Rotary Action logo by Mike Pepper utility helicopter A GUIDE TO HELICOPTERS  
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Birds Of Prey (1973) - this TV movie directed by William A. Graham (who went on to make Deadly Encounter), stars David Janssen as WWII veteran pilot and now Salt Lake City's eye-in-the-sky traffic-watcher, Harry Walker. Flying a Hughes 500, reporting for local radio station KBEX, hero Harry spots a heist in progress outside a bank, and watches as the robbers escape with a girl hostage. He follows their getaway car and sees them make an unexpected rooftop rendezvous with an Alouette II (piloted by a Vietnam veteran), and then begins a lengthy aerial chase, flying under bridges, and leaving town - at speed, evading all cop cars.

While Harry is forced to make a brief stop, in order to refuel from a tanker lorry on the highway, the bad guys' chopper heads for the Bingham 'copper pit' mine (world's largest excavation), landing just behind a giant mechanical shovel. However, they can't hide from eagle-eyed Harry, who continues his dogged pursuit of the airborne thieves, across rugged Utah countryside into nearby Harkers canyon, where Harry's helicopter is damaged by a villain's shotgun blast.

When the Alouette lands near a secret fuel dump, hostage Teresa (Elayne Heilveil, in her first starring role) escapes with a bag of loot. In a superbly choreographed stunt, Harry uses his low-flying chopper's landing skids to knock down one of the gunmen chasing the fleeing girl, who soon finds herself sprawled on the ground while both helicopters circle about overhead like hawks (striking, unforgettable imagery that fulfils the promise of this TV film's title).

After some evasive manoeuvring, Harry manages to rescue Teresa, before he's forced to land and make emergency repairs to his own machine. During the night, the crooks' Alouette flies around, searching the canyon, but they can't reach Harry's hiding place. Next morning, the chase resumes, but now it's the Alouette crew in pursuit of the Hughes 500, to an abandoned airfield, where both choppers fly straight through a hanger, circling the area, until a showdown inside another building, where Harry shoots the bad guys' pilot and, briefly, traps the whole gang. Then, a grenade forces our hero to retreat, giving the bad guys a chance to chase down and attack Harry's best friend and war buddy, police Captain 'Mac' McAndrew (Ralph Meeker), who's just arrived on the scene responding to Harry's earlier mayday report.

Just as the Alouette descends on its running prey, and moves in for the kill, hero Harry gets airborne for one last time, flying his Hughes across the empty airfield to ram the enemy's machine, destroying both helicopters in a big explosion (of pyrotechnic effects that are not quite convincing). Jim Gavin plays a police pilot in the finale, and is credited as aerial supervisor. Birds Of Prey is very probably the first ever crime drama movie that centres on helicopter action scenes.

Birds of Prey on DVD
Hughes 500 vs Alouette II

under the flyover

beneath the road bridge

a bump on the head

caught inside the hanger
just above the rails

refuels on the highway

swoops to conquer

Birds of Prey, in for the kill