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Firebat w/ A.V.A.C.

GI Joe Generation 3
by yo go re

In most cases, GI Joe vehicles have abbreviated names, while their drivers have normal ones. H.I.S.S., S.H.A.R.C., R.A.M., V.A.M.P.... you get the idea. At least one switches that up, however: the Firebat jet is piloted by the A.V.A.C.

Blasting from a vertical silo in the Terror Drome, the Firebat Jet streaks into the air on a mission of destruction. As its wings unfold, the A.V.A.C. (Air Viper, Advanced Class) pilot heads for his target: a GI Joe ship heading for Cobra island. The ship launches its own fighter, and an aerial dogfight rages in the sky!

While most of the G3 vehicle packs have had the same sort of outdoor battle scene backdrop, this one gets new art. The Firebat hasn't launched, yet, and is in an underground hangar with eight similar jets. It would make sense that there's more to the Terror Dromes than what we see aboveground, including a sub-basement for vehicle storage. After all, why would they limit themselves to one Firebat?

The Cobra Firebat Jet is fast and highly maneuverable aircraft with folding wings, so that the craft can fit into a Terror Drome vertical silo. Designed for swift attack, these jets require skilled pilots to achieve the precision needed to fly them effectively and take advantage of their advanced engineering. They are equipped with mini-cannons and demolition bombs powerful enough to reduce smaller buildings to rubble or weaken larger bases in advance of a larger air or ground attack.

The original Firebat was, of course, included with 1986's Terror Drome, and was also available for a few years via mail order. This is the first time it's been available by itself at retail, and Hasbro's gone all out.

To begin with, the sculpt is new. Well, somewhat: the general body is the same, but there are a lot of small added details, particularly on the underside; more panels, seams, vents and hatches, all adding to the feeling of realism. There's a 2006 copyright molded on the bottom, but Hasbro hasn't released a Firebat since 1988 - has this one really been in the works that long?

The Firebat is more than 8" long, and 9¾" wide with the wings unfolded. Yes, just as in the fiction, the toy's wings can be collapsed - at that point, the Firebat isn't even 6" wide. Of course, back in the day that feature was so the toy could fit in the Terror Drome, now it's just an anomaly. There are real-world folding wing aircraft, but the wings need to be manually locked into position before take-off: the implication here is that they pop out after launch.

Befitting its reputation as a jet with none of the amenities, the Firebat has no landing gear - you go up in this thing, you're not going to come back down smoothly. There are two wheels on the rear stabilizers, but they only touch the ground when the Firebat is in its vertical position; they're just to help move it onto the launch pad. There's a pair of stationary guns mounted under the cockpit, and six removable rockets under the wings. You can remove the air intake panels from both sides of the engine, and one of the decals on the canopy simulates a HUD.

The elite A.V.A.C. pilots are specially trained to fly the Firebat Jet fleet. They must have exceptional piloting and navigation skills, because the Firebat Jet has been designed with minimal pilot instrumentation to increase its speed and maneuverability. A.V.A.C. pilots relish the challenege of "real" flying, in which their control and calculations determine whether they succeed - or whether they go down in flames. They are chosen from the ranks of the Cobra pilots for their utter fearlessness as much as their impressive piloting skills.

If the AVAC is an "Air Viper, Advanced Class," where are the regular Air Vipers? I mean, OAFE is the Advanced Class of toy reviews, but only because there are others out there: if there weren't, we'd still be a collection of golden Adonises with words that drip like warm honey in your ears, but we wouldn't be "advanced." You can't advance if you don't have a baseline. So thank you, everyone else, for making us look better by comparison.

[Jesus Christ, you egotistical gasbag, give it a rest! --ed.]

The original AVAC was a rare standalone figure in the G1 line: that is, all of his parts were original, and none of them were ever used for a later figure, either. The AVAC is the AVAC, and nothing else. Now, that sort of thing wouldn't fly in Generation 3, since the costs of action figure production mean that every piece needs to be used for as many figures as possible.

The head is new, a nice update of the old helmet, but he's got Zartan's legs and the updated Flash torso also seen on the HISS Driver. This has the (probably unintended) consequence of giving the Cobra vehicle drivers something of a uniform appearance, while maintaining their individual looks. The only thing this AVAC is really missing are the mechanical reinforcements on his ankles - of course, he also doesn't come with a parachute like the G1 version did, so maybe he doesn't need the support. His only accessory? A knife in his boot.

The AVAC barely fits in the Firebat cockpit, but that's by design. This isn't a case of trying to put a 4"-scale figure in a 3¾"-scale vehicle, but an actual feature of the design. The Firebat is described as being "cramped by any standard," and the toy definitely lives up to that. It's a tight fit for our faceless pilot, but he knew what he was getting into when he volunteered.

The Firebat was anything but a common vehicle back in Generation 1, because the most common way to get it was to convince your parents to buy you a Terror Drome - no easy task. However, both it and the AVAC are good fun, if you give them a chance. The only real drawback? For some reason, the filecards are printed on the bottom of the box, rather than just included inside. It's been nice getting a break from cutting those things out with the vehicle packs, but this one doesn't offer that. Still, that's no reason to avoid this set.

-- 02/20/09

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