Fake MiG-31 Firefox


View of the mystery plane
View of the mystery plane

Another view of the mystery plane showing Russian markings
Another view of the mystery plane showing Russian markings

Whoa, dude! I hate to break the news, but I think your friend may be trying to pull one over on you. The pictures you've provided are not of a real plane but of a prop made for a movie in the 1980s. These photos appear to be screen grabs taken from the movie itself. The film was called Firefox and starred Clint Eastwood as a retired fighter pilot named Mitchell Gant. Gant is recruited by the US government to sneak into the Soviet Union, steal an advanced fighter prototype called the MiG-31 Firefox, and fly it back to the West.

More screen grabs from the movie Firefox
More screen grabs from the movie Firefox

Not to be confused with the actual MiG-31 Foxhound, the fictional Firefox was the invention of author Craig Thomas in the novel of the same name. Published in 1978, the book described an advanced Soviet fighter capable of reaching Mach 6 while being invisible to radar. The aircraft also featured a sophisticated weapon system controlled by the thoughts of the pilot. Upon learning of the top-secret plane, America's CIA and the UK's MI6 conspire to capture the Firefox.

The CIA recruits a former Air Force pilot, Mitchell Gant, to infiltrate a secret Soviet air base with the help of various spies, dissidents, and disaffected scientists. Gant overcomes his Vietnam War demons to steal one of two Firefox prototypes and takes off bound for Britain. The story climaxes with an air-to-air battle between Gant and the chief Soviet test pilot aboard the second Firefox prototype.

Screen grabs of the Firefox refueling from a US submarine
Screen grabs of the Firefox refueling from a US submarine

The book was set in the late 1970s when the Cold War was heating up again. By the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan had become president and dubbed the USSR as the "evil empire." The increasing superpower tension spawned a number of films during the mid-1980s, like Red Dawn and The Day After. Firefox was another story about Cold War rivalries that was well suited to the big screen and came out in theaters in 1982.

Poster from the movie Firefox
Poster from the movie Firefox

Though not one of Eastwood's greatest roles, the film gave him a chance to play a different kind of character from his better-known Dirty Harry and western films. The movie not only starred Eastwood but also was directed and produced by him as well. Released by Warner Brothers, Firefox did relatively well and became somewhat of a cult favorite. Many credit the popularity of the book and film with helping to define a new class of novel known as the techno-thriller. This genre soon exploded with the success of Tom Clancy's similar style of writing later in the 1980s.

Various Firefox concepts and a model built for filming
Various Firefox concepts and a model built for filming

The Firefox itself was the true star of the film, and the movie's special effects crew put much effort into its design. Although the cover art of the original novel showed a plane resembling the MiG-25, the moviemakers felt the need to develop a new conceptual design to bring the Firefox to life on screen. Though it is purely a fictional plane, it is interesting to note the many features the Firefox shares with modern combat planes that would appear over the following decade. The Firefox includes faceted surfaces and canted vertical tails like the stealthy F-117 as well as a delta wing and canard layout similar to what has become standard on most European fighters like the Eurofighter Typhoon. Many diehard fans of the movie have even built their own scratch models of the plane while others have constructed detailed models of the Firefox for the Microsoft Flight Simulator. You can find out more about these efforts at the fan site Think in Russian.

Full-scale mockup of the Firefox being built for the movie
Full-scale mockup of the Firefox being built for the movie

The movie Firefox has been re-released on DVD and the original novel Firefox by Craig Thomas is also available. Thomas followed up the popular book with three sequels. The first, Firefox Down!, picks up right where the original left off and describes a race between the US and Soviet Union for possession of the secret plane.

Firefox mockup used during filming
Firefox mockup used during filming

Winter Hawk takes place a couple of years later when protagonist Mitchell Gant again infiltrates the USSR to rescue a scientist with information on a secret laser weapon. The most recent installment in the series is A Different War where Gant investigates mysterious airline accidents.
- answer by Molly Swanson, 25 September 2005

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