“It was the perfect opportunity to give VF-84 one last moment in the spotlight. Overall, the experience was very positive. I hope this movie will help people remember the Jolly Rogers,” VF-84 F-14 pilot Lieutenant Eric Mitchell
A Boeing 747 loaded with passengers is suddenly hijacked by terrorists demanding the release of their imprisoned comrades. If their demands are not met, they threaten to kill the passengers and attack Washington, D.C.
The president faces an Executive Decision: concede to the terrorist demands or intercept the 747 and shoot it down, killing all aboard.
This is a brief glimpse of the Warner Brothers blockbuster movie released in March starring Kurt Russell and Steven Segal.
What, you ask, does this movie have to do with the Navy? Well, the movie mirrors the real world in that the first question the nation’s leaders asked was: “Where is the nearest aircraft carrier?” The Navy’s newest carrier, John C. Stennis (CVN 74), was nearby. The aircraft that intercepted the hijacked jumbo jet were Navy F-14A Tomcats from the since-disestablished Fighter Squadron (VF) 84 Jolly Rogers based at Naval Air Station (NAS), Oceana, Va.
Warner Brothers decided to use the F-14, the Navy’s premier fighter, for the movie and obtained Department of Defense permission to do so, while agreeing to pay all costs associated with use of the aircraft. Stennis was able to take a break during August 1995 workups for the staging of the movie off Key West, Fla.
Once the Department of Defense approved the project, Commander Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet and Commander Fighter Wing, U.S. Atlantic Fleet were tasked with finding an F-14 squadron with time to accommodate a filming schedule.
The Jolly Rogers, with their menacing skull and crossbones insignia, were a perfect choice. VF-84, which appeared in the 1980 movie Final Countdown, was ready for another starring role.
According to Commander Dan Cloyd, VF-84 skipper, the Jolly Rogers were in the “right place at the right time. Our famous logo probably had something to do with it, as well.”
Next came the task of coordinating a shooting schedule between Warner Brothers and its commercial film pilots, VF-84 pilots and NAS Key West tower controllers. The producers of Executive Decision wanted to film during the morning sunrise and evening sunset to take advantage of the “soft lighting.”
Not only was the flying schedule unique, but the flying itself presented some unusual challenges to the pilots and radar intercept officers of VF-84. Flying in formation with three other Tomcats while intercepting a Boeing 747 is not a scenario experienced in flight school. The crews also had to deal with flying in close proximity to a Learjet loaded with film cameras. According to Cloyd, the plot of the movie is fairly realistic, although the filming seemed to be a “hybrid of real life and Hollywood movie magic.” VF-84’s technical input led to changes involving dialogue and flight formations that made the plot more believable.
Working on the movie was “a very unique experience—one I will never forget,” said F-14 pilot Lieutenant Eric Mitchell. “It was the perfect opportunity to give VF-84 one last moment in the spotlight.” (The squadron was disestablished on 1 October 1995, and the Jolly Rogers name and insignia were then transferred to VF-103, also based at Oceana.) “Overall, the experience was very positive. I hope this movie will help people remember the Jolly Rogers,” he said.
Thanks to Hollywood magic, the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier made her motion picture debut, and the legacy of the Jolly Rogers was immortalized forever on the silver screen.
We think the best way to remember VF-84 is watching the aerial sequences featuring Jolly Rogers F-14’s in Executive Decision.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com