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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.


Flight of the Intruder centers on U.S. Navy Lieutenant Grafton, who flies an A-6 Intruder and becomes increasingly disillusioned with political controls imposed on his bombing missions of North Vietnam after his bombardier/navigator is killed during a night-time raid. Other planes from Grafton's aircraft carrier are being shot down by surface-to-air missiles which are stockpiled in the city of Hanoimarker, off-limits to retaliatory bombing raids. With Cole as bombardier/navigator, Grafton plans a renegade attack on "SAM City", a park in the center of Hanoi where the missiles are stored.

The film begins with Lieutenant Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton and his bombardier/navigator(BN) and best friend Lieutenant Morgan "Morg" McPhearson flying 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 marker, his BN and friend is dead. Disturbed and covered in blood, Jake walks into a debriefing with Commander Frank Camparelli and the executive officer, Commander "Cowboy" Parker. 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 arrives on a C-2 Greyhound, then shortly speaks with Camparelli.

Jake, his room-mate Sammy Lundeen, Bob "Boxman" Walkawitz and "Mad Jack" 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, who is packing Sharon's things.

After an altercation with civilian merchant marines in the Tailhook Bar, Jake runs into Callie again in a cafe'. 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 STRAMS and Shrikes 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 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.

While on a mission to bomb a power plant in the vicinity of Hanoi, they drop two of their Mark 83 Snake Eyes, leaving eight for the missile depot. On their first pass, their armament computer goes out and after barely surviving a SAM detonation, their bombs don't 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 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's 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'd like to be on that ship. Camparelli replies that he wouldn't have it any other way.

Production notes

Flight of the Intruder was filmed partly on the USS Independence marker. It 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.'

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 the then cost of $1,000,000 a day.

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).

Former US Senator (and later Presidential candidate) 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 but when the movie was screened for test audiences, they laughed at him, as they all perceived him as his Married With Children character. The director recast his character and reshot those scenes.

Former Emergency! actor Ron Pinkard served as technical advisor on the film, Pinkard served in the Navy Reserve as a pilot of the A-6 Intruder.


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 are portrayed 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 SEAD missions (the Navy called this "Iron Hand", the Air Force called it "Wild Weasel".)

Differences from book

The movie featured various changes to many minor characters from the book, changing some and merging others. Boxman, for example, was a bombardier-navigator in the book and a pilot in the film. Razor's callsign was derived from his bushy mustache in the book and from looking too young to shave in the film. Big Augie was black in the book and white in the film. Cowboy Parker was the squadron operations officer (third in command) in the book and executive officer (second in command) in the film.

The Hanoi Raid launched by Jake and Tiger Cole in the movie was aimed at a stockpile of surface-to-air missiles in downtown Hanoi. In the book, their target was the National Assembly building, to which they failed to inflict any real damage.

Tiger Cole is killed in the climax of the movie, while in the book he is successfully rescued along with Jake.

In the movie, Commander Frank Camparelli is black and in the book he is white.

The carrier is called the Shiloh in the book. In the film, it's the USS Independencemarker.

Jake's love affair with Callie was an important part of the book, but was glossed over in the movie. He met Callie in Hong Kongmarker in the book, because she was a diplomat and not working for the navy as seen in the film.

Jake and Cole's tribunal was held on the carrier in the book and not on base as shown in the film.

Grafton and Cole were not grounded after the tribunal as shown in the film, they were back on the schedule after the trial.

Commander Camparelli does not fly a mission and get shot down as portrayed in the film. The other plane crash involves a A-1 Skyraider codenamed "Sandy" trying to locate Jake and Cole.

After the Hanoi raid, nobody was aware of the attack that took place as shown in the film. Camparelli later discovers the truth when looking at maps of a mission Grafton and Cole are flying and not seeing the SAM sites that attacked their plane.

In the book Jake kills three North Vietnamese soldiers armed with AK-47s while the film shows him killing a sniper.

Popular music

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

Flight of the Intruder, a video game based on the movie was released in 1991. 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 Viet Nam. 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.


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.

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