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Surprise Vehicle

The gang is standing on a cliff's edge when they are startled by a helicopter which rises, roaring, into view... and yet that roaring helicopter somehow didn't make any noise until they saw it.

This is useful in a work to create some surprise wide-scale terror/action/heroics.

This is not restricted to helicopters: any roaring vehicle that should have made noise before appearing is a Surprise Vehicle.

It doesn't count if the audience hears the vehicle, but the character is too deep in thought or wearing headphones.

In Real Life, combat aircraft do something similar to this, though at much longer ranges, typically using the terrain for cover. However, this trope is mostly about something that is, in Real Life, very loud and very close, but the character doesn't hear it until it is seen.

Often a case of Gunship Rescue.

See also See No Evil, Hear No Evil; Silent Running Mode; Stealth Hi/Bye; Rule of Perception; and Look Both Ways.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 1st Gig, first episode ("Section-9"). After the Major captures a terrorist on top of a building, a helicopter carrying Batou rises up from below the edge of the building.
  • Happens frequently on Najica Blitz Tactics, thanks to Najica's ever-so-handy remote-controlled helicopter gunship. Might be partially justified by it being a low-noise Stealth Chopper specifically designed for the kind of secret missions she engages in, but still...
  • Mahou Sensei Negima! does this with the reveal of Haruna's airship, which provides a way for Negi to get to Nodoka in time to save her from a group of bounty hunters.
    • Repeated with the same vehicle during the Governor's Ball.
  • In the first episode of Hanaukyō Maid Tai La Verite, a helicopter appears right next to the two main characters with no noise warning of its approach.
  • Pokémon Diamond and Pearl: Galactic Battles episode "Unlocking the Red Chain of Events!" When Ash, Dawn, and Brock confront Galactic Admin Jupiter, she escapes via a helicopter which appeared from below the side of a building without having made any noise beforehand.

    Comic Books 

    Film 
  • Blue Thunder. The title helicopter appears from below the side of a bridge to save a woman being (unjustly) pursued by the police. Watch it here. The helicopter actually had a "whisper" mode that could be turned on to make it quieter than normal. Apparently, it was not a good idea to use it all the time. It most likely reduced the performance in exchange for sound reduction.
  • Undercover Brother. As the title character is fighting Mr. Feather, The Man's helicopter rises up from behind a wall.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. On the planet where "God" was imprisoned, the Klingon Bird-of-Prey rose up over a hill to rescue Kirk.
  • Aliens. When Ripley and Newt are about to be attacked by the Alien Queen in the atmosphere processing plant, the dropship rises up from below the edge of the platform they're on - partially due to the explosions all around them.
  • No Country for Old Men: The speeding car at the end that severely wounds Anton Chigurh at the end isn't heard until it crashes into Chigurh's car.
  • Thelma & Louise had a helicopter rising up over a cliff.
  • Charlie's Angels had a helicopter rising up over a castle.
  • The Humongous Mecha from Terminator Salvation that was able to sneak up on people despite its earthquaking footsteps and the deafening Scare Chord noises that its gears made every time it moved.
  • In True Lies, Arnold's character manages to pull off a Surprise Harrier Jet.
  • Narrow Margin. Roger Ebert tore this movie a new one over this trope.
  • In Avatar a humunguos tree-dozer SUDDENLY appears in the middle of the forest and starts wreaking terrible chaos and destruction all around it.
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Dex suddenly appears in one of Totenkopf's hoversleds to save the heroes from pursuing robots.
  • Buckaroo Banzai. When Buckaroo is about to be run over by a truck, a ladder suddenly appears swinging from the sky. Buckaroo grabs hold and is lifted away by a Blue Blaze Irregular helicopter.
  • In Back To The Future Part II, Marty's Suicidal Gotcha is aided by Doc's flying DeLorean.
  • The Spy Who Loved Me. Stromberg's attack helicopter appears from behind a low wall at the edge of a cliff with no warning. Watch it here.
  • The first Final Destination has the stealth bus to end all stealth buses.
  • Timerider The Adventure Of Lyle Swann. Lyle Swann is trapped against the edge of a cliff with the bad guys closing in. A helicopter suddenly rises up from below the cliff edge, scaring the fertilizer out of his pursuers.
  • This happens in the final scene of The Mist. The main character is saved by the U.S Military but he never heard the rolling of the tanks which are rather hard to miss as they make plenty of noise as they shake the Earth as they move about. A fog shouldn't effect the clarity of sound, only sight.
  • Toy Soldiers: Two mooks fail to notice a lurking attack helicopter within a few feet of them until it rises up to the same level as them.
  • In the Even Stevens Movie, this stunt was pulled by Louis in order to fool the television producer of the reality show they were on. Louis ended up rising up on a helicopter, that was hosted by a rival television reality show.
  • In the Leslie Nielsen film Spy Hard, the main character escapes by jumping off a roof, only to appear again in a Harrier jump-jet.
  • The President's Analyst - happens exactly as described as Russian agent Kropotkin, waiting at a roadside, is surprised by a helicopter rising from a valley just off the corridor. Luckily it's his American agent friend who he had arranged to meet.
  • In World War Z, a family is in the middle of a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam and being admonished by a police officer to stay in their vehicle when a garbage truck runs the police officer down, overturning cars as it goes. Despite the fact that it must have been pretty noisy in knocking over cars to get to the police officer in the first place, our first sight of the truck is when it actually hits the police officer.
  • Act of Valor. A terrorist financier is shown on his yacht in the middle of the ocean on a completely fine day, with guards keeping watch. Somehow no-one notices the US Navy surface vessels until they're right on top of them.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The "searchlight-bearing helicopter at night mistaken for a UFO" scene that would be copied by later TV shows. In fairness the helicopters first appear from over the horizon, so it's plausible the distinctive sound of their rotor blades might not be heard at that distance. Played straight with the UN Taskforce in the Gobi Desert when three range rovers and two helicopters leap over a sand dune.

    Literature 
  • The Dresden Files has a few:
    • Gard repeatedly gets these from the cockpit of highly illegal military helicopters. Including once to the tune of We Will Rock You.
    • Molly veiled a boat. A whole boat. The sound, the light, the water displacement, the smell. Everything. Over water. Without shorting out any of the boat's electronics. The kid lives and breathes stealthy magic.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Cameron steps out onto the street when SMACK. She gets hit by a car and her head goes through the windshield and she tells the people inside to remain calm.
  • Airwolf did this on more than one occasion, albeit justified by the eponymous helicopter having a Silent Running Mode to mask its noise.
  • Serenity did this in the Firefly episode "The Train Job".
  • In the season 3 episode "Not in Portland" of LOST, Juliet's husband is hit by a very quiet bus.
  • In NCIS, Gibs and DiNozzo are out in the desert with the local sheriff, when a helicopter simply arrives over them with no hint of sound. Fortunately, McGee was tracking it by satellite and gave them warning. Gibbs shoots it down.
  • All those times a helicopter is mistaken for a UFO, despite having a distinctive sound. Examples appear in Dark Skies, Airwolf, and The X-Files (which managed to avoid the cliche for several seasons until the episode where Agent Dogget first appears).
  • Fact Or Faked Paranormal Files once showed how improbable this trope is in reality when a UFO video was speculated to actually be a helicopter with a light rig attached to it, but when they tested this themselves they quickly realized that at the highest altitude the chopper could go with the rig still visible they could still clearly hear it from the ground, with the noise level exceeding 100dB, which would have been picked up by the camera in addition to the ambient noise (people talking and such) that it did pick up, and no one on the ground would have mistaken it for anything but a helicopter as a result. Later tests showed that the rig had mostly likely been attached to a silent weather balloon.

    Video Games 
  • The Felreaver patrolling Hellfire Peninsula in World of Warcraft. It's a 50-foot tall demonic robot that shakes the ground with its footsteps and makes a sound not unlike a locomotive from hell, yet it still manages to suprise (and crush) unwary players who weren't paying attention to their surroundings. The game also has the dreaded Suprise Devilsaurs, which are even worse because they are actually quite sneaky (as sneaky as a T-rex can be).
    • And then a classic Good Bad Bug made the Fel Reavers into normal-size bears. Which still shook the ground with their footsteps and made the locomotive from hell sounds. So, screaming stealth bears.
    • Then there's the picture-perfect example of this trope in the Halls of Reflection dungeon, as you're running from the Lich King, just as you reach a cliff, your faction's flying base apears out of nowhere. These are the size of Naval battleships, and one of them is carried in the air by two separate zeppelin balloons.
  • The undermentioned stealth helicopter serves the protagonist of Deus Ex as a personal transport.
  • This happened in Final Fantasy VII with a giant airship that comes out of nowhere.
  • Used a couple times in Half-Life 2. The first time, a Combine Hunter-Chopper suddenly pops up from behind a flood control gate to continue hounding Gordon through the Canals. The other time happens later when a Strider suddenly jumps out of a large crater in the ground.
  • In Resident Evil 4, Ada makes her final exit this way, leaping off a cliff and then appearing inside a helicopter that rises up from out of sight.
  • Cyclonus makes his appearance like this in Transformers Prelude To Energon.
  • Averted in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando when Ratchet asks if Clank hears something before the Thugs-4-Less Leader reappears in a helicopter.
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl. In a confrontation, Mario chases Bowser to a ledge, down which Bowser falls. After a tense pause of about a second, Bowser taunts Mario from the safety of his loud flying clown copter, which was apparently waiting below the whole time.
  • In Trauma Team, Gabriel Cunningham pulls this when confronted by Ian Holden late in the game, by stepping back off the roof of the hospital and grabbing onto a helicopter's ladder. How he wasn't sliced to ribbons by the propeller is anyone's guess.

    Web Original 
  • Most videos of people getting hit by trains, but especially this fake video of a girl walking in front of an oncoming train. Note that not only is the roaring train too quiet for anyone to hear, but it's apparently traveling without any lights on until the last second... and apparently not traveling on train tracks.
    • As parodied in Cirno's Perfect Math Class here.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing Spiez episode "Operation Spy-Sitter" had a WOOHP helicopter appear outside the window of the kids' house.
  • The Mighty Ducks animated movie had bored Tag Along Kid Nosedive come to the rest of the ducks rescue when they thought he'd stolen there only means of escape and left them stranded.
  • Up has a scene right when Carl and Russel are just about to release Kevin into her natural habitat, and the Zeppelin ominously, silently rises up behind them, and only after it's snuck up did they see the floodlights and hear the roaring engines as the airship hovered to a stop.

    Real Life 
  • Many helicopters, perhaps most famously the UH-1, are so loud that you know there is a helicopter nearby, but due to echoes, etc. it is sometimes difficult to know where it is unless you see it.
  • Rumor has it that the U.S. military was working on a stealth helicopter that would not only have a low radar cross section, but could also hide quietly behind terrain for minutes or maybe hours at a time, then pop up to fire antitank missiles when needed.
    • A popular urban legend/conspiracy theory is that the sinister Men in Black government agencies behind all the conspiracies have silent black helicopters that allow them to conduct operations without being observed.
  • Zeppelins in World War One were equipped with mufflers to silence their approach as they stalked in the nighttime clouds over their targets. In order to navigate in the clouds at night, they had a "cloud car" tethered to a half-mile-long cable in which an observer surveyed the land below and communicated using a telephone.
  • This is a favorite trick in Blue Angel airshows. There are six Blue Angel fighters (all twelve-ton F/A-18s) aloft for the show, crossing in front of the stage in alternating directions. They get you nice and used to that, looking alternately to the left and right to spot the approaching aircraft as they approach in singles, pairs, and quads. Then a four-plane formation passes. Then you're told to look in one direction for a single approach. You do-VOOOM! The missing plane blasts overhead from the OTHER direction and hits its burners for giggles. Even though the plane is invariably a hundred feet up, half the 6-foot-tall humans reflexively duck.
    • The Thunderbirds, the Air Force's F-16 flying team, does a similar stunt, going so far as to explain it as a relatively common tactic in air-to-ground operations. If the anti-aircraft gunners are looking the wrong way, it's much harder for them to shoot you.
  • Truth in Television where jet fighters in general are concerned (as anyone who's been to an airshow anywhere in the world will tell you) as the things are moving so fast you generally don't hear them until after they've past overhead. This is only if the fighter in question is moving at trans- or super-sonic speeds, in which case you will not hear the noise until the plane is past, when you will hear a sonic boom.
    • Even at subsonic speeds, you are still dealing with an aircraft traveling at hundreds of miles per hour. If they are using terrain-following tactics, or if the visibility is low, you will usually be surprised when they finally appear, regardless of if you could hear them or not. The way the sound of the jet engine bounces off of every available vertical surface (buildings, terrain, etc.) add to the difficulty in figuring out where they will appear.
    • The plane is a hundred feet above you so it will take about a tenth a second for the sound to reach you, giving the plane time to travel from dozens of feet away from directly overhead to directly overhead.
    • Some attack aircraft are designed with relative silence in mind. The American A-10 Warthog uses high-bypass turbofans (think of the big engines typical of airliners) rather than the low-bypass turbofans favored by most other combat aircraft because they trade raw power note  for reduced noise. Flying at low speed and low altitude towards a target, these planes have been known to induce puckering-level amounts of fear and surprise even in the troops that called them in. The first indication that the troops usually have of the aircraft's attack is the target suddenly being blown to pieces, followed by the hellish buzzing of the rounds from the cannon, and THEN the sound of the Warthog itself.
  • In the Sixties the CIA realised they needed a stealth helicopter for infiltrating countries like North Korea. Although realising a completely silent helicopter was impractical, they took a standard Huey and worked on reducing the noise signature of each component — modifications included replacing analogue components with early electronics and adding an extra rotorblade. Eventually they came up with an aircraft that when flown at a particular speed, along with nap-of-the-earth flying, was unlikely to be detected unless you were specifically listening for it.
    • The Army purposefully built a stealth helicopter for reconnaissance in the early 2000s, but the project was scrapped before being put into production.
  • An all female fighter planet unit, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, also known as the Night Witches or Nachthexen in German, used this trope to their advantage for the purposes of psychological warfare during World War II against the Nazis. At night using old biplanes the women would climb to as high an altitude as they could, cut the engine and then silently glide down until they were right above the German lines, at which point they would release their bombs and any Germans on the ground promptly found themselves in need of new trousers, with the worst part for them being that they could usually hear the planes going up but after the engines were cut had no idea when or where the bombs would actually hit until they already had.


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