Blue Thunder: Days of Future Past. Are we there yet?

Back in the day (1983), there was a movie Blue Thunder, about military surveillance tech on a helicopter, turned towards the civilian sector. (It spawned a couple of TV series: Blue Thunder and Airwolf.)

It also involved a lot of shoot-things-up hardware, but that’s hopefully besides the point.

Here in Northern Greater Toronto, living between two local parks, I do get a chance to observe York Region police helicopters as they cruise the local parks on weekends, on nights with perfect flying weather. One thing that struck me one night when a helicopter was doing an orbit of a local park is that those things have advanced low-noise tech. Rather than a house-rattling old school WAP-WAP-WAP, it was a hushed wuff-wuff-wuff. I was in awe of the engineering that must have required. Of course, police conducting operations without waking the neighborhood is a good thing, right?

And then there’s the FLIR night vision camera system. Here’s the footage as they close in on some 16-year-old candy thieves at an amusement park:

Pretty amazing footage eh? It seems to be a high quality passive IR system, although I expect that they have some kind of IR illuminators if they need them. In this case, the crime had been reported by the park security, and they had probable cause to switch on the IR gear and search. But what are their rules for scanning and recording? I suspect that it’s on when they scan the local parks for teenagers getting up to no good on a Saturday night. Do they switch it off when they fly over the houses between parks? Doubt it. Is that some kind of search that butts heads with constitutional limits? Probably hell yes.

Just saying. (No, I have no idea if they are black helicopters.)


I don’t know specifically about Far-IR based imaging, but visible spectrum imaging already has this:

Basically, it’s live footage, 24/7 from high altitude planes. They’ve already deployed it in at least one US city without asking the public first.

This kind of tech can literally see everything that goes on outside of buildings at all times for an entire city. If there’s a breach, it’d be trivial for you to figure out where everyone in the city lived, just by tracking them and their vehicles.

Originally the tech was developed during the US’s wars in the middle east. The application was, as soon as a roadside bomb went off, they could track back in time to the last vehicle at the bomb’s position, then track forward to see where the bombers went, then command sends a unit to get some kills on the board.


Not to get too black-helicopter on you, but your whole life is being surveilled by multiple entities both governmental and private all the time, and there’s literally no way to avoid it besides living on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Everyone is. It’s almost part of the social contract now. Cradle to grave, ad companies will watch where you go, what you buy, who you talk to, and will use that to “enhance your experience”.


Short answer: yes.

Slightly longer answer: we are way past “there”.


Oh 100% agreed! Police here don’t use helicopters AFAIK but I’ve noticed the noise reduction you describe on other kinds of helicopters here over the years.

Even consumer available IR has gotten pretty amazing. Don’t know if its as good as the video example you included. Maybe it just comes down to price? Its the sort of thing that if I was wealthy I’d love to have in a tool box but can’t justify on its own sake.

Does anyone but me ever feel some nostalgia for back when black helicopter conspiracy talk was still borderline interesting and fun?

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I loved both those TV shows. :smiley:


Yup. That whole story is just chilling.


Eyesky is already flying over US cities.

With it, you can retroactively track every participant of any aerially-visible gathering back to their point of origin. And then do the same to anyone who has ever visited that location.


No offense, but social contract my ass. It’s imposed by unaccountable authorities taking more and more power through fear-mongering like the “PATRIOT” Act. Citizens didn’t sign up for this unless one broadens the definition of social contract to include whatever you’re not willing to wage war against you’ve implicitly agreed to. Contract implies some kind of bilateral and at least somewhat equitable exchange of agreements. The surveillance state is just plain old totalitarianism in a snazzy modern suit.


I agree. I just meant “social contract” in the sense that it’s a bunch of restrictions/intrusions that are supposed to be “good for you” that you never agree to, and can’t opt out of.

Taxes are one thing. Comprehensive private and public surveillance of everyone’s communications and activities is quite another.

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Exactly! Personally I would be all for constant persistent surveillance…of authorities.


We used to. It was called the fourth estate, until it was so heavily monetized it’s generally got more in common with the WWE than C-SPAN.

Seriously, the older I get, the more I think money is more trouble than it’s worth.


It wouldn’t be so much trouble if our society didn’t worship it as the alpha and omega. But heavens forfend we put anything else before the almighty buck!


Situational awareness doesn’t get switched off once the it’s in place. It becomes part of the toolkit and if it’s good tech it is next to impossible to remove. Like giving somebody 20/20 vision after being blind. That is exactly what the US military via FlIR has done for law enforcement.

FLIR makes products for drones too. So, when you here that buzz outside your window say ‘cheese!’ and don’t drop the towel!

FLIR is happy and fun, so lie down and stop resisting, stop resisting!


FLIR Slogan: We’re slap ass crazy and we see your heat.

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I wonder how a mylar survival blanket would work? Held at least a foot away from the body, it should be at ambient temperature, and reflecting 90% the IR away from the camera.

ETA: Seems to work, but can’t be directly worn or it’ll be warm too. And you’ll bake, oh yes. FLIR making it into a jacket is just dumb, and I’m sure that they knew it wouldn’t work.

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Here is the thing…many technological advances are made through military engineering. Eventually that technology moves past military only use and into civilian/corporate uses as well. Much of it is mundane: velcro, super glue, the Jeep, the hospital bed, GPS, microwave ovens, duct tape, penicillin, radar, nylon, wristwatches, drones, etc.

Using thermal imaging (as well as other imaging filters) isn’t new, but it seemed cutting edge in the early 80’s when Blue Thunder came out (which was modeled after the at the time cutting edge Apache - though it was not actually an Apache, it was a French copter). We are 30 years post-early 80’s now. I do not feel like this stuff is all that high tech, nor is it cutting edge any longer.

Do we as a society want the police using modern military tech as a part of daily patrol? I’d say no. But we also should want them to evolve beyond this too…

I recall reading about the Taliban carrying mattresses over their heads during the night to try and evade drones with heat sensors. It would be more comfortable than a mylar jacket but who wants to carry around a mattress all the time?

It’s getting harder and harder to hide.

If it helps them find the persons who just stole my car or robbed my bank, yes. Tracking protesters or random folks for no good reason, hell no.