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Deadly Encounter (aka: American Eagle, 1982) - this classic TV movie from director William A. Graham - also the maker of Birds Of Prey - boasts exceptionally inventive and often daring airborne stunts. It stars Larry Hagman playing heroic ex-military pilot Sam Hooten, who helps a former girlfriend escape from a mafia boss.

In the opening scene, Sam flies his Hughes 500C out from its hanger, and uses the helicopter's landing skids to knock a tin can into a bucket. This 'football' game for the amusement of local kids is actually faked by close-ups, inserts, and fast cutting, but it's a clever bit of rotary action to demonstrate Sam's piloting skills. Later, we see our hero doing all sorts of helicopter work, including the beach job of hauling a water skier.

When bogus medics kidnap the hero's old flame Chris (Susan Anspach), Sam gets airborne to follow them and, in a low-flying dust-up, forces their ambulance off the road. Breaking into the hospital, a gang of henchmen snatch the unconscious Chris, yet again, using an Aerospatiale Alouette II as their escape vehicle, with Chris strapped into a medevac bay on the landing skids.

Sam begins a low-level pursuit through the Mexican town, inches above the ground, and the helicopter raises sparks from the tarmac as it skids down the street. The chase goes over a river and woodlands until Sam's chopper is damaged by shots from the villains, forcing him to stop for a moment to extinguish a fire. Intercepting the kidnappers' refuel supply boat, Sam uses his machine's downdraft to dunk some baddies overboard.

Soon, the helicopters are circling each other above a shoreline, while heroine Chris fights a henchman outside the Alouette's cabin. Eventually, Chris struggles free of the gang, and Sam rescues her from the water. Making a speedy escape, Sam only stops to refuel and, with help from Chris, tapes smoke grenades onto the 500's landing skids.

When the baddies arrive, their Alouette knocks over a telephone box, and hits Sam, but he survives this attack, promptly escaping in his Hughes, resulting in another low-flying chase where a blinding smoke trail released by Sam and Chris forces the Alouette to end its pursuit.

At the rendezvous with a police Bell 206 JetRanger, where Sam expects to leave Chris in federal protection, the cops are actually impostors working for the Arizona mobster, and Sam has to save Chris yet again, flying his 500 into US airspace, and under road bridges. Now leaking oil, the Hughes chopper lands on the back of a flatbed lorry. At a roadblock, Chris shoots a flare-gun from the airborne Hughes and destroys the JetRanger.

Later, in their night campout after a busy day being hunted by mafia goons, Sam and Chris watch the bad guys scouring the area in two Alouettes. The hunt resumes by daylight, with the top gangster leading the chase in his blue SA-341 Gazelle. Hoping to evade pursuit, Sam lands in the middle of a 'graveyard' for aircraft, parking in a line of old helicopters, next to a rare Jovair Hum-1 (an MC-4 version, one of only five built for US military tests).

In the confrontation that follows, one of the Alouettes is damaged by gunfire during a mad scramble to get airborne from the graveyard site. Banknotes thrown from Sam's Hughes form a cloud of cash for the helicopters to fly through, and the 500 does loops and turns at high speed in dogfight manoeuvres against the Gazelle, before Sam's old war buddies arrive in bi-planes adding flying circus mayhem to the rotorcraft shootout.

Sam's chopper finally skids to a halt after its alarm-beeping emergency landing. One of the Alouettes is forced downwards by overhead bi-planes, and then flies into a cliff wall (exploding off-screen). The Gazelle chases a red bi-plane and tries to knock it out of the sky. Sam climbs onto the Gazelle, throws both mobster and pilot out, and takes over the controls ready for a final safe flight to Tucson...

Larry Kirsch was the pilot of Sam's 500, and is credited as helicopter stunt coordinator. Until the release of the great Blue Thunder and the launch of Airwolf, this was certainly the best rotary action film produced.
Alouette visits the hospital

chasing the bad guys

hitcher helicopter

Hughes 500 at the graveyard

Gazelle attacks bi-plane
breaking into the sun lounge

emergency landing

bomb the JetRanger

Gazelle and Alouettes

Deadly Encounter poster

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