Flight of the Intruder

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Flight of the Intruder
Flight of the intruder.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Milius
Produced by Brian Frankish
Written by Robert Dillon
David Shaber
John Milius (uncredited)
Based on the novel by Stephen Coonts
Starring Danny Glover
Willem Dafoe
Brad Johnson
Rosanna Arquette
Tom Sizemore
Cinematography Fred J. Koenekamp
Edited by Steve Mirkovich
Carroll Timothy O'Meara
Peck Prior
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s)
  • 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, which is based on the novel of the same name by A-6 Intruder pilot Stephen Coonts. The film stars Danny Glover as Commander Frank 'Dooke' Camparelli, Willem Dafoe as Lieutenant Commander Virgil 'Tiger' Cole, and Brad Johnson as Lieutenant Jake 'Cool Hand' Grafton.


Lieutenant Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton (Brad Johnson) and his bombardier/navigator (BN) and best friend Lieutenant Morgan "Morg" McPhearson (Christopher Rich) are flying a Grumman A-6 Intruder over the Gulf of Tonkin towards North Vietnam. Morgan navigates their way in while Jake makes comments about him taking his work too seriously. Once calling "feet dry" and passing the coast, they hit their target, a suspected truck park which turns out to be trees. While flying back out over the Gulf of Tonkin, Morgan is shot in the neck by a Vietnamese peasant and Jake declares an emergency. Upon landing on the USS Independence (CV-62), his BN and friend is dead. Disturbed and covered in blood, Jake walks into a debriefing with Commander Frank Camparelli (Danny Glover) and the executive officer, Commander "Cowboy" Parker (J. Kenneth Campbell). After a brief exchange of what he could recall from his flight, Camparelli tells him to put Morgan's death behind him and to write a letter to Morgan's wife, Sharon. A new pilot is then introduced in the ready room—Jack Barlow, who is named "Razor" because of his young appearance. The next morning, a memorial service is held for Morgan, in which the letter Jake wrote to Sharon is narrated.

Lieutenant Commander Virgil Cole (Willem Dafoe) arrives on a C-2 Greyhound, then shortly speaks with Camparelli.

Jake, his room-mate Sammy Lundeen, Bob "Boxman" Walkawitz (Tom Sizemore) and "Mad Jack" (Dann Florek) fly into Subic Bay the next day. After landing, he goes to see Sharon, but she's already departed. He runs into a woman named Callie Troy (Rosanna Arquette), who is packing Sharon's things.

After an altercation with civilian merchant mariners in the Tailhook Bar, Jake runs into Callie again in a café. After spending the night with her, 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 that Cole and he bomb Hanoi, which could get them court martialed. Cole rejects the idea.

On the next mission, Jake and Cole are paired up with Boxman. After hitting their suspected target, Boxman is shot down and killed by another SAM. On the TV news in the ready room, US aircraft debris are flashed in victorious manner by the Vietnamese in Hanoi. Cole agrees with Jake to attack Hanoi. They read through maps and articles and decide on "SAM City", a missile depot.

While on a mission to bomb a power plant in the vicinity of Hanoi, they drop two of their Mark 82 bombs, leaving 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 and release, the missile depot is obliterated. After landing, Camparelli informs them of their court martial at Subic Bay.

The court martial charges are dropped when Operation Linebacker II is ordered by President Richard M. Nixon and their 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 AA gun 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 heavily damaged and forced to eject. Jake lands near the crashed Intruder and runs to cover with Camparelli. Separated from Jake, Cole tries to evade the NVA when he gets into a scuffle with one. He successfully kills him with his bayonet, but is mortally wounded. He comes in radio contact with Jake and lies to him, telling him he has already gotten away. Moments later, a pair of U.S. Air Force A-1 Skyraiders (Sandy) appear and to provide cover. Cole instructs the lead Sandy to drop ordnance on him and pops smoke. He is killed by the Skyraiders along with a few dozen NVA and possibly a ZSU. Jake and Camparelli retreat into the wooded areas away from their aircraft, while being pursued by a sniper. The Jolly Green Giant helicopter sent in to retrieve them drops a jungle penetrating cable. Jake hooks Camparelli on and takes his pistol and hides in a ditch waiting for any snipers to appear. While Camparelli is being pulled to the helicopter, a sniper pops up and Jake jumps out firing his handguns. The penetrator is sent back down and after a suspenseful wait, Jake is hoisted to the helicopter and the Skyraiders conduct one final napalm run.

The film ends with Jake reading a letter from Callie and talking to Camparelli, congratulating him on being selected for promotion to Captain and says he would like to be on that ship. Camparelli replies that he wouldn't have it any other way.


John Milius rewrote the script but was unable to obtain screen credit.[1]

The movie was made with complete Navy co-operation. The Navy had script approval and were reimbursed for their costs associated with the film for an estimated $1.2 million.[2]

Flight of the Intruder was filmed partly on the USS Independence (CV-62). She went out for two weeks of filming in November 1989. The film crew kept the ship's fire party busy with numerous small electrical fires started with their lighting equipment.[citation needed]

A-6E Intruders from VA-165 Boomers were used for the film. Members of the Boomers spent 2 weeks on the Independence, and Paramount rented the carrier at a cost of $1,000,000 a day.[citation needed]

The ship seen on plane guard station in the background as Grafton threw Morg's fuzzy dice overboard after his memorial service was USS William H. Standley (CG-32).

Future US Senator Fred Thompson played a major speaking part during the court-martial sequence of the film, portraying a Captain in the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. Ed O'Neill was originally cast in the movie in a small unbilled role as a favour for friend John Milius, but when the movie was screened for test audiences, they laughed at him, as they all perceived him as his Married With Children character, Al Bundy.[3] The director recast his character and reshot those scenes.

Naval Air Station Barbers Point Hawaii hangar 111 HSL-37 and VC-1 hangar housed the A-6 intruder during filming in Hawaii.

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.[4]

Differences from the novel[edit]

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, 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. The novel ends with Grafton and Cole being rescued. The film instead sees Cole calling in a strike on his location. Grafton survives and is able to rescue his commander, who was not present in the novel, in the process.


Box office performance[edit]

The movie was originally meant to be released in summer but this was pulled back to avoid competition with other summer films.[5] It was released theatrically in the United States on January 18, 1991 (amidst the outbreak of Operation Desert Storm), earning $5,725,133 in its first weekend on 1489 screens. Its final theater gross was just $14,587,732, failing to bring back its $35 million budget.[6]

Critical response[edit]

The film 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."[7] It currently holds a 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. After Top Gun was released A-6 aircrew would taunt fighter aircrew, noting that "fighter guys make movies, attack guys make history." When Flight of the Intruder was released the Navy fighters community's response was "fighter guys make movies, attack guys make bad movies."


The film features U.S. Air Force A-1 Skyraiders and an HH-3 "Jolly Green Giant" rescue helicopter in various action sequences, with brief appearances of Navy aircraft including the A-7 Corsair, C-2 Greyhound and the F-4 Phantom II, as well as a North Vietnamese MiG-17.

Two early variants of the A-6 Intruder, the A-6A and A-6B, are portrayed in the film by A-6E (without the TRAM targeting equipment) as all surviving A-6 variants at the time of filming had been updated to A-6E or KA-6D standards. The A-6A is a conventional bomber and the A-6B carried specialized electronics and weapons for Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses missions (the Navy called this "Iron Hand", the Air Force called it "Wild Weasel".)

The Shilka anti-aircraft vehicle seen at the end was never used during the Vietnam War. Its first combat use was during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Popular music[edit]

The movie features many 1950s and 1960 pop and rock n' roll music. Dafoe and Johnson sing Petula Clark's notable 1964 music hit "Downtown" on their way back from the prohibited bombing run on a Hanoi SAM missile depot exhilarated from their success.

Video game[edit]

Main article, Flight of the Intruder (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 A-6 intruder or the F-4 from aircraft carriers against targets in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Players were challenged both by the comprehensive enemy defenses and the restrictive and complex rules of engagement. Realistic features included unreliable missiles and smokey engines for the Phantom (as in real life, the trail would disappear in afterburner). At lower realism settings, F-4's had missiles and an internal cannon - in contrast to real USN whose F-4's were armed only with missiles.


External links[edit]