F-16 Viper on celluloid — The story of the Iron Eagle series

F-16 Viper on celluloid — The story of the Iron Eagle series

By Dario Leone
Jun 25 2023
Sponsored by: Mortons Books
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The F-16 and the Iron Eagle series

While Top Gun showed off the F-14 Tomcat to its advantage, the F-16 Fighting Falcon had the very questionable Iron Eagle series to show off the machine’s agility to cinema goers.

As told by Bertie Simmonds in his book F-16 Fighting Falcon, the 1986 first film saw Doug Masters (Jason Gedrick) rescue his father Colonel Ted Masters (Tim Thomerson) from the heart of an evil stereotypical Middle Eastern regime after Masters Senior had been shot down. What follows is a laughable plot where Doug and his teenage friends manage to get intelligence on the prison where they are holding his father in the fictional Arab state of Bilya and manage to get two fuelled-up and bombed-up F-16s ready for Doug and Colonel Charles ‘Chappy’ Sinclair (Louis Gossett Junior) to stage the rescue attempt.

Irone Eagle Movie

In the film the snarling bad guy Colonel Akir Nakesh is played by British actor David Suchet, who also is the main opponent in the dogfight at the end, where his ‘MiG-23’ is destroyed by Masters and the whole thing ends happily.

While the kiln is a bandwagon exercise following from the much more polished Top Gun, it does have its moments. Writer/director Sidney J Fury was forced to turn to the Israeli Air Force to help make the film when the USAF refused. This means that the action scenes feature some very cool aerial footage by Jim Gavin (of Blue Thunder fame) of Vipers tangling with`MiG-23s’ played by IAI Kfirs.

Here are some highlights of Iron Eagle II movie, the largest aviation film produced in Israel

Iron Eagle II

In the second film, imaginatively titled ‘Iron Eagle II’ Doug Masters is shot down in the opening sequence by Russian `MiG-29s’ after straying into prohibited airspace. The plot that follows is a mix land/air force action involving Russians and Americans attacking a rogue state’s nuclear facility. In traditional fashion, what starts as a mission which could never succeed thanks to the warring, over competitive nature between the two nations’ pilots and soldiers is transformed by the end of the film as we see both groups working together to get the job done. In the second 1988 film, the MiGs were played by the IAF’s F-4E Phantom II Kurnass aircraft from 69 Squadron (complete with blacked-out rear cockpits) so — again — there is some good air-to-air film of these two great aircraft in action together and in battle with the ‘bad guys’ played once more by IAI Kfirs.

Like the first film, Iron Eagle II was filmed on location in Israel at various locations including at the Israeli Air Force base near Haifa and various desert locations and mountainous areas where much of the final, exciting air-to-air sequences were shot. IAF Pilots were used throughout filming and they were always on alert during filming in case of any threats from their Arab neighbours.

Shaw F-16C print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET  YOURS.  F-16CM Fighting Falcon 20th Fighter Wing, 77th Fighter Squadron “Gamblers”, SW/94-0044 – Shaw AFB, SC

Further sequels

Aces: Iron Eagle III followed, but this saw `Chappie’ James in a travelling mock air-combat warbird show and was dire to say the least. The formula went even more crazy with the final instalment Iron Eagle IV — On the Attack, where Doug Masters returns (he’d been lazing in a Soviet prison camp, it seems) and is enlisted to help Chappie turn a bunch of idle kids into pilots when they stumble on a chemical warfare plant. Again F-16s are used (this time in combat with T-6 Harvards flown by teenagers of all things) but the series really by this time had lacked what made the original a modest success.

F-16 Fighting Falcon is published by Mortons Books and is available to order here.

Photo credit: screenshot from the movies

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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