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Film / Fire Birds

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A 1990 movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Nicolas Cage as United States Army Air Cavalry helicopter pilots. The U.S. Army and the DEA are assisting government officials in Central America in fighting the increasingly militant drug cartels, but are unexpectedly outgunned by a mercenary pilot Eric Stoller, and his Scorpion attack helicopter. Captain Jake Preston (Cage), one of the few survivors of an aerial ambush in the beginning of the movie, must train hard to prepare for a new mission to hunt down and eliminate Eric Stoller.

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Ace Pilot: Several, although when the movie begins, Eric Stoller is the only one to get any air-to-air kills.
    • Preston is a very skilled pilot, with even the hardened teacher CWO Little singing his praises. However, he lacks experience in the Apache helicopter, and his cocksure attitude does him no favors in overcoming his difficulties with the airframe or in trying to rekindle his relationship with Guthrie.
  • And This Is for...: Preston, after shooting down Stoller.
    That was for Dobbs.
  • Anti-Air: A Stinger missile launcher figures in the film's climax.
  • Artistic License Military: Guthrie and Preston had a past romantic (or at least sexual) relationship and start a new one despite being part of the same training cadre and assigned to the same task force. Preston's conduct towards her alone would probably get him reassigned, especially considering the fight he starts over her early in the film.
  • Badass Boast: Preston to Chief Warrant Officer Little before their head-to-head match at the end of his training.
    Just so you know, I will be kicking your ass today!
    • Note that this is actually a pretty modest boast for Preston, being how he acts after his Break the Haughty experience. Before that was the notorious I AM THE GREATEST! rant in the flight simulator.
  • Badass in Distress: Little is shot down and badly injured.
    • Guthrie counts as well, as each time she finds herself in mortal peril, it is either because of her role as a Scout pilot (flying ahead of the gunships to spot targets for them) or because she landed to help another crew that had gone down. Her bonafides as a skilled pilot are established early on,
  • Blind Driving: When Preston has trouble flying using the monocle display, Little's solution is to have him try to drive a Jeep with a toy periscope (and a pair of bright red panties) covering hia eyes. While he can see through the periscope, his field of view is so narrow that he requires constant guidance from Little to avoid crashing.
  • Bond One-Liner: Guthrie, after shooting down a Cartel fighter jet with a Stinger missile.
    Snort that, Sucker!
    • Played With by Little, after Preston crashes in the flight simulator.
    Try to make-believe we just notified your Next of Kin.
  • Calling Your Attacks: "I'M GONNA KILL HIM NOW!"
  • The Cartel: The Bisante Cartel are a very militant drug cartel, complete with a pair of fighter jets and a mercenary pilot in an attack chopper.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Preston during the flight simulator sequence, which he appears to be incapable of taking seriously.
  • Cool Plane: The movie stars the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, and also features AH-1 Cobrasnote , UH-60 Blackhawksnote , and OH-58 Kiowasnote . The bad guys fly in SAAB Draken jet fightersnote .
  • Crooks Are Better Armed: The reason why the Apaches are necessary is because The Cartel (or at least the one that is the Big Bad of the film) have spent a lot of money getting military-grade firepower to the point that if the DEA doesn't have aerial superiority on their side, their raiding teams can consider themselves to be utterly screwed.
  • Damsel in Distress: Guthrie very briefly during the film's climax; justified in that she is piloting an unarmed scout chopper and is discovered by Stoller while reconning the enemy's base. She leads him to Jake, who forces Stoller to disengage.
  • Death Glare: Stoller in his file photo. Commented on by Little.
    Charming, isn't he?
  • Description Porn: Tommy Lee Jones delivers pretty much any time his character says anything having to do with his job, and most especially while discussing the AH-64 Apache and while giving Guthrie a last-minute briefing on how to assemble and utilize the FIM-92 Stinger Surface To Air Missile launcher.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Preston gets called out for this during a mission briefing:
    Preston, get your head out of your pants!
  • Dodge by Braking: Stohler is chasing Preston and Breaker through a canyon, and Preston brings his Apache to a halt, dropping down behind a ridge while Stohler overflies and ends up right in Preston's gunsights. Foreshadowed by Little's lecture about how a helicopter can move in a variety of ways impossible for fixed-wing aircraft in order to get the angle they need on an enemy.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Most of the interactions between Preston and Billy Lee Guthrie are pretty much about sex, especially when they are actually discussing helicopter tactics.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Eric Stoller is a mercenary helicopter pilot hired by the Cartels to protect their interests. He does not run the Cartels, and it is never indicated throughout the film that he is anything other than a cunning mercenary. Just the same, given that the primary mission of the heroes is to get rid of him so the DEA can go after the Big Bads, he is given the primary focus as the bad guy, and in fact is the only bad guy to appear in the film, aside from some wide-angle shots from a scout chopper's camera, and a pair of fighter jets.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Billie Guthrie driving Jake's Corvette. Jake driving a jeep with panties and a periscope on his head.
  • Every Helicopter Is a Huey: Utterly averted, though it is worth noting that the AH-1 Cobras seen in the intro are in fact a cousin of the Huey, being originally based on the UH-1.
    • A Huey DOES appear near the end of the film at the cartel's camp, albeit for about 2 seconds.
  • Expy: Jake is essentially Maverick, being the Hot-Blooded pilot in training and his late partner Dobbs as his Goose, Brad Little is Viper, as The Mentor to Jake, and Guthrie is Charlie, the Love Interest.
  • Falling into the Cockpit: Inverted Trope. Guthrie ends up having to very quickly learn how to be an Anti-Air trooper when attacked by an enemy fighter jet after landing to help Little, who had just crashed..
  • A Father to His Men: Brad Little, who not only trains the men who will go on the mission, but insists on personally leading them as well, despite protests from the higher-ups that his expertise makes him more valuable as an instructor than as a front line troop.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: The Americans' camp is hit by a surprise attack during the film's climax, leading to the pilots scrambling to get into the air.
  • Foreshadowing: Little mentions to Preston that they could crash an Apache at 20 G's and survive, but he is not going to prove it to him. Little is shot down during the final battle, and Guthrie ends up coming to his aid. Little survives, but he is pretty banged up and his gunner is killed.
  • Gatling Good: The Cobra helicopter Preston flies at the start of the film has two Miniguns mounted in the nose. They don't do him much good, however.
  • Gilligan Cut: At the end of a class, Little tells his students to enjoy their weekend, and to stay out of trouble. The film immediately cuts to a close-up of a dancing woman's backside at a night club.
  • Gunship Rescue: Jake comes to the rescue when Billie is being chased by Stoller, warding him off by spraying 30mm cannon rounds at him. Stoller escapes before Jake can kill him, at least temporarily.
  • Guy in Back: Breaker. Actually, he's the Guy In Front, due to the way the Apache's seating arrangement is set up to give the gunner maximum visibility to lay in his weapons. The pilot sits in an elevated position looking over the top of the gunner's head.
  • Handicapped Badass: For a certain value of handicapped. Jake Preston is discovered to suffer from an eye dominance problem, which makes it very difficult for him to use the Apache's monocle-based targeting system, since he's left-eyed dominant and the monocle is mounted on the right side of the helmet. Little helps him overcome this by strapping a pair of panties onto Jake's head. Little's wife mentions that Little himself had the same problem at one point.
  • Happily Married: Little and his wife.
  • Hollywood Tactics: The Kiowa Scout and the Apache gunship's capabilities are both downplayed in this film, especially as the Apache's Hellfire guided missiles never come into play. One party trick that the two airframes could perform was for the Kiowa to "paint" a target with a laser on the periscope, and for the Apache to lob a Hellfire in from behind another piece of cover some distance away, letting the missile catch the targeting laser on the way to home in on, without either helicopter needing to fully expose themselves.
  • Imposed Handicap Training: Nicholas Cage's character (who's been assigned to train to fly the new-fangled Apache combat helicopters) is unable to fly straight because he has cross-dominant eyesight (he's right-handed but he aims with his left) and the Apache's HUD monocle is designed to be placed above the right eye. The solution by the main instructor: blindfold Cage's character and tie a periscope around his right eye (with panties) and have him drive a Jeep around the base so he'll get used to it.
  • Insult Backfire: Breaker sets Preston up for one when he notices Guthrie at the bar before Preston does.
    Breaker: What kind of women do you think come here?
    Preston: I don't know. Scandalous women. The kind that you like, Breaker.
    Breaker: You, too, Jake... because there's Billie.
  • Just Plane Wrong: A minor one, but both air-to-air kills in the movie are done with the unguided 70-mm Hydra rocket pods that would be used for ground attack, rather than the Stinger missiles each Apache is carrying that are designed for that kind of combat (and ironically Guthrie reassembles one as a MANPAD to shoot down one of Stoller's Saab 35 Draken fighters).
  • It's Personal
    That was for Dobbs.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: Most of the conflict is with Eric Stoller, who works for the Bisante Cartel but is the most dangerous member of them. In addition, he is also the only villain to appear in the movie.
  • Large Ham: Both of the main characters, but especially Nick Cage as Jake Preston.
  • Loved I Not Honor More: Little is Happily Married, with several kids. He notes that with his expertise in helicopters, he could have made his family quite a bit of money in the private sector. His wife points out that he's a patriot, not a businessman, implying that it's part of what she loves about him.
  • Market-Based Title: It was known as Wings Of the Apache in many overseas releases.
  • Meaningful Echo: Jake and Billie arguing over who will drive. Billie wins the argument every time.
  • Old Soldier: Little, an experienced helicopter pilot tasked with training younger pilots in helicopter combat tactics. While he is far more experienced than the younger pilots, he is also finding his age to be catching up with him.
    • One scene has him out for an early morning jog on the flightline, when another pilot jogs past him with a "Morning, Sir!" Followed soon after by another. And another. And at least one soldier who passes him is jogging backwards.
    • Another scene has Little and Preston facing off in a friendly boxing match. While Little was a champion boxer in college, that was two decades previous, and Preston makes up for a lack of experience with the ability to hit like a two by four, laying Little out hard enough that he's still walking it off the next day.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Preston, after he dupes Stoller into over-flying him...
    " blew it"
  • Private Military Contractor: Stoller is stated to be a mercenary; we never get any indication if he has any stake at all in the drug wars other than money.
    • A briefing between the higher-ups clearly states that Stoller "sells his expertise to the highest bidder", and in Little's briefing to Preston's squadron, he says "He (Stoller) kills people for money, and now someone has paid him to kill you."
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The soundtrack includes snippets of "Mars" by Gustav Holst during the final battle.
  • Recycled In Space: It's Top Gun IN ARMY HELICOPTERS! One of the primary complaints about the film, in fact.
  • Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure: The Draken that starts strafing Little's downed chopper (and Guthrie) makes a few cannon runs and seems determined to hit the area just to the left of the Apache.
  • The Squadette: Guthrie.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Jake snarls the line rather than shouting it. Which would make sense, given that Stoller wouldn't be able to hear him anyways.
    "You're not touching her, you filthy piece of shit...."
  • Weapons Understudies: The Scorpion Attack Helicopter that The Dragon flies is in fact an American-made McDonnell Douglas MD-500 Defender.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The film absolutely refuses to identify which country the drug cartel is operating in, only stating they're in "South America". note  Though given the film's time period it's most likely Colombia.
    • The Catamarca Desert, mentioned briefly in the captions when the Apaches deploy to their staging base, is in Argentina of all places.

Alternative Title(s): Wings Of The Apache