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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.

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.
    • 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 Genre Savvy characters abandon vehicles and throw themselves in a ditch or into foliage alongside the road.
    • Less Genre Savvy 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.

(Undoubtedly, one reason movies portrayed strafing unrealistically was because it was easier. Set off a couple of lines of small charges in the sand running toward the target. Simple and straightforward. The audience cannot fail to get the point. Also, some of this is Truth in Television, as 'walking' shots up to the target helps to ensure you actually get a hit.)

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. 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 approaches 100%.

Sister Trope to Hollywood Tactics.

Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • In Sora No Woto, 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.

Film
  • The Ur Example might be the two Luftwaffe fighters strafing the beaches of Normandy in The Longest Day. Like most scenes in the movie, this was something that actually happened, when all both planes that could be scrambled against the invasion flew the entire length of Omaha Beach, emptying their magazines in one long trigger-pull, before quickly escaping before they could be pounced by the considerable Allied aircraft and warships in the area. The scene and the history that inspired it are probably, by some lineage, where most imagery of Hollywood Strafing comes from.
  • North by Northwest may be the Trope Maker here. Even better, 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.
    • This might be Fridge Brilliance on the part of Tim Burton. Batman hates killing. The machine guns on the Batplane are probably meant to scare not kill and thus are wrongly sighted which the Joker probably anticipated.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Live-Action TV
  • 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.

Theme Parks
  • 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.

Video Games
  • 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.

Web Original

Western Animation
  • 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.

Real Life


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