Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure
Strafing is the act of attacking surface targets from the air with something other than bombs
, guided missiles
or a long, continuous energy blast
. One might think that a bullet fired from an aircraft at a target on the ground, if it misses (which would likely be the case, unless the pilot was a good shot, the target was rather large, etc.), would likely strike the ground well beyond the target.
In Real Life
, it's not so simple, as the type of target, the aircraft type, the pilot's experience, and nearby defenses or other targets (such as civilians) in the area, can all come into play. And if the aircraft is fast enough you won't even realize it's attacking until it's done and gone.
In Hollywood, it does not work that way. The Rule of Cool
and the Rule of Drama
dictate a more theatrical methodology:
- The aircraft turns until it is lined up with the road, beach, dock, etc.
- The aircraft descends slowly and menacingly while its engine gets very loud and high in pitch, resembling a Stuka dive bomber, giving its victims plenty of time to realize THEY are the target.
- You may see muzzle flashes and hear machine gun noises.
- A pattern of bullets hits the ground between the target and the strafing aircraft and moves toward the target.
- If the aircraft has dual machine guns, the bullet pattern will be two parallel lines, usually wide enough to be on each side of a road.
- If the aircraft does NOT have dual machine guns, the bullet pattern may STILL be two parallel lines, usually wide enough to be on each side of a road, just to give the good guys a sporting chance.
- The bullet impact will either cause puffs of dirt to erupt from the ground or cause ricochets off solid objects.
- In a war drama, lighthearted action movie, etc:
- More intelligent characters abandon vehicles and throw themselves in a ditch or into foliage alongside the road.
- Less intelligent vehicle drivers try to dodge the bullets.
- Easily replacable RedShirts and Mooks freeze in horror or run about randomly and are cut down.
- In a comedy, Genre Savvy characters try to outrun the bullets or dodge them by dancing.
Historically movies portrayed strafing unrealistically because it was safe and easy. Set off a couple of lines of small charges in the sand running toward the target, far enough apart to not endanger the stunt crew, and the audience cannot fail to get the point. It's simple, cheap, straightforward, and the inexorably approaching danger significantly raises the dramatic tension. Also, some of this is Truth in Television
, as 'walking' shots up to the target helps to ensure you actually get a hit, though in reality (as seen in the Real Life
Examples below) the strike pattern is usually less a steady progression than a cloud of "shorts" and "overs"—firing from an inherently unstable platform means aircraft guns aren't particularly steady or accurate.
Showing the path of devastation wrought by the likes of the P47-D's eight .50 cal machine guns
would be much more difficult, expensive, dangerous and confusing, and the likely results would not be suitable for most audiences
. The guns were individually aimed at a single point of intersection a certain distance in front of the plane. They were also far too powerful to waste on a single individual. These planes were said to be capable of sawing fully grown trees in half on a strafing run. Not that a pilot would be likely to see a single person on the ground in any case. Without spotters on the ground in radio contact pilots would strafe vehicles, roads, trains, or large obvious targets.
One last thing: if the strafers are Eeeeeevil
, the probability of one of the strafees being an adorable little tyke who drops a teddy bear
to Hollywood Tactics
. Compare Buzzing the Deck
Anime & Manga
- In Sound of the Sky, Filicia is targeted by a tank's secondary gunner; the shots describe the standard 'bullet line' toward her.
- Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi uses this trope straight for purposes of parody. Sashi ends up getting strafed by a bi-plane in an episode where he's trapped in a world filled with nothing but Hollywood movie references and cliches.
- The Ur-Example is probably found in the 1942 Hollywood propaganda film Air Force, complete with the "two lines of bullet strikes" cliche, when a Japanese Zero strafes the protagonist's B-17 bomber crew in the Philippines. This scene probably inspired most subsequent examples and is somewhat defensible as most early war Japanese fighters actually did carry two cowl-mounted machine guns (in the Zero's case, two cowl and two wing guns) and the Zero's cowl and wing guns had wildly divergent ballistics and consequently required different aiming points so they frequently weren't fired at the same time.
- Two Luftwaffe fighters strafe the beaches of Normandy in The Longest Day. Like most scenes in the movie, this was something that actually happened, when both planes the Germans were able to scramble against the invasion flew the entire length of Omaha Beach and emptied their magazines in one long trigger-pull before quickly escaping before they could be shot down by the considerable number of Allied aircraft and warships in the area.
- North By Northwest, though it's not an attack plane but a regular plane with a passenger wielding a gun.
- In The Guns of Navarone, a Stuka dive bomber tries to strafe the fleeing Heroes. On YouTube starting at 0:35.
- James Bond
- In The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond is strafed by a pursuing helicopter while driving his Lotus Esprit. On YouTube at 1:25.
- In Live and Let Die he's strafed by a helicopter while hiding in the poppy fields under the net.
- In You Only Live Twice the female Japanese Secret Service agent Kissy Suzuki is strafed by a SPECTRE helicopter while she's swimming back to the village to notify Tiger Tanaka about the SPECTRE base in the volcano.
- In the 1989 film of Batman, the Joker stands still and lets the Batplane take a long strafing run at him, but not one bullet touches him. They all go to both sides of him instead.
- In The Avengers (1998), the flying insect robots sent by Sir August strafe Steed and Mrs. Peel as they're driving in a car.
- In Star Trek: Insurrection the Son'a do a number on the peaceful Ba'ku village using this trope in combination with teleporting drones. All that's missing is a dropped teddy bear.
- In John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), for some unknown reason the rifle armed Norwegians use their helicopter to do strafing runs on the Thing!dog, instead of just hovering in the air and sniping at it (which would have made for more accurate shooting). Of course, the real reason they did so was for dramatic purposes.
- For Transformers, Michael Bay, famous for his love of U.S. military hardware and blowin' stuff up, strangely chose the less-awesome Hollywood version of an A-10 strafing run, with their Avenger guns making the "lines of little thwippy poofs" effect and sounding like machine guns. Compare the link under "Real Life," where an Avenger burst makes it look like you and everything within a few dozen yards got blasted by God's shotgun, followed by the sound of Him farting in your general direction.note
- Twice in Red Tails: Towards the beginning of the film, a quartet of P-40 Warhawks spots a German train, and dive in to strafe it. One of the pilots actually protests that they should attack the train from head-on instead, to give the defensive gunners on the train less of a chance to shoot them back. After three of the planes strafe the train in classic Hollywood fashion to little productive effect, the fourth pilot comes at the train low and head-on, focusing all of his fire into the locomotive, trashing the train.
- Later on, the same four pilots strafe a German airfield. While they use Hollywood strafing tactics, it seems to work because there is just a lot of things on the airfield to shoot at and blow up.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. A Nazi fighter plane does this to Indy and his father as they're escaping by car.
- In Sheena, the soldiers' helicopter repeatedly tries to strafe a grazing herd of antelope, but apparently fails to hit anything.
- The Adventures of Tintin: Occurs as a plane from the Big Bad's ship finds Tintin and Captain Haddock adrift at sea in a lifeboat.
- We Were Soldiers: American A-1 "Sandy" attack planes and UH-1 Huey helicopters are both shown attacking North Vietnamese forces in this manner (in addition to laying in devastating heavy rocket and bomb attacks). Contrast with the book where Hal Moore described the Sandies as concentrating their cannon fire to chew up the terrain in a swath of destruction, and the Hueys' tendency to buzz around like bees, using the helicopters' hovering abilities to keep the door gunners oriented on their targets while moving about to prevent the enemy from taking cover behind anything.
- In the Action Prologue of Resident Evil: Retribution, our heroine hits an Umbrella tilt-rotor gunship with Guns Akimbo Sawn Off Shotgun pistols, while the twin bullet streams from the gunship spark off the deck on either side of her.
- Robot Jox does the parallel lines version with giant robots .
- Lions For Lambs deserves a mention as an aversion. The battle scenes feature some strafing runs by A-10s, but instead of neat ordered lines of puffs, the result, from the point of view of those on the ground, is of several large grouped explosions, approximating very well the power of a 30mm shell and the disordered pattern in which the shells hit the ground in reality.
- In Star Wars The Force Awakens the Resistance make strafing runs against the First Order's ground forces attacking Maz's castle. Poe Dameron is skilled enough to take out individual Stormtroopers with pinpoint accuracy, and leaving the good guys unscathed.
- In Derek Robinson's WW2 black comedy, A Piece of Cake, an RAF pilot spots a German aircraft methodically strafing a road choked with French refugees. The effects of the Me110's cannon shells are graphically described. The RAF plane descends to ground level and tries to shoot down the German. it doesn't help that the British pilot is in an unfamiliar American plane, and he discovers he has to angle his guns downwards so as to hit the German. As the German plane is right above a road choked with people, the British pilot's over-shooting adds to the civilian casualties... the unlucky French are being strafed by two aircraft simultaneously.
- Airwolf uses this trope, occasionally in bizarre situations such as when the eponymous helicopter is actually sitting on the ground. Apparently they still have to start out with a dramatic grass trimming and waste of ammunition before proceeding to pulverize their target.
- The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Shore Leave". While on a planet where anything you think of becomes real, a crewman thinks about a fighter plane on a strafing run, and one appears.
- Happens with ornithopters in intro to Chidren Of Dune.
- MacGyver, in a sequence from the episode "The Golden Triangle" that also appeared in the title sequence.
- In the premiere of UFO, the motor convoy carrying General Henderson and Commander Straker is attacked by a Flying Saucer which stafes the nature strips on either side of the road; somehow this crashes their car. The saucer's distinctive high-pitched whine substitutes for the Stuka dive-bombing sound.
- Happens frequently in Stargate SG-1, often as the team race for the gate pursued by Death Gliders. Laying down fire ahead of the fleeing team would seem more sensible. Occasionally the Gliders manage to hit someone unimportant (as in "Summit"). The Gliders don't appear to have any targeting systems, so all shots are eyeballed.
- Played with in Battletech, where a strafing run has the capacity to damage everything, foe and friend, that's in the path of a strafing run. Coupled with a fairly high to-hit modifier, it may well be that nothing or everything gets tagged.
- Two instances at Disney's Hollywood Studios:
- During the Indiana Jones stunt show's recreation of the Cairo marketplace fight and truck destruction of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy shoots a thug on a rooftop, allowing him to fall from his perch, and takes his MP-40 to blow up the oncoming truck. As the trope suggests, the bullet hits travel up the ground toward the truck, suggesting that Indy started his gunfire at the ground a few feet in front of him.
- The "Harbor Attack" sequence that begins the Backlot Tour features a trio of guests chosen to stand on a mockup of a PT boat and look terrified (often failing miserably) as a series of Japanese dive bombers bomb and strafe them, the bullet hits represented by air cannons in the water and bombs and torpedoes from large water cannons. The two machine gun sequences are represented by two rows of air cannons indicating bullets hitting in parallel lines from one end of the boat to the other, doing little more than getting the extras slightly damp.
- Soviet Yak fighters in Command & Conquer: Red Alert attacked like this. Players eventually learned to just target a spot right behind the target, so the Yak did more damage while "walking" its shots at it. Against massed infantry, though, the nickname "Infantry Eraser" is well earned, and it also chews up buildings and light vehicles with ease.
- Command & Conquer: Generals has the USA Warthogs their gatling guns at a targeted location, and firing missiles once their close enough.
- The Jonny Quest TOS episode, "Calcutta Adventure". An enemy Mook makes multiple strafing runs against the Quests, who are riding in a vehicle at the time.
- Spoofed in The Simpsons episode "Fear of Flying", where Marge remembers all the incidents that made her hate flying; one memory consists of her mother showing her a cornfield, followed by them getting strafed by a random airplane a'la North By Northwest.
- Actual footage of WWII strafing attacks: