James Bond can fly a helicopter upside down, sled on an open cello case and run across the backs of angry crocodiles. Can these Bond stunts be done in real life?
Spectre: Upside-down helicopter
The Spectre trailer had everyone talking when a helicopter, presumably with Bond in the cockpit, performs a 360° corkscrew stunt. Helicopter pilot Mike Buckley from the British Airline Pilots Association says that it is possible to fly a helicopter upside down for a short period of time. “Helicopter pilots are highly trained and this footage appears to be a Bo105 undertaking a very skilled manoeuvre with an expert pilot at the controls,” he says. Bond, being Bond, has obviously undergone rigorous training.
Buckley explains that the Bo105 has a rigid rotor head which makes it possible to fly these amazing routines. “The Westland Lynx, as flown by the UK Army Air Corps and the Royal Navy, also has a rigid head and is often seen in air shows around the UK doing rolls and occasionally loops,” he says.
Buckley admits it’s difficult to tell if this footage is a real flight or a CGI recreation; the film makers may have filmed a real flight and tinkered with the images afterwards. “There are strict rules about low flying, so if it is real footage, the backdrop (of the city) may have been added later,” he suggests.
The Living Daylights: Cello case sled
Bond (Timothy Dalton) turns a cello case into a skeleton sled so he and Kara Milovy can escape gun-wielding assailants pursuing them on skis and in a snow-adapted armoured car. Of course, 007 and his love interest make it to the Austrian border just in time. However, according to former world champion skeleton sled racer Kristian Bromley, they would have trouble staying on the case, let alone escaping their pursuers.
Bromley, who now designs high-tech sleds for Olympic racers, says that if a cello case had any square edges, it is doubtful that it would slide on snow at all. He explains that the case would at least need a leading edge to lift itself slightly off the ground to create enough pressure for both sled and riders to move across the snow.
He adds, though, that even if the cello case was the right shape, there would be no way that Bond and his companion could steer it the right direction. “They would need some kind of steering mechanism, or to use their hands outside the case,” he says. “If they tried this, they would most likely spin around uncontrollably and end up falling out.”
Bromley adds that even if Bond could control the case, he still wouldn’t be able to outpace the skiers.
Goldfinger: Shocking end
Bond can’t hurt Odd Job with a punch, a kick or a wrestling move. However, when Goldfinger’s henchman tries to retrieve his bowler hat, stuck in-between some iron railings in Fort Knox, 007 grabs a nearby live electric cable and jams it into the railings. The current flows through the metal, through the hat and into Odd Job, electrocuting the villain.
Professor Ian Cotton, director of Manchester Energy and professor of high voltage technology at University Of Manchester, says it is completely feasible for the electricity to discharge when someone touches it, as the feet on the ground make it a full circuit (person to ground to circuit back to substation where the supply came from). “This can be done through any conventional electricity supply,” says Cotton.
“The fireworks and sparks you see in the film are also possible. The cable whips around. When the cable is pulled apart from something, like the floor, sparks are made. They can also be created at that magnitude,” he adds.
There is one footnote to this: when Odd Job appeared many years later in an animated Bond cartoon, the henchman claimed that the shock had merely knocked him out. But cartoons really are unbelievable.
Goldfinger: Hats off
Goldfinger warns Bond not to meddle in his affairs by instructing Odd Job to throw his metal-brimmed bowler hat at a stone statue a few metres away. The hat flies through the air like a Frisbee, decapitating the statue with a single clean cut. Metin Tolan says that it is possible to do this, but the hat would need to be very heavy and thrown very fast. “There is a contradiction here as it is not easy to throw something that heavy, that quickly,” he says. “You would need the strength of Odd Job for this. It would be beyond an ordinary person.”
He adds that to take the statue’s head off, the density of the metal in the hat rim would have to be higher than that of the stone. Also, the pressure at the point the brim of the hat hits the statue must be high. “Pressure is force divided by area,” he says. “When the hat strikes, the area that hits the stone statue is very small, so the pressure very high. If you just throw a stone, the area striking the statue is much larger and therefore the pressure is much smaller.”
Goldfinger: Ejector escape
Goldfinger’s henchman has a gun to Bond’s head as 007 drives his Aston Martin. Bond flicks the ejector seat switch on his gear stick and the hapless villain shoots out of the roof, leaving Bond free to make his escape.
Andrew Martin, business development manager at Martin Baker, a company that makes ejector seats for aircraft, says that it would be possible to put an ejector seat into a car, but to do so Bond would need to replace his sports car with a big 4×4 vehicle. “You need enough height in the cabin to integrate the ejector seat,” he says. “In an aeroplane, the pilot doesn’t fly with their helmet touching the roof.”
Martin adds that in a sports car seat, the driver and passenger lean back with their knees up, rather than sitting upright in the seat, which is required for ejection. “After Bond pressed the button, it would take only one second before the passenger was no longer in the car,” he says. Therefore Bond wouldn’t need to worry about alerting his gun-wielding assailant to his plans halfway through the manoeuvre. “There would be no difference in the shape of the seat,” Martin adds. “Maybe the passenger would wonder why his seat was hard plastic rather than Bond’s nice leather driver’s seat, but there would be no other clues as to what was underneath him.”
Martin does say, however, that Bond would need some sort of protection between him and the passenger. Otherwise he’d get a nasty burn when the rocket-propelled ejector seat took off.
Live and Let Die: Crocodile jump
Dr Kananga leaves Bond to die on a small rock in the middle of a swamp full of crocodiles and alligators. As the hungry reptiles close in for the kill, 007 jumps off the island and runs across the backs of four of the crocodiles in the water to make good his escape.
The scene was shot at a crocodile farm and the actual owner of the property ran across the backs of his crocodiles, not a stuntman as one may assume. He had to do the stunt several times before getting it right, almost being grabbed by one of the reptiles at one point.
In order to do this stunt successfully, the crocodiles were tied to the bottom of the pool with weights and their tails and heads were left free so they could thrash around for effect. The reptiles were unable to move around to anticipate the jumper and get into an attack position, as they would if they were free roaming, wild crocodiles. It was a good job the crocs were tied down, as the man fell into the water during one of the practice runs. On another occasion, a croc was able to free itself enough to grab his shoe as he ran over the back of the animal behind him.
Moonraker: Parachute plummet
Bond and iconic baddie Jaws tussle in mid-air for a single parachute. Bond wins, skydiving to safety, and Jaws plummets to what looks like certain death. Luckily for the villain, he lands on a huge circus tent and walks away with just a few bruises.
“We’ve calculated this and it definitely is possible,” says Metin Tolan, professor of experimental physics at the Technical University of Dortmund. Bond uses his air resistance and changes speed by adjusting his body position to become more streamlined. He would also have enough time to fight Jaws for the parachute, put it on and open it, if they both jumped out of the aircraft at a height of 5,000m.
“We also calculated that when Jaws hits the circus tent, he would survive,” Tolin adds. “Jaws’s speed falling without a parachute would be 150 to 180km/h. If you are decelerated by a tent approximately 10m high, then it is still a heavy fall and you will be hurt, but not killed.”
Jaws appears indestructible. He survives when a statue falls on his head, he’s hit by a van, thrown from a train off a cliff and even goes over a waterfall. According to Tolan, though, there’s no way Jaws could survive the cable car crash in 'The Spy Who Loved Me'. “That’s completely ridiculous, even the strongest person would be smashed to pieces by the force,” Tolan says.