In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there's a scene where Indiana is piloting a plane and his father is acting as gunner. While shooting at incoming enemy planes, he accidentally shoots his own tail, forcing an emergency landing. According to an Indiana Jones Fandom page, the plane represents a German D-EKVY, although for the film they used a Stampe SV.4 biplane.

Were there planes used in actual combat during WW2 able to shoot their own tail as depicted in the movie?

Front guns were usually equipped with a synchronization gear to prevent pilots shooting their own propeller when engaging enemy planes. Was there a similar device to prevent planes from shooting their own tail?

  • $\begingroup$ Duplicate: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/55402/… $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ Definitely highly related, but that question was about one specific plane-- $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ Bombers with power turrets incorporated profile cams that disabled the firing mechanism when the gun barrel swept a part of the plane. In the case of a pintle mounted flexible machine gun however, nothing to stop you shooting the structure. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 1:33

1 Answer 1


The Douglas SBD Dauntless's rear gunner could shoot its own tail.

The SBD-5 had two 30-cal machine guns that could be popped out of storage in the aft fuselage and locked into a ring frame around the gunner's seat. That seat can rotate and pivot in several directions. The gun is mounted on a ball joint that allows it to rotate freely.

There is no mechanism or stop to prevent the gunner from shooting off the vertical tail. It might have been impossible to shoot off the horizontal tail, but I don't quite recall.

I used to volunteer for an organization that restored, maintained, and flew an SBD-5 as a flying museum. I've spent several hours in the back seat on pleasure flights, cross countries to airshows, and flying in airshows and photo flights. This is me in the back seat.

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One year, we hosted a reunion for a SBD squadron. Seeing those old timers interact with their airplane again was amazing. I remember one 80+ year old who hobbled with a cane. His face lit up when we said he could touch the airplane and even more so when we said he could get in. We prepared to help/lift this guy into the back seat when he dropped his cane and with one swift motion was up the side and into the back seat. Before you know it, he had the seat turned around and the guns drawn. It was all one fluid motion of 60+ year old muscle memory. It was beautiful and heartwarming.

A woman asked him "What kept you from shooting the tail off?". He gave the deadpan response "Fear of dying."

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    $\begingroup$ What an absolutely awesome response from the veteran! $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ This is why you need cameras rolling all the time on valuable artefacts where the public has access, to catch vandalism, thefts, and acrobatic octogenarians with machine guns. $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 12:22

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