Back from the African job – Apollo Airways

“Any higher Mr Bond, and my ears will pop…”
When Bond is returning from a mission in the pre-title sequence in Moonraker, he is sent home in a private plane from Apollo Airways. M calls it “the African job” and we get the impression that Bond is flying back from Africa. The plane appears to be chartered by the villain that Bond supposedly has dealt with during the African job since both the pilot and stewardess are working together to kill Bond. Furthermore, Jaws is on board to make things even harder. Before the action starts Bond is ‘on his last leg’ with the stewardess, enjoying a glass of Bollinger. Two bottles of wine can also be seen in the cabin, one red and one white.

“-This is where we leave you Mr Bond!
         -A little premature isn’t it?”

Bond is travelling in a Handley Page HP 137 Jetstream, belonging to Apollo Airways. This was actually a Californian passenger and cargo charter airline that operated between 1975 and 1982 before it changed name to Pacific Coast Airlines. Founded in 1969, scheduled operations for Apollo started in 1975, serving southern and central California from Santa Barbara. By 1978 the airline served Sacramento, San José, Oakland and Las Vegas. Apollo entered into bankruptcy protection in 1981 and was reorganized by 1982, changing its name to Pacific Coast Airlines. The airline faced its demise and ceased operations in late 1985.

It is not a surprise that Apollo is a Californian airline, since the skydiving stunts in the pre-title sequence were performed in the United States. Maybe the filmmakers wanted to thank Apollo for the cooperation during the stunt sequences and therefore didn’t change the livery on the aircraft to an airline operating in Africa. Although it is unlikely that Apollo Airways was well known outside of California and the name could probably be used without placing Bond in a specific country.

One of the 10 Jetstreams that was operated by Apollo Airways.
Used with kind permission of Richard Vandervord

Thanks to Willam Cox, a former pilot at Apollo/Pacific Coast Airlines, I have learned that the two pilots for the Jetstream in the movie were Dan Gray and Ron Whitfield. They had both joined major airlines at the time of the reconstruction. The parachute action was filmed near a jump school in Pope Valley in Napa, California. The lake seen in the film, the one that the plane is flying over (top picture) is Lake Berryessa, the biggest lake in Napa. The tail number of Bond’s Jetstream is N5VH but apparently all the tail numbers were later changed and the specific aircraft that was used in the film received the tail number N2209 and was painted in the same colors as the plane in the picture above. This livery was also used by Pacific Coast Airlines.

The Bond Jetstream with the original livery

Many thanks to former Pacific Coast Airlines Captain William Cox for the information about the pilots and the location of the jump. It has been hard finding information about the airline and if anyone has more information about Apollo Airways or some nice pictures, just let me know!

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7 thoughts on “Back from the African job – Apollo Airways

  1. Hi
    I flew for Apollo Airways and Pacific Coast Airlines from 1981 until 1984. The Moonraker HP-137 was originally registered as N5VH. Later Apollo management reregistered all the aircraft with their original serial numbers in the registration. N2209 was indeed Moonraker All the planes were painted like the picture you have of N1213. Later we got some HP-137's from Interstate and Big Sky that had different paint schemes. It was a fun plane to fly and great little airline.

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  2. Hi,
    Very interesting information. Thank you for sharing! You didn't meet the pilot who flew the plane in the film?
    I must say, I think the green paint scheme looks better than the blue/red/orange livery.
    Thanks again for the information, it has been hard indeed to find info about the airline!
    Best Regards
    R

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  3. I worked in the charter dept at the time, and took the original call from the movie folks to arrange the use of the plane and pilots.They had to certify the plane to fly with the door off for that sequence! That was a very fun time, for sure. I knew Dan Gray pretty well. I worked for Apollo for a long time. 🙂 What info are you looking for?

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  4. I have quite a few photos and lots of information on Apollo. I enjoyed reading your blog on Apollo/Pacific Coast and the Jetstream.

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  5. It would be interesting to know why the filmmakers chose this particular airline and if there was any money involved. Was it kind of a product placement or did they got to use the planes for free?
    Best Regards,
    R. Sterling

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  6. I flew for Pacific Coast Airlines in 1985, watched it go out of business…sad. The plane in question had the word: MOONRAKER in small letters below the captains sliding window (direct vision window) and the type was nice to fly, though it had some peculiar things that bringing a French Engine and a British Airframe together would produce.

    The plane was used as it was the only modern turboprop that could safely be flown with the door open , allowing for parachuting. Other designs could not make this work. The Handley Page Jetstream was a very strong airframe. One other plane (metroliner) had the door too near the prop and used a CLICK CLACK design to carry through loads, so it could not be opened or used.

    My name is really Jon Regas and I loved my time with this fine airline…best commuter I flew for *3 of em boys and girls. Now with one of those big , giant , biggest airline in the world places.

    All the best to my fellow Pacific Coast Airline folks

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