicle.
  • The survivability of military helicopters varies widely. The durability varies for the different roles, as well as for different individual models. Tactics often have to be tailored to the situation as well.
    • Reconaissance and lighter attack helicopters are light, small, unarmored, and operate near the enemy at low altitudes, making them the most easily shot down.
    • Transport and utility helicopters tend to be significantly larger and tougher, and often have armor, but often have to go into heavily contested areas to perform their mission of deploying, resupplying, and retrieving combat troops, collecting wounded, etc., leaving them vulnerable to enemy attack.
    • Heavier attack helicopters such as the AH-64 Apache tend to be better armored and heavily armed, and often attack from stand-off distances whenever possible, making them far more survivable.
    • Conversely, the Mi-24 Hind, is large and ridiculously well armored. It's designed to be capable of withstanding pretty much anything that infantry are likely to be packing. The only things that can reliably down it are antitank weapons or anti-air missiles designed to home in on the engines.
  • During the filming for the Twilight Zone movie, a helicopter crashed during filming, killing Vic Morrow and two child actors on the ground.
  • A joke in aviation circles goes "If the wings are traveling faster than the fuselage, it's probably a helicopter and therefore, unsafe."
  • Ground Resonance is a phenomenon that means a helicopter can self-destruct while it's on the ground and its rotors are spinning, such as in this video.


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