Fire Birds (originally titled Wings of the Apache and released internationally under that name) is a 1990 action-thriller film directed by David Green and produced by William Badalato, Keith Barish and Arnold Kopelson. The storyline was conceived by retired Lt. Colonels Step Tyner and John K. Swensson and retired Marine Capt. Dale Dye and developed into a screenplay written by Paul F. Edwards, Nick Thiel and uncredited David Taylor. The film stars Nicolas Cage, Tommy Lee Jones and Sean Young. Cage is cast as a helicopter pilot attempting to help dismantle a drug cartel in South America. Jones plays his pilot instructor and senior ranked military officer during his flight training, while Young portrays his love interest.
Filming for Fire Birds was shot primarily on location in Arizona as well as at Fort Hood, Texas army base, home of the Army’s Apache Training Brigade (21st Cavalry Brigade (AIR COMBAT)). Extensive aerial stunt sequences were coordinated with the National Guard of the United States, the United States Army and the United States Air Force. Between technical advisers, stuntmen, and pilots, over 100 personnel were directly involved in the production aspects of the film. AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Blackhawk, AH-1 Cobra, MD Helicopters MD 500 and OH-58 Kiowa rotorcraft, as well as Saab 35 Draken aircraft were employed during filming. Technical assistance from McDonnell Douglas service representatives was also utilized during production. The helicopter training aerial stunt sequences were designed by Richard T. Stevens who also coordinated visuals for the film, Top Gun.
Fire Birds premiered in theaters nationwide in the United States on May 25, 1990 grossing a modest $14,760,451 in domestic ticket receipts. The film was met with negative critical reviews before its initial screening in cinemas; generally due to its melancholy dialogue and striking plot similarities to the more popular 1986 action film Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis.