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Flight of the Intruder

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Title: Flight of the Intruder  
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Subject: Brad Johnson (actor), Stephen Coonts, List of Grumman A-6 Intruder operators, David Schwimmer, USS Independence (CV-62)
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Flight of the Intruder

Flight of the Intruder
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Milius
Produced by Brian Frankish
Written by Robert Dillon
David Shaber
John Milius (uncredited)
Based on Flight of the Intruder by Stephen Coonts
Starring Danny Glover
Willem Dafoe
Brad Johnson
Rosanna Arquette
Tom Sizemore
Music by Basil Poledouris
Cinematography Fred J. Koenekamp
Edited by Steve Mirkovich
Carroll Timothy O'Meara
Peck Prior
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • January 18, 1991 (1991-01-18)
Running time
115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $35 million
Box office $14,587,732

Flight of the Intruder is a 1991 film directed by John Milius, based on the novel of the same name by former Grumman A-6 Intruder pilot Stephen Coonts. The film stars Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe and Brad Johnson.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Aircraft used 3.1
    • Differences from the novel 3.2
  • Reception 4
    • Box office performance 4.1
    • Critical response 4.2
  • Video game 5
  • References 6
    • Notes 6.1
    • Citations 6.2
    • Bibliography 6.3
  • External links 7


Lieutenant Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton (Brad Johnson) and his bombardier/navigator and best friend Lieutenant Morgan "Morg" McPhearson (

Lieutenant Commander Virgil Cole (Willem Dafoe) arrives on board and reports to Camparelli. Jake, his roommate Sammy Lundeen (Justin Williams), Bob "Boxman" Walkawitz (Tom Sizemore) and "Mad Jack" (Dann Florek) fly into Subic Bay the next day. Jake goes to see Sharon, but she has already departed. He runs into a woman named Callie Troy (Rosanna Arquette), who is packing Sharon's things. After an altercation with civilian merchant sailors in the Tailhook Bar, Jake runs into Callie again. After they spend the night together, she reveals her husband was a pilot himself and was killed on a solo mission over Vietnam.

Jake returns to the carrier, where Camparelli confronts him regarding the incident. Cole and Jake are paired on "Iron Hand" A-6Bs loaded with Standard and Shrike anti-radiation missiles for SAM suppression. On the mission, they encounter and manage to evade a North Vietnamese MiG-17.

Jake suggests to Cole that they bomb Hanoi, which would be a violation of the restrictive rules of combat and could get them court-martialed. Cole rejects the idea. On the next raid, Boxman hits the suspected target, but is shot down by another SAM and killed. On the TV news, the North Vietnamese in Hanoi gloat over the downing of U.S. aircraft. Cole agrees with Jake's plan to attack Hanoi. They decide to hit "SAM City", a missile depot.

Sent to bomb a power plant in the vicinity of Hanoi, they drop two of their Mark 82 bombs, keeping eight for the missile depot. On their first pass, their armament computer goes out and after barely surviving a SAM detonation, their bombs do not release. They come back around, drop their bombs, and manage to obliterate the missile depot. Upon returning to the carrier Camparelli informs them of their court martial at Subic Bay. During the preliminary hearing, Cole and Grafton are chastised for their actions, and informed that their naval careers will essentially be over.

However, the charges are dropped when Operation Linebacker II is ordered by President Richard M. Nixon, and their unauthorized mission is covered up. The next day, Camparelli grounds them while the rest of the carrier's A-6 and A-7 crews conduct a daylight raid to destroy anti-aircraft emplacements. Camparelli is hit by a ZSU-23-4 Shilka AA tank and crash lands, his bombardier dead. Sammy Lundeen is hit and has to head for the ocean. Razor is ordered by Camparelli to disengage. Jake and Cole fly one more time to assist Camparelli. They destroy the ZSU, but are forced to eject from their heavily damaged aircraft. Jake lands near the crashed Intruder and runs to cover with Camparelli. Separated from Jake, Cole is mortally wounded in a fight with an enemy soldier. On the radio, he lies to Jake, telling him he has already gotten away. Moments later, a pair of U.S. Air Force A-1 Skyraiders (Sandy) appear and provide cover.

Cole instructs the lead Sandy to drop ordnance on the spot he has marked with smoke. He is killed along with a few dozen NVA. Jake and Camparelli retreat into the woods, pursued by a sniper. A "Jolly Green Giant" helicopter picks up the two men, and the Skyraiders make one final napalm run.



Flight of the Intruder was made with complete U.S. Navy cooperation, with eight Naval Air facilities at the disposal of the Paramount production team.[1] The USS Independence (CV-62), provided for two weeks of filming in November 1989 and A-6E Intruders from VA-165 "Boomers" were used. Members of VA-165 spent two weeks on the Independence. The film crew kept the ship's fire party busy with numerous small electrical fires started by their lighting equipment.[2] The Navy had script approval and was reimbursed for costs associated with the film: an estimated $1.2 million.[3]

The ship seen on guard station in the background as Grafton threw Morg's fuzzy dice overboard after his memorial service was the USS William H. Standley (CG-32). Naval Air Station Barbers Point Hawaii hangar 111 HSL-37 and VC-1 hangar housed the A-6 Intruders during filming in Hawaii. The battleship USS Missouri can be seen behind Camparelli during the court martial sequence.

Future U.S. Senator Fred Thompson had a major speaking part during the court-martial sequence, portraying a U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps captain. As a favor to his friend, John Milius, Ed O'Neill was originally cast in the movie in a small uncredited role, but when the film was screened for test audiences, his appearance led to laughter, as audience members associated him with his Married With Children character, Al Bundy. The director recast his character and reshot those scenes.[4]

Milius described the movie as one of the "worst experiences" of his career:

"That was Paramount with the Paramount control, and they tried to control every aspect of it. I'd spent more money than I'd ever spent before, because they told me how much I was going to spend on it. They didn't let me control it. I would have made that movie for at least $5 million less."[5]
[N 1]

Aircraft used

Flight of the Intruder required early variants of the A-6 Intruder, the A-6A conventional bomber and A-6B equipped with specialized electronics and weapons for suppression of enemy air defenses missions. [N 2] All operational A-6s at the time of filming, however, had been updated to the A-6E without the TRAM targeting equipment, or KA-6D standards. The A-6 featured in the crash scene was a detailed mock-up patterned from an actual aircraft but with a foreshortened rear fuselage.[7] The large-scale (1/160) miniature of Hanoi and "Sam City" was recreated to serve as the backdrop for rear projection work.[8]

Other aircraft included a Sikorsky HH-3 "Jolly Green Giant" rescue helicopter in various action sequences, with brief appearances of U.S. Navy aircraft such as the North American RA-5C Vigilante, Vought A-7 Corsair II, Grumman C-2 Greyhound and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, as well as a MiG-17 in North Vietnamese markings. Two privately owned Douglas A-1 Skyraiders also flew in the rescue sequence.[1] [N 3]

Differences from the novel

In the novel, the Intruders operate from the fictional aircraft carrier USS Shiloh, and Grafton and Cole attack the headquarters of the Communist Party in Hanoi. In the novel, Callie had not been previously wed (nor was she a mother). In another departure from the film, Grafton and Cole are shot down during a twilight SAM suppression raid. Major Frank Allen, an A-1 pilot and member of the rescue operation to recover Grafton and Cole, is shot down. Dying and unable to free himself from his aircraft, he calls in a strike on his location, not Cole. The novel ends with Cole and Grafton being rescued.


Box office performance

Flight of the Intruder was originally scheduled as a summer release, but was pulled back to avoid competition with other films.[9] Amidst the outbreak of Operation Desert Storm, the film was released theatrically in the United States on January 18, 1991. It earned $5,725,133 in its first weekend on 1,489 screens. Its final theater gross was just $14,587,732, failing to recoup its $35 million budget.[10]

Critical response

Flight of the Intruder earned mostly negative reviews upon its release, with many reviewers noting inconsistencies in plot and continuity errors in the final edit, as well as the low-budget special effects. Roger Ebert called the film a "mess", noting that "some scenes say one thing, some say another, while the movie develops an absurd and unbelievable ending and a final shot so cloying you want to shout rude suggestions at the screen."[11] It currently holds a 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. After Top Gun (1986) was released, A-6 aircrew would taunt fighter aircrew, noting that "Fighter pilots make movies; Bomber pilots make History!" When 'Flight of the Intruder' was released, the Navy fighter community's response was "Fighter pilots make movies; Bomber pilots make bad movies . . ."

Video game

Flight of the Intruder, a video game based on the original novel, was released for personal computers in 1990 and re-released for the Nintendo Entertainment System around the same time as the film. Developed by Rowan Software, Ltd. and published by Spectrum Holobyte, the game allowed players the choice of flying either the Grumman A-6 Intruder or the F-4 from aircraft carriers against targets in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.



  1. ^ John Milius rewrote the script but was unable to obtain screen credit.[6]
  2. ^ The US Navy called suppression of enemy air defenses "Iron Hand" missions and the US Air Force called them "Wild Weasel" missions.
  3. ^ The Shilka anti-aircraft vehicle seen at the final scenes was not used in the Vietnam War, since its first combat use was during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.


  1. ^ a b Farmer 1990, p. 62.
  2. ^ Farmer 1990, p. 70.
  3. ^ Brass, Kevin. "Intruders Welcome on the Set : Filmmaking: Director John Milius says the Navy, which had full script approval, was more of a help than a hindrance in 'Flight of the Intruder'." LA Times, January 22, 1991. Retrieved: May 1, 2013.
  4. ^ Broeske, Pat H. "Outtakes: No Laughing Matter." LA Times, September 16, 1990. Retrieved: May 2, 2013.
  5. ^ Plume, Ken. "Interview with John Millius." IGN FIlm, May 7, 2003. Retrieved: January 5, 2013.
  6. ^ Segaloff 2006, p. 306.
  7. ^ Farmer 1990, p. 36.
  8. ^ Farmer 1990, p. 66.
  9. ^ Broeske, Pat H. "Flight to Whenever"; Outtakes." Los Angeles Times, July 29, 1990. Retrieved: May 2, 2013.
  10. ^ "'Home Alone' Fends Off Yet Another 'Intruder' : Box Office: Vietnam War film opens to mediocre business as comedy remains on top for 10th week. After four weeks of release, 'Godfather Part III' drops to 12th." Los Angeles Times, January 22, 1991. Retrieved: June 3, 2012.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Review: Flight of the Intruder." Chicago Sun-Times, January 18, 1991. Retrieved: November 1, 2011.


  • Farmer, James H. "Making 'Flight of the Intruder'." Air Classics, Volume 26, No. 8, August 1990.
  • Segaloff, Nat. "John Milius: The Good Fights". McGilligan, Patrick. Backstory 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s. Berkeley, California: University of California, 2006. ISBN 978-0-52024-518-1.

External links

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