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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the distinct advantages to come out of the toy line based on the live-action movie, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra", has been some very interesting and very cool new vehicles. Even if one isn't all that interested in the movie or the figures per se, the vehicles will, logically, work with any established G.I. Joe 3-3/4" line, and will certainly make impressive additions to any G.I. Joe or Cobra arsenal.

A fair percentage of the vehicles are repaints from previous editions, although many of them are interesting repaints, and even more, a number of them somewhat reworked with additional details and features.

One of these "reworks", for lack of a better term, is the G.I. Joe SKY SWEEPER Jet. And there's quite a bit of history involved in that name, and for that matter, in the vehicle, even though this is the first time that name has been applied to this particular vehicle.

The original Sky Sweeper was a vehicle released in 1987, as part of the Battle Force 2000 series. And it wasn't even an aircraft. The original Sky Sweeper was a medium-sized tank-like vehicle with a large gun apparatus in the rear. It earned its name by being able to "sweep" the sky with cannon fire, thus posing a distinct hazard to any enemy aircraft that happened to be in the area. It was officially designated an "Anti-Aircraft Tank".

The second time the name came up was in 2003, and this time, it was legitimately applied to an aircraft. This Sky Sweeper was based on current stealth plane designed, and very closely resembled an F-117A. An impressive piece of work, it was re-released in 2004 under the same name, with minor modifications.

Just to throw another bit of confusion at you, that particular Sky Sweeper has been recolored and introduced into the movie-based line as the Crimson Hydra, a Cobra plane. But that's a different review entirely.

So, what's the newest Sky Sweeper? It's a remade Cobra Firebat. And there's a bit more history that we need to get into.

The original Cobra Firebat was first introduced in 1986, as part of the Cobra Terror-Drome. This massive playset, which measured around two feet in diameter, was a high-tech battle station for the bad guys, that happened to feature a raising and lowering launch tower elevator, complete with very fancy opening silo ports, right in the center of it.

That launch tower was there for the benefit of the Cobra Firebat, a "rocket plane" that Cobra had developed. It was piloted by the Cobra AVAC, who came with the Terror-Drome. In the comics, the Terror-Dromes were easy-to-set-up battle stations, modular in design (which was pretty much in keeping with the toy, really), that Cobra not only placed anywhere they thought they could get away with it, but also sold to any number of tin-horn dictators of third world banana republics and anyone else with a few suitcases full of money.

Of course, what Cobra didn't tell anybody was that the Terror-Dromes gave off certain low-level frequencies that were designed to increase feelings of hostility and paranoia within the human brain. Once that little tidbit got out, that was pretty much the end of the Terror-Drome program.

On their own, the Firebat and the AVAC pilot were popular items (the AVAC is a personal favorite of mine), and Hasbro eventually offered them independent of the Terror-Drome as part of a mail-order offer.

The Firebat returned in 2008, as part of the 25th-style line, before the switchover to the movie-based figures. Pretty much identical to its original 1986 incarnation, the Firebat came with a 25th-style version of the AVAC.

So, with the molds available, it's perhaps not surprising that Hasbro chose to use the Firebat as part of the expanded vehicle repertoire in the movie-based line of toys. But the vehicle has undergone a lot more than just a name change and a recoloration.

Those it has certainly undergone, however. The original Firebat was a deep red in color. The Sky Sweeper is a light steel blue, with a white underside. Not a bad color for an aircraft, really.

What I find mildly amusing about the color is that it's very similar to the color of the very first Firebat that turned up in the animated series. It was in one of the early mini-series. Duke was escaping from Cobra, and hijacked a Firebat. The only thing was, the Firebat was still quite some time from being released, and given the lead time necessary on both toys and animation, I suspect a final color scheme hadn't been determined for the vehicle, so the animators painted it a light-to-medium grey.

The Sky Sweeper isn't grey, it's a light steel blue, but that's still closer to that one brief early animated appearance than red.

The Sky Sweeper has been given an entirely new canopy, with sculpted detailing on it, which has been painted in the same steel blue as the main body of the vehicle. The canopy, as one would expect, is the same basic shape as that of the Firebat, it just has more detail to it.

But the serious modifications are further back. The Firebat had wheels. They didn't roll, but it had wheels. The Sky Sweeper has landing skids -- two along the rear wings, and one up front. But that's not even the most significant alteration.

The original Firebat had fold-out wings, which it could extend once it had cleared the launch elevator tower. These wings had high, raised wing tips, but also a secondary raised wing in the center of each horizontal wing, which during assembly of the toy was snapped into place along a designated slot.

The fold-out wings still exist, and they still fold out, but those center-located wings have been completely replaced by a massive pair of jet engines. It's always been assumed that the engine of the original Firebat had these fairly narrow intakes along either side of the main body of the plane, venting out through a single circular jet in the rear. That's still there, and one has to assume that it's still operational on the Sky Sweeper, but it's definitely been overshadowed by these massive, wing-mounted engines!

Large and squarish in the front, they taper to jets in the back that bear a significant resemblance to the established center engine. They have protective black shields that extend from their sides and forward somewhat, one assumes to protect the pilot. Along with being connected along the same slot that once bore the center wings, additional pieces attach to the sides of these engines, and come over the top of the rear of the main vehicle body, like extra ailerons. They don't actually snap into place on the main body of the vehicle, but they're a good fit. Strangely, the two pegs on each of these ailerons that allow them to be snapped into the engine sides have been painted black. That was a tad pointless.

The new pieces certainly make for a dramatic and powerful appearance for the vehicle, and categorically differentiate it from a Firebat as much as possible, but there is an aspect of these new parts that isn't the best fit with the established vehicle. To coin a term, I'd have to say they're a bit over-sculpted.

Whoever designed these new pieces, I might speculate had some prior experience in designing the intricate details of model kits of World War II aircraft. In the case of the new Sky Sweeper parts, whoever made them got a little carried away in the detail department and loaded them up with lots of tiny little bulging rivets. They're even shown on the diagrams of the instruction sheet!

Now, there's nothing wrong with an impressive level of detail, and that's certainly to be found here. The problem is that the rest of the vehicle, the original Firebat, is basically rivet-free. So the end result is that these new parts LOOK like new parts, like something that was added after the rest of the vehicle was designed and built. And I can't imagine that that was the intended result of adding these parts. I would think that the preferred outcome would have been for them to "blend" a little better than this.

One other note -- the label instructions recommend placing a pair of large labels, essentially an identification number for the Sky Sweeper, a big "063", over the riveted area, on the sides of the large engines. While I don't want to go against instructions or tell someone where to place labels on a G.I. Joe vehicle -- my recommendation is to place these labels on the main body of the aircraft. There's plenty of room on the sides, and it's a smoother area. They'll work a lot better. More problematic are the "Jet Intake" labels which are supposed to go over a highly ridged area. Use your own best judgment here, but G.I. Joe vehicle labels, while generally very well made, also work best on smooth surfaces.

Detail aside, these new additions to the vehicle certainly set the Sky Sweeper apart from its ancestor, and make it look distinctly more powerful. One gets the impression that the Sky Sweeper could beat a Firebat in any race anyone claimed to name.

And if it can't outfly it, the Sky Sweeper could almost assuredly outshoot it. The underside of the wings, previously the province of a number of small rockets and missiles, still has some of those original rockets and missiles, but also added to the underside are two large spring-loaded missile launchers, complete with a pair of big blue missiles.

The labels included with the vehicle, regardless of potential placement problems, are well made and printed on clear vinyl. They feature a fairly standard assortment of warning and advisory labels, as well as numerical designations and the like. I've always appreciated the labels that come with G.I. Joe vehicles, as I do think they add an important level of detail and greater authenticity to the vehicles. I was a little dismayed that there was no label for the Sky Sweeper that featured the G.I. Joe "word" logo, instead the movie-based eagle-head emblem is on the sheet.

Sizewise, if you're curious or need to clear some shelf space, the Sky Sweeper is about eight inches in length, and has a wingspan, with wings at full extension, of about ten inches. It's pretty folded up in its box, and some assembly is definitely required -- mostly snapping on one of the larger engines, the top ailerons, and the landing skids.

This isn't the first vehicle in this size-assortment range that I've bought that's come partially assembled and frankly looked rather cramped in the box. I don't want to criticize the package designers -- honestly the package design for the movie vehicles is fairly dynamic, if a considerable departure from anything previously seen in G.I. Joe. And for all I know there was some mandate on the part of the retailers to cut the box size down so more of them could be put into a certain allocated area of store space. But I do find myself wondering just a bit, how many more vehicles they can fold into this particular small box size and get away with it. The Mantis Attack Craft was a tight squeeze, as well. About the only vehicle I've brought home that seemed to be a comfortable fit was the Snarler Cycle.

The Sky Sweeper comes with a pilot figure, a G.I. Joe team member by the name of Air Raid. And there's a name with a bit of history within G.I. Joe, as well.

More than I thought, as it turned out. Although the file cards on the movie line don't go all that in-depth, they do offer a few details, especially an individual's real name, assuming it isn't classified. And Air Raid's real name was listed as Franklin E. Talltree.

Let me see if I can get this out in one or two paragraph and have it make some sense. Franklin E. Talltree was the real name of a Helicopter Assault Trooper first introduced into the G.I. Joe line in 1983. His code name was Airborne. He turned up in later years, including the 25th Anniversary line, with the name Sgt. Airborne. Airborne -- not Air Raid.

Now, there was a character named Air Raid on the G.I. Joe team. He was a member of the special team known as Sky Patrol. But his real name wasn't Franklin E. Talltree. The oddball thing about Sky Patrol, though, was that it had a member whose name was Airborne, but HE wasn't Franklin E. Talltree, either! Technically, that gave the G.I. Joe team two members code-named Airborne. Wouldn't be the last time something like that happened, either.

So now, in the movie line, we have a character named Air Raid, and his real name is Franklin E. Talltree. Okay, fine. I'll go with it.

The headsculpt for Air Raid could pass for the original Talltree Airborne, really. It also bears a fair resemblance to another Sky Patrol member, a character by the name of Altitude. The uniform, perhaps thankfully, is unlike anything anyone named Airborne or Air Raid or Altitude has ever worn.

The uniform is predominantly a very dark blue. The trousers have some whitish camouflage imprinted on them. Air Raid's most distinctive equipment feature is a pale grey parachute pack strapped around his waist. He also has a black holster on his left leg, but the gun is not removable. He's wearing a molded-on protective black chestplate and backplate. I can see this being entirely workable for the pilot of the Sky Sweeper. If this craft is anything like the Firebat, then it's a serious physical strain to fly. The Firebat was notorious for being a no-frills, no-comfort vehicle, dubbed the "Pocket Rocket" by its pilots, most of whom signed up for the sheer challenge of flying the thing.

If the Sky Sweeper is anything like that, and with those new huge engines it might actually be worse, then I don't blame Air Raid for wanting to wear as much protective gear as possible.

He has wide black straps on his arms and upper right leg, and black knee pads, as well as black boots. Equipment-wise, the figure comes with a black helmet, as well as a black pistol and a mostly black rifle with some silver painted detail. One thing about G.I. Joe accessories in recent years -- they've taken to painting detail on them. Nice touch, really.

Although the character file cards for the movie-based line don't go into a lot of background detail, there is some text on the back of the box explaining the Sky Sweeper. It reads as follows:

Sky Sweeper jets provide air support to the G.I. Joe team's aerial combat fleet. Advanced avionics and an innovative design enable these stealth jets to fly at super-low altitude to avoid radar detection and reach speeds approaching Mach 3. Compact, swift, and highly maneuverable, Sky Sweeper jets aggressively confront threats from enemy aircraft and deliver air-to-ground attack and support.

So, what's my final word here? I think the Sky Sweeper is proving to be fairly popular. It is possible to see it, folded up as it is in its box, and thing it's just a recolored Firebat. But take a look at the photos on the back of the box -- or just in this review. There's a lot more to the Sky Sweeper than just a recolored Firebat. It has some seriously impressive new additions to it, that definitely give it a bit more of a coolness factor.

The Sky Sweeper Jet would make a very interesting and welcome addition to any G.I. Joe collection.

The SKY SWEEPER JET from G.I. JOE - THE RISE OF COBRA definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!