Thunderbirds Thursday: 5 of the Thunderbird Craft’s Best Moments

As signalled by the series’ iconic countdown which begins each episode, Thunderbirds thrusts viewers into a world of dangerous heroics where mankind’s technological advancements regularly spiral out of control, with International Rescue proving to be the only outfit capable of saving those in peril. Each and every machine which makes up the International Rescue organisation is designed and equipped to deal with a far-reaching variety of disaster scenarios.

Thunderbirds delivers an abundance of thrilling moments for its machines throughout the series. Following on from Supercar, Fireball XL5, and Stingray, AP Films’ growing confidence in science fiction film-making and spectacular special effects enabled Thunderbirds to become one of Gerry Anderson’s most heroically hardware-heavy productions.

On this Thunderbirds Thursday, we’re counting down a defining moment for each of the Thunderbird machines!

5. Thunderbird 5 Guides the Fireflash (Operation Crash-dive)

It can be tricky pinning down a celebratory moment for one of International Rescue’s lesser-seen vehicles, and there may be several episodes in Thunderbirds‘ canon which unintentionally sidestep any use for the satellite, yet Thunderbird 5 plays a crucial role in International Rescue’s assistance of the Fireflash airliners in Operation Crashdive. When several Fireflash craft are targeted by suspected sabotage, International Rescue step in to help. Part of the sabotage involves scrambling the location of the Fireflash craft, the end result being that the eventual wreckage of targeted craft is never found.

However, Thunderbird 5, with Alan Tracy at the helm, lends invaluable help in guiding the Fireflash craft piloted by Scott and Captain Hanson, ensuring that its location is continually tracked in an effort to uncover the mystery behind the attacks on the supersonic airliners. International Rescue eventually succeed in outing the Benton Aircraft Espionage gang, which surely wouldn’t have been possible without Thunderbird 5’s guidance.

4. Thunderbird 4 Locates Ned and Joe (Terror in New York City)

Terror in New York City may well be famed for its hugely dramatic depiction of Thunderbird 2’s accidental attack at the hands of the U.S. Navy, but it’s surely Thunderbird 4 that deserves the praise. When overeager TV personality Ned Cook and his luckless yet faithful cameraman Joe become trapped under the collapsed Empire State Building, International Rescue suffer their trickiest challenge yet when they attempt a rescue with their heavy-duty transporter out of action. Nevertheless, Gordon Tracy eventually brings Thunderbird 4 to the disaster scene via a network of underground rivers beneath New York.

So begins one of Thunderbirds‘ most riveting action sequences as TB4 prowls along the cramped yet vast labyrinth of rivers searching for a rapidly weakening Ned and Joe, all the while the neighbouring Fulmer Finance Building risks collapsing next, which will send a cascade of further rubble that will surely finish off Ned and Joe once and for all. TB4 succeeds in finding the two men just in time, but not before the building’s collapse sends TB4 careering into the seabed. Drenching TB4 in rubble without actually showing the craft’s successful getaway is an electrifying shot to end the rescue scene on.

3. Thunderbird 3 Pulls the Sun Probe to Safety (Sun Probe)

Thunderbird 3’s debut in the series remains one of its strongest outings and a testament to Thunderbirds‘ effectiveness in its 50-minute format. The ambitious Operation Sun Probe space programme turns to disaster when the Sun Probe rocket becomes locked onto a collision course with the Sun itself. A unique two-pronged rescue swings into action with Thunderbird 3 blasting off to catch up with the Sun Probe whilst Thunderbird 2 travels to Mount Arkan, the plan being that both craft will launch powerful radio beams from strategic positions to trigger the Sun Probe’s failed retros into life.

Ultimately, the Thunderbird 3 team of Scott, Alan, and Tin-Tin prove successful, travelling as close as they dare to align within range of Sun Probe. It’s a triumphant payoff of riveting tension for Thunderbird 3’s debut when the Sun Probe pulls out of the Sun’s orbit – only for TB3 to suffer its own near-fatal collision with the Sun! With Virgil, Brains, and Braman’s ingenuity, TB3 is eventually dragged off-course and the crew return to Earth as both heroes and survivors.

2. Thunderbird 2 Slows Down the Runaway Cable Car (The Cham-Cham)

Thunderbird 2’s function as a transporter for International Rescue’s eclectic array of pod vehicles may mean that those smaller craft would steal the spotlight, but the series still delivers plenty of thrills for everyone’s favourite heavy-duty transporter. In the late-series highlight The Cham-Cham, Lady Penelope, Parker and Tin Tin journey to Paradise Peaks hotel to investigate the Cass Carnaby Five, a pop group who may have a curious connection to the continued sabotaging of the RTL2 air transporters.

The trio find far more danger than they’d bargained for, with the Cass Carnaby Five’s manager Mr. Olsen proving to be the villain of the hour. Attempting to make a getaway in the hotel’s cable car, Olsen damages the cable car’s wiring, sending the trio hurtling to their doom. With some worthwhile help from Parker, Thunderbird 2 arrives on the scene without a moment to spare and manages to bring the cable car to a halt, averting certain disaster, but not before Parker has his infamous Mary Poppins moment!

1. Thunderbird 1 Prevents a Rockfall (End of the Road)

Thunderbirds 1 and 2 pull of one of their most daring rescues ever when coming to the rescue of Eddie Houseman, co-owner of the Gray and Houseman Construction Company (and former flame of Tin Tin’s). The company’s efforts to blast a new road through a mountain range in South-East Asia are hampered by torrential weather, but that doesn’t stop the headstrong Eddie from taking a truck full of explosives into the range to detonate. Both Eddie and the explosive-filled truck become trapped on a mountain ledge thanks to the weather, necessitating Thunderbirds 1 and 2’s help whilst still risking having their security exposed.

The horrendous weather and treacherous mountain terrain make for a deadly backdrop of dangerous rescuing, with Thunderbird 1 unable to wait for Thunderbird 2’s arrival and Scott having to perform some heroic feats himself. The quick-witted, level-headed Scott manages to stop a rockfall from collapsing on top of the perilously perched Eddie by firing a range of steel spears from Thunderbird 1 into the rockface, catching the falling boulders just in time. It’s a brilliantly filmed sequence that breaks free from the commonly-seen stock footage of the Thunderbird machines in flight, and takes advantage of utilising dynamic angles to capture the danger of the situation. A thrilling moment which emphasises the rapid response functionality of Thunderbird 1.

It’s proved to be quite a perilous mission picking our favourite moments of each Thunderbird craft from the classic series! Did you agree with our selection? Do you have any favourite moments not included on this list? Let us know in the comments below or on our social media channels! Why not also join in the debate of which is the best Thunderbird craft by catching up with our Battle of the Thunderbirds livestream!

Written by
Fred McNamara

Atomic-powered writer/editor. Website editor at Official Gerry Anderson. Author of Flaming Thunderbolts: The Definitive Story of Terrahawks. Also runs Gerry Anderson comic book blog Sequential 21.

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