DVD Review: "The West's Combat Helicopters"

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Title: "The West's Combat Helicopters"

Series: Modern Combat Aircraft

Producer: ArtsMagic DVD

Rating:  ★★★★

The second installment of the ArtsMagic’s “Modern Combat Aircraft” DVD Series (previously produced by Command Vision Ltd.) is "The West’s Combat Helicopters." Originally produced in 1987, again, it is dated, but still highly informative.

It is another itemized profile of the major Western helicopters from the very end of the Cold War. There is an emphasis on several European types, including the MBB BO 105, Agusta A-129 Mangusta and Westland Lynx, although the flagship American helicopters are very well represented, including the UH-1 Huey, AH-1 HueyCobra, UH-60 Blackhawk and AH-64 Apache.

Chris Chant is back once again with his unmistakable writing and narration, and the documentary shows a bit more of an international flavor than its predecessor, which occasionally seemed a tad U.S.-heavy in its lineup of aircraft profiles.

Most of the helicopters profiled here are of the utility type, although the versatility of the aircraft shown is on full display, especially the European machines.

It also seems as though the stock footage used was from a number of manufacturer promotional videos. Several of the choppers included in the documentary either never went into production or were not ordered in large numbers., which does make this show interesting for its rare footage.

For example, the McDonnell-Douglas Defender was never put into mass production, but the video and specifications of the helicopter (a wide array of ordinance, FLIR, mast-mounted sight) made you think that you could buy one from Costco for your neighborhood watch. In addition, there is promotional footage of Sikorsky's H-76 Eagle, the privately-funded military variant of their S-76 civil machine, which evidently went the way of the equally ill-fated F-20 Tigershark.

My favorite part: There is a sequence during the BO 105 profile where the helicopter’s pilot stalks a tank in a simulated combat sequence. The music from what I believe was the original film is hilarious. It reminds me of a relatively low-budget spy movie. It almost gets out of hand as you see tank after helpless tank blow up on screen. Total carnage!

Aircraft profiled:

Bell UH-1 Huey Agusta A-109A* McDonnell Douglas Defender Aerospatiale SA 342 Gazelle MBB BO 105 (PAH-1) Westland Lynx Westland Lynx 3 Aerospatiale SA 356M Panther* (with an inside look at its construction) Agusta A-129 Mangusta Sikosrsky UH-60 Blackhawk Sikorsky H-76 Eagle Bell AH-1 HueyCobra McDonnell Douglas AH-64 Apache (with an interesting look at the Apache’s combat systems at the time, including TADS) LHX – A look at the technologies studies at the time that led up to the ill-fated Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche, including the S-75 and S.H.A.D.O.W.)

* - Edited out on "Wings"

I'm not an overly big helicopter guy, but this was a solid piece. Considering the combat helicopter landscape has not changed dramatically over the past twenty-five years - many of the aircraft profiled in this doc are still around today, at least as far as we know - there's still quite a bit of relevance even today. That is enough to bump it up to a 4/5.

You can purchase your DVD copy of "The West's Combat Helicopters" here.

Amazon Description: This volume features the greatest of the west's helicopters such as the Bell UH-1 Huey, the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk and the McDonnel Douglas AH-64 Apache. With a detailed script by leading aviation authority Christopher Chant, this is essential vieweing for all aviation and millitary enthusiasts.

DVD Review: The West's Land-Based Fighters and Bombers

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I'll start the DVD reviews with the first DVD of a series I've spent a long time chasing down. Back when I was a kid, I loved watching "Wings" on the Discovery Channel. I recorded almost every episode to VHS, and damn near wore out the tapes over the years.

It was easy to pick out the "Great Planes" series, but the more I watched, the more I saw other episodes that didn't quite fit the mold. This was the first of them.

Now, let's be up front: "The West's Land-Based Fighters and Bombers" is charmingly dry and totally only for nerds like me. It was produced in 1987, so it's also very dated by now. But it provides an excellent technical overview of the major aircraft types in use by the western powers toward the end of the Cold War.

This was the first of the "Modern Combat Aircraft" series produced by Command Vision, Ltd. in Britain, which no longer exists. But the series was picked up by ArtsMagic DVD, and re-released on DVD for the modern...er, nostalgic audience.

The best part of this DVD is that it's almost exactly one hour long. The old version of this that appeared on "Wings" had to be edited down for time to about 45 minutes. So if you remember that episode, you've got some nice bonus footage that you didn't see back in the day.

As far as the plot, it's an itemized rundown of the major U.S. and western aircraft types of the time. Chris Chant's narration is extraordinarily well-written, although it is technical and a bit dry at times. The video itself is pretty good, with plenty of action and solid research.

My favorite line, about the B-52: "The mighty beast is in the evening of its life, and it to be replaced in the penetration role by the B-1." That was in 1987.

Aircraft profiled include:

  • Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
  • General Dynamics F-111
  • Rockwell B-1B
  • Saab JAS 37 Viggen*
  • IAI Kfir*
  • Dassault-Breguet Mirage 2000
  • McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II
  • General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon (with an interesting profile of LANTIRN)
  • McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
  • McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle
  • Panavia Tornado ADV
  • Northrop F-5E Tiger II
  • Northrop F-20 Tigershark (REALLY interesting and rare footage)
  • British Aerospace Harrier GR.3
  • British Aerospace Harrier GR.5
  • McDonnell-Douglas AV-8B Harrier II
  • SEPECAT Jaguar*
  • Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II
  • Panavia Tornado IDS

* - Edited out on "Wings"

The overall dryness drops it from being a 5/5 in my book, although if nostalgia were the sole determinant of the review, it would be there. I recommend it only for the dorkiest of us, myself included.

You can purchase "The West's Land-Based Fighters and Bombers" here:

EDITOR'S NOTE: Added credit to Chris Chant for his hard work on this series.