Focus Of The Week: Thunderball’s Jet Pack
The lowdown on 007’s high flying tech
During the pre-credit sequence for Thunderball (1965), James Bond attends the funeral of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. operative Jacques Boitier (Bob Simmons, Rose Alba), connected with the murder of two MI6 agents. 007 discovers Boitier is still alive, disguised as his grieving window. Tracking Boitier to his chateau, Bond fights and kills him, then looks to make his escape across a rooftop. Chased by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. gunmen and with no way down, Bond utilises a Bell-Textron Jet Pack, a low power rocket propulsion device, to fly to his Aston Martin DB5 to make his escape.
Thunderball director Terence Young wanted to ensure 007’s gadgetry did not become a series of gags so the production searched for existing equipment to fold into Bond’s technological arsenal (the Skyhook that whisks Bond and Domino to safety at the end of the film is also based on real life tech). In 1959, the US army issued a contract to Bell Aerospace to develop a Rocket Belt. Shortly after Bell unveiled the flying machine, the Army deemed it too dangerous for use. The filmmakers believed that Q Department might disagree, seeing a use for the technology to help agents escape from a tight corner.
“Charlie Russhon (Technical Advisor) contacted Bell-Textron and had them demonstrate it to us,” recalled Production Designer Ken Adam. “It actually worked, and was very dangerous because you could only fly for 20 seconds, Then, you ran out of fuel and you had nothing. You had better land it before you ran out of fuel.”
The scene was shot on February 19 1965 at Chateau d’Anet west of Paris. The flight sequence combined close-ups of Sean Connery shot against a rear projection screen with long shots of a stuntman piloting the Jet Pack. To help Bond appear more debonair, the scene was envisaged with 007 not wearing a helmet. However, when stuntman Bill Suitor refused to perform the stunt without safety headgear, shots of Connery sporting a helmet were inserted later.
A beloved piece of James Bond gadgetry the Jet Pack makes a cameo in Die Another Day (2002) in Q’s storeroom in an abandoned London Underground facility.
See the Bell-Textron Jet Pack at the Bond In Motion exhibition at the London Film Museum. For more details, head to http://londonfilmmuseum.com