James Bond's aircraft: Little Nellie, a Concorde and a 747
You can count on 007 to drive some pretty sweet cars, but he and his enemies also fly high in awesome aircraft.
Kent GermanFormer senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
The 25th James Bond film (and Daniel Craig's last) has all the signature 007 touches -- including a high-tech glider launching Bond into battle. Bond regularly takes to the air, from soaring in a jet pack in Thunderball to floating in zero gravity in Moonraker. Occasionally, he flies in airplanes as well, like normal people -- as long as no-one gets sucked out of the cabin, anyway.
The latest film is an "epic, explosive and emotional swansong," says Richard Trenholm in CNET's No Time to Die review, "that throws everything it has against the wall for a genuinely unique entry in the series." It also includes a starring role for classic and modern cars -- besides being gorgeous to the eye, Bond's Aston Martins and BMWs have saved his life more than once thanks to Q's clever modifications -- but things that fly often play a pivotal role in the plot of the Bond movie you're watching.
Sadly, No Time to Die's folding-wing submersible plane is fictional. So here are some of Bond's most notable aircraft in his nearly 60 years on the big screen.
A big drawback, though, are the peepholes into that lavatory, which let the seemingly friendly attendant spy on you while you change clothes. Introduced in 1961 (three years before the film's release), the L-1328 Jetstar was the first dedicated business jet to enter service. Just be careful during midair gunfights.
But even secret agents fly commercial, and the early Bond flicks showed him trotting the globe in classic Boeing airliners. It starts in Dr. No (1962), when he arrives in Jamaica on a Pan Am 707. The dialogue with the air traffic controller calling New York to tell them the flight has arrived is weird -- I mean, wouldn't NY already know that? -- but hearing the turbojets whine as the plane touches down is a pleasure.
In the franchise's next installment, From Russia With Love (1963), Bond flies down to Istanbul from London in another Pan Am 707. The Turkish controller does the same scene-setting bit, but this time you get the Bond theme playing over the arrival segment while the jets spew black smoke. And then in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, a Lufthansa 707 ferries Bond, Tiffany Case and assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd to Los Angeles. The first widely successful commercial jet, the 707 entered service with Pan Am in 1958 and remained in production for two decades.
Though the 707 shrank the globe considerably, it really took the 747 to usher in the age of mass air travel. And Live and Let Die (1973) has Bond flying transatlantic on an early 747-100, complete with an upper deck showing the three windows that marked a first class lounge. Bond arrives at Pan Am's former Worldport terminal at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Completed in 1960 and marked by a flying saucer-shaped roof that heralded the jet age, Worldport, sadly, was demolished in 2013.
Britain has a long history in aviation, building and designing some of the most remarkable planes in the sky. One of them is the Avro Vulcan bomber, which Spectre hijacked along with two atomic bombs in 1965's Thunderball to (what else?) hold the world for ransom. Designed after World War II, the strategic bomber flew for the Royal Air Force between 1952 and 1984, making it one of the UK's most important warplanes of the Cold War. Its standout feature was the enormous span of its delta wings, measuring wider than the fuselage is long. To see for yourself, visit one of the Vulcans on display at museums around the UK. Stand under it and it feels like the wings go on forever.
At the start of The Living Daylights (1987), Q places fake Soviet defector Georgi Koskov in a Harrier Jump Jet to complete his escape from Communist Czechoslovakia. Built by Hawker Siddeley Aviation, which acquired Avro in 1963, the Harrier was the world's first combat aircraft capable of vertical takeoffs and landings. Thanks to the rotating exhaust ports on its engines, the Harrier could rise off the ground like a helicopter and then assume horizontal flight like a plane. Now retired, the first generation of the Harrier flew for the RAF and the US Marine Corps.
Japanese Secret Service Chief Tiger Tanaka scoffed at Little Nellie when Q first unpacked her from a few suitcases in You Only Live Twice (1967). But the single-seat autogyro proved her worth when Bond searched for Spectre's hidden base in the hollow volcano. Though the flight wasn't successful as a reconnaissance mission (he didn't find the base until later), Bond was able to fight off four much bigger Kawasaki-Bell 47G-3 helicopters using Little Nellie's maneuverability and powerful arsenal of weapons (machine guns, aerial mines, rocket launchers and more). The actual autogyro used in the film, the Wallis WA-116 Agile, was developed in the early 1960s by Ken Wallis, a former RAF wing commander.
The Man With the Golden Gun (1975) is a middling film, but it has two soaring aviation moments. The first is the flying AMC Matador that villain Francisco Scaramanga and henchman Nick Nack used to flee Bangkok for their private island. When we first see Scaramanga behind the wheel, it looks like an ordinary Matador coupe, but when he drives into a garage and attaches a wing, tail structure and jet engine, it becomes a full-fledged airplane. Sadly, what we saw on screen was only a prop. As the car wasn't airworthy even with wings, a model was used for the flight scenes.
Later in the film, Bond flies to Scaramanga's lair in an amphibious Republic RC-3 Seabee. The bulbous aircraft wasn't built for looks or speed (it topped out at about 120mph) but it could operate on both solid ground and water. Only about a thousand were built, from 1946 to 1947, but the versatile aircraft still flies today. Bond's, however, was destroyed by Scaramanga's solar-powered energy beam. Pity.
In the pre-title sequence of Octopussy, Bond escapes an unnamed Latin American country in a tiny Bede BD-5J. Small enough to hide in a trailer behind a fake horse's bum, the single-seat BD-5J had the (borrowed) firepower to destroy a hangar containing some secret military hardware and was maneuverable enough to fly through the hangar just before. The real BD-5J was developed by US aircraft designer Jim Bede as a kit aircraft that a buyer could build at home (the first Bede version sold for $1,950). It's still the smallest jet aircraft ever, weighing only 359 pounds. Though it had a range of 280 miles, Bond's lasted only a few minutes. But since it could fly on automotive gas, refueling at a roadside service station was easy. Visit the Bede used in the movie at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona.
Faster than ever
It's hardly surprising that Bond would fly by Concorde at some point. He finally breaks the sound barrier in Moonraker (1979) when he jets down to Rio de Janeiro on an Air France Concorde hot on the trail of Hugo Drax, yet another bored rich dude who wants to destroy the world. The supersonic Concorde carried passengers between London and Paris and New York between 1976 and 2003. You can visit most of the surviving aircraft at museums in France, Germany, the UK, the US and Barbados. The aircraft used in the film is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia.
Yes, it's really a spacecraft, but I'm including it here anyway. Later in Moonraker, Bond blasts into space in one of Drax's space shuttles to thwart the villain's plans to kill everyone on Earth and repopulate the planet with the people living on his space station (a flawless plan). As the real space shuttle was still two years from its first launch, only models were used. But the scenes were shot at Rockwell International's shuttle manufacturing facility in Palmdale, California, and at NASA'sVehicle Assembly Building in Cape Canaveral, Florida. And that space battle with lasers? Or when Drax's goons hijacked the shuttle off the back of a 747? Totally believable.
A 747 (of sorts) before there ever was one, the Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair is the weird-looking aircraft that Goldfinger and Oddjob use to fly themselves and the Rolls from England to Switzerland. Like the 747, the Carvair's cockpit was on a second deck above the main fuselage and its nose could open like a door to allow for easy loading of freight (like a certain supervillain's luxury car). The Carvair wasn't an original design but was actually a converted Douglas DC-4 developed by the British company Aviation Traders. It could carry 85 passengers or five cars and 55 passengers (people sat in a rear cabin). Either way, it wasn't a profitable aircraft. Only 21 were built.
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules played a pivotal Role in The Living Daylights. In the film's climax, Bond uses a C-130 to escape a Soviet airbase in Afghanistan (though the midair scenes where he fights blond baddie Necros were filmed using a Fairchild C-123). Introduced in 1956, the C-130 is an incredibly versatile troop and cargo transport that flies in multiple versions with air forces around the world. It can carry about 23 tons, and when you need to escape that airbase with your jeep, just drive it up that convenient ramp in the back.
Bond went even bigger in military transports in Die Another Day. Villain Gustav Grave uses a ginormous Antonov An-124 Ruslan as a flying headquarters, and it's the site of a dual battle between Bond and Graves and NSA agent Jinx Johnson and henchwoman Miranda Frost. Designed and built by the Ukrainian company Antonov (when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union), the An-124 first flew in 1986. Capable of carrying 150 tons of cargo, it's the second heaviest cargo aircraft in the world after the Antonov An-225 Mriya. It's so big that its main landing gear struts have 10 wheels each -- the perfect size for two secret agents that want to sneak aboard.
Evil and insane microchip industrialist Max Zorin in A View to a Kill (1985) had one admirable quality: a fondness for airships. The first makes a brief appearance midway through the film as a flying executive conference room complete with a staircase-turned-slide for dispatching disloyal investors. Zorin uses the second, which inflates far faster than is possible, as a getaway vehicle and a diabolical observation post to watch his engineered double earthquake take out Silicon Valley. (How "geologist" Stacy Sutton can't hear a blimp approaching from behind before Zorin nabs her is a question for another time.) It meets its end (along with Zorin and his henchmen) after a battle atop the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. To this day, if I see a white blimp flying overhead, my instinct is to dive under the nearest table.
Two Skyship 500s played the role of both airships. The eight-passenger craft were developed by the now-defunct British company Airship Industries. Just six were built between 1980 and 1990, none of which survives today .