Striking Blue Thunder – Episode 8: Payload

The Plot:

APEX is assigned to protect a shuttle mission which develops a vaccine that could end the possibility of biological warfare.

Review and Analysis:

This episode is like a car that fails to start after many minutes of cranking the ignition.  Then, when it finally starts, it stalls again after getting into 1st Gear.  A few restarts later, and the tires go flat.  And, after you exit the car, the engine detonates and the hood lands 20 feet away from the car, now burning profusely.

And that’s just the first half of the episode.

The Evil Air Force:

A UH-1 Huey, equipped with 2 bay-mounted M-60 machine guns, armor plating, turbo-rotors, and a forward-mounted laser cannon.  In terms of power and agility, it was a match for Blue Thunder.

Space Oddity:

In continuing with the Corporatist themes that Blue Thunder promotes whenever it can, a big deal is made about American Space Industries financing this particular Orbiter flight. Also, the corporation is involved with the creation of the vaccine that could possibly wipe out Germ Warfare.

The ironically sad thing is that the stock footage clips are all from NASA – the very government agency Blue Thunder’s writers disparage in this episode.

What Blue Thunder Hates:

Evil CEO and Evil Mercenary.

Evil CEO and Evil Mercenary.  At the HQ of Evil Superweapons, Inc.

Arms Manufacturers in the service of “Evil.”  The Arms Dealer in question hires a pilot that is as good as Chaney – and he modifies a helicopter that makes it almost as good as Blue Thunder.  The sad part about this is that the men at the top of the pyramid are never pursued.

Smacking the Communists:

The evil weapons dealer mentions that he has a $50 million deal with Cuba, which is put in jeopardy by the new genetic vaccine that could “end Biological Warfare.”

Going through the action shows of the 1980s that deal with the Here-and-Now, one finds this as a very sick and twisted vision of the world at large.  Central and South America, with little variation, will have most of their countries ruled by some version of Fidel Castro or Manuel Noriega.  If neither of them rule the country, then they will be the ones trying to gain power.  Also, they will “answer” to Moscow directly, or simply “Hate Americans.”  The same goes for Caribbean nations.

Thus, because this is the 1980s, we are supposed to believe that Fidel Castro would be willing – and able – to spend $50 million to purchase germ warfare weapons.  And, if he didn’t have the money directly to do so, then he would contact Premier Andropov of Russia or one of his Soviet lackey nations and borrow said money to get them.

The mentioning of Cuba here is supposed to bring the Threat of an NBC Attack Home; If Cuba managed to get their hands some EVIL (Unnamed) Biological Weapons, then the Soviet Union would use Cuba’s island as a springboard for a direct invasion of the United States and DESTROY Democracy.  However, it is interesting to note that Cuba has no stockpile of such weapons, nor does Cuba even have a program to acquire them.

What Blue Thunder Hates, Part 2:

Someone want to explain just who benefited from this mission, and how?

Someone want to explain just who benefited from this mission, and how?

NASA.  This episode spends an inordinate amount of time extolling the “virtues” of the private shuttle launch.  But there are questions.

First, American Space Industries provided what to the shuttle mission?  Enterprise-class Shuttle Orbiters require highly skilled pilots and technicians to operate them, and, outside of retired astronauts who certified on them late in their careers, only NASA had anyone who would be able to pilot them safely.  Does ASI, then, poach NASA for pilots?  Shuttle Commanders and Pilots in the 1980s were all US Military pilots.  So, does ASI grease the skids of Congress and the White House for special dispensation?

Second, the launch of the Argo space mission takes place in the Mojave Desert (according to the news broadcast).  This means that the shuttle and all of its components needed to launch it had to be moved from a a NASA facility to this one.  Did American Space Industries pay NASA for the job, or did they hire all of the technicians and engineers themselves?  Does ASI build the launch gantry for the Orbiter?  Because the launch and landing site is not one that was already built and in use.

Now, if ASI did build this, was it through their own corporate money?  Or, like so many other private enterprises of the sort, was it done using taxpayer dollars through boondoggles like Tax Credits and Tax Abatements?  The cost of launching an orbiter is somewhere between $400 million to $1.2 billion per launch (depending on which anti-Government diatribe decides to scream about it).  That’s quite a bit of money to spend, especially for a private corporation (since this mission is “privately funded.”)

Third, the question becomes which Orbiter was rechristened.  At the time this episode was filmed, NASA had 3 orbiters which could have been used:  Columbia (which was the first operational Orbiter), Challenger, and Discovery.  Atlantis would not be completed for another year.  Enterprise was never upgraded to full-launch capability.  Or, did they commission one to be built by Drax Heavy Industries?  Or was it SCHAFT?

Fourth, is ASI handling the scientific end of this mission as well?  Normally, those who are not involved in the flying of the spacecraft are still trained for Zero Gravity operations.  In other words, the gene splicing experiment would not simply be loaded into some canisters, spun in a centrifuge, run through a computer, and presto! Instant Germ Warfare Cure Material.  Unless ASI is also in the Medical Research business, this point is hard to swallow.

What Blue Thunder Hates, Part 3:

Members of a Helicopter Unit interrogate a…person of interest.

Due Process.  One of the favorite tactics of Police Action Shows is the use of the Rough Interrogation method.  In the 1980s, such shows posited that the exercise of Constitutional Rights by “Bad Guys” was the reason why Crime was skyrocketing.  The police were always committing some sort of small infraction that rich lawyers pounced on – and the Double Murderer Who Also Shot Puppies and Kittens would go free…to shoot more puppies and kittens.  So, in response, the Good Guys started making active subversions of Constitutional Rights because, otherwise, the Bad Guys would go free.

In this case, APEX assisted in the capture of a man named Emery who is supposed to be involved in some kind of biological weapons ring.  The man in the hot seat (pictured above) was an informant named Chandler who was going to talk to the Grand Jury and give up information.  Unfortunately, Chandler got cold feet after Emery threatened him with his life moments before the LAPD apprehended him.  It also doesn’t help for Chandler that Chaney goes Dirty Harry on HIM and:

And this guy was a witness.

And this guy was a witness.

Strafes the entire area with 20mm cannon fire.  I’d keep my mouth completely shut too if I were attacked by both the criminals AND the police.

The Humorous B-Story:

And this is more important than finding out if the Bio Weapons Dealer was apprehended.

And this is more important than finding out if the Bio Weapons Dealer was apprehended.

Clinton Wonderlove rummages through Rick’s desk and finds a personal ad that Rick had posted.  So, as a prank, Clinton, Bubba, and J.J. decide to crank call his ad and set up a phony get together, which would culminate with 2 blow-up sex dolls.

It turns out, however, that Rick had been on to them from the start – and shows up with his “actual” date – an attractive woman named Tanya, whom Rick had been communicating with for a long time.

However, you will not ever see nor hear from Tanya ever again.

Lasers Are a Thing:

So why don't more Bad Guys have these Laser Things?

So why don’t more Bad Guys have these Laser Things?

This episode not only features the use of Lasers, but Lasers as a weapon.  There aren’t too many action shows that did not – at some point – feature (Chemical) Lasers or Directed Energy Weapons as a thing.

In Blue Thunder’s case, Laser weapons were small enough to carry with a shoulder strap – and could bring down an armored attack helicopter.

The Overcomplicated Villain Plot:

I had the same expression at this point of the episode.

I had the same expression at this point of the episode.

The Arms Dealer CEO and Sandford Hill were part of a plot to keep Evil Superweapons, Inc. in business by sabotaging American Space Industries, Inc. and their shuttle flight.  Unfortunately, Emery found out about Chandler becoming an information for the Grand Jury and had him captured.  When Chandler was apprehended by the police and Emery was arrested, the need to speed up the process was apparent.  Sandford finding out that Blue Thunder was going to be the escort vehicle meant that they needed to destroy it.  Arms Dealer CEO hires a top-flight mercenary and he outfits his Huey with armor, new avionics, and a laser weapon.

At the same time, Sandford Hill manages to kidnap Willi von Hartig and decides to interrogate and brainwash him.  Dr. Hill also mentions that he has been doing this for weeks.  This means that Hill, the Arms Dealer CEO, and the Mercenary Pilot had been in cahoots for all of this time – based on the rumor that APEX might loan them Blue Thunder for the escort.  During the latest interrogations, Sandford finds out about the ECM Shield and needed to find a way to defeat this weapon (obviously, no one had ever heard of using missiles to shoot down a helicopter – see “Revenge in the Sky” or “Arms Race” or “Second Thunder”).

Much of this plan falls apart if Blue Thunder is not used.  It really falls to ruins if ASI got the escort as listed in “The Military Absence of Presence.”

The German Engineer:

Better known for his turn on Punky Brewster and Police Academy.

Dr. Willi Von Hartig was the man responsible for building Blue Thunder from the ground up.  With nothing but Wonderlove’s description of what happened to it, von Hartig builds a Laser Deflector – erroneously called an ECM (Electronic Countermeasure) Shield.

Contrived Combat:

Turbo, Armor Plating, Vulcan Cannon, and...can't maneuver?

Turbo, Armor Plating, Vulcan Cannon, and…can’t maneuver?

This battle sequence often demonstrates the real problem with creating a futuristic super-weapon.  In this case, you are often tempted to create “evil” weapons that are just as powerful as the ones in the service of good.  In this episode, however, the bad guy clearly builds one out of spare parts from his garage.

The Huey has “armor plating” that can handle 20mm high-explosive and armor piercing rounds.  However, that requires armor on par with that found on tanks.  Or battleships.  Or planes built by Grumman.  And such armor isn’t lightly coating.

The advantage that Blue Thunder has over most helicopters is that despite the nose-heavy forward mounted cannon, the heavy armor plating, and the large electronic surveillance suite, Blue Thunder can reach speeds of nearly 300 knots and boasts maneuverability better than any helicopter in the air at the time (it takes a smaller helicopter like a Hughes 500 to match its maneuverability, but it cannot match Blue Thunder’s speed).

Secondly, Chaney has no sense of targeting.  He fires broadsides at the Huey.  He makes no attack on either the main rotor or the tail stabilizer (his Harrison Targeting System would allow for such a precise shot – see “Trojan Horse”).  And, despite the fact that the Huey has this:

One well-place 20mm vulcan barrage should...

One well-place 20mm vulcan barrage should…

A giant opening that would turn the helicopter into grated parmesan cheese, Chaney doesn’t bother shooting there until AFTER Wonderlove hotwired the shield to activate.

Basically, the sequence to justify the last few minutes of the Third Act is about as flimsy as the one in Airwolf’s Mind of the Machine.  Except there, they had to do a character redemption to transition to the end of that episode.

The Military Absence of Presence:

ASI informed the US Government about the importance of this shuttle mission.  Even setting aside the fact that such a mission would have been handled by NASA in the first place, any requirement for protection would have been handled by the US Military.

Thus, as the shuttle begins its landing sequence, the Teen F Jets (14 Tomcat, 15 Eagle, 16 Falcon, 18 Hornet) would have been scrambled and providing cover.  All of them are Air Superiority weapons, equipped with both AIM-9 Sidewinders and AIM-7 Sparrow missiles; both more than capable of knocking out a 300mph armored helicopter out of the sky with little resistance (since the Huey was not equipped with ECM systems like Radar Chaff and Flares).

Fantasy Before Reality:

Hollywood ahead of the curve...again...somehow.

Hollywood ahead of the curve…again…somehow.

And yet, despite its politics, Blue Thunder manages to show a Woman of Color as a Shuttle Pilot/Commander more than a decade before Dr. Mae Jemison blasts off into space for NASA.

Unanswered Questions:

What happens now?  The head of Evil Superweapons, Inc. had died on the Huey, so does his VP takes over?

Does Sandford Hill turn out to be the one who blows the case wide open for the Germ Warfare charges to stick to Emery?

Also, with Emery and Hill in jail, does Chandler acquiesce to APEX?

And, while we’re on the subject, where did Evil Superweapons, Inc., sell their Germ Warfare weapons to before this “deal”?  Iraq? Iran?

Now that the Germ Warfare Gene Splice Cure is on the ground, how is it going to be distributed when it is completed?  Is ASI going to patent both the process AND the formula?  Will the drug company that chartered ASI to complete the space-borne experiment hold it under lock-and-key?  Or will they sell the pills at $1000 a dose or more?

Why doesn’t anyone use those Laser Thingies as weapons at any other time?  You would think that you could sell those to the Cubans, the Libyans, the Nicaraguans, or any other Communist Satrap you can think of, for profit.

Final Thoughts:

“Payload” is an episode that forces you to ignore the reality on the ground for many things.  Like the fact that Cuba never had a WMD program.  Or that a Corporation would easily pony up close to $1 billion to fund a shuttle launch, even it were to advance anti-WMD research.  Or that a Corporate Arms Dealer would hire a mercenary with a heavily-armed helicopter gunship to destroy a NASA shuttle AND any armed escorts for ASI.

Also, we are to believe that anyone can build a helicopter that is just as advanced as Blue Thunder in avionics and weapons at anytime.  And, that Evil Superweapons, Inc. just happens to kidnap the inventor of Blue Thunder weeks before his services are actually required.  And, the mercenary’s copter was just needed for the 2nd Amendment Drum Solo for the Third Act, since the ground-based gun party was only needed to advance to the Laser surprise.

“Payload” should get dropped after its viewing.

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