1986 AVAC

Through the first four years of GI Joe, there weren’t too many figures that I didn’t see up close. Me and my friends had all of the original Joes, either in their straight arm or swivel arm incarnations. The one figure I don’t remember was the silver pads version of Grand Slam, and Listen ‘n Fun Tripwire never came to Canada, but otherwise I saw them all. But things changed starting in the fifth year, as more figures were being released that I would have no direct exposure to.

For one, the number of new figures being produced had grown substantially from 1982 (16 figures) to 1986 (32 figures). It would grow again in 1987 and 1988. And one of the catalysts for the big increase in those later years was more vehicle drivers.

GI Joe had originally been envisioned as a vehicle-centric toyline, given that boxed vehicles could drive significantly more revenue per unit than the carded figures.

Most of the kids I knew would acquire some carded figures each year, but none of them was getting more than a few vehicles from any given series. Some of my friends were becoming less interested in GI Joe by then, too, as the vehicles were becoming less realistic, and video games, RPGs and sports started pulling some of them away from toys entirely. Considering that I lived in a small town with few toy retailers, that 1986 presented a larger assortment of vehicles with drivers, and that less of my friends were in the market for GI Joe toys, it was obvious why I didn’t cross paths with some of the vehicle drivers.

Two 1986 toys I didn’t have access to were the Night Raven and Terror Drome. A kid who lived on my side of town owned the Night Raven, sure, but we weren’t close, so its pilot, Strato-Viper, was still a mystery to me. The Cobra Terror Drome and Firebat, and the Firebat pilot, AVAC, were actually a near miss in my collection, since my mom had planned to give them to me for Christmas in 1986, before Sears canceled her order and sent her scrambling to find something else at the last minute. Regardless, those Cobra pilots invaded my consciousness through the GI Joe catalog, the Sears Wishbook, the cartoons and the comic books. So although I never played with them, those figures were important to me in some way.

Had the Cobra Terror Drome come into my possession, AVAC would have been a key figure in my childhood. I know this now because Steam-Roller, the driver of the Mobile Command Centre – the biggest toy I ever owned – has a special place in my heart.

The Terror Drome would have been the centre of play from the day it was supposed to arrive, in 1986, until I packed all my Joes away for good, in 1988. And that would have changed the GI Joe vs. Cobra battle immeasurably.

My childhood Cobras had no home base. Instead, they were always attacking the Joes, since the good guys had stationary equipment, including the Flak, Watch Tower, Bivouac and Transportable Tactical Battle Platform. Other than my Alpine/climbing scenarios with a makeshift Cobra base at the top of our staircase, the bad guys were rarely stationary. But the Terror Drome had the gravitational pull of a small moon. And so AVAC would have been so important to me, given his role as Firebat pilot.

AVAC’s three colours – silver, red and black – are stunning. He is shiny and looks important within the Cobra pilot corps. The silver parts are smooth, a form of armour plating, whereas the red parts show the ripples of more natural clothing underneath. And the black of his boots, pistol, belt, gloves and visor creates a natural contrast that solidifies the overall look.

The figure has a natural inclination to show wear, particularly on his helmet, and on any part where the silver paint is prominent. This means that while a mint version of AVAC looks spectacular, it doesn’t take too much playwear before the figure starts to look less than stellar. Hence, he will be one of the last figures I ever let my kids play with.

I’m careful never to put my thumb directly on the black Cobra emblem on his silver chest when I pick him up, knowing what happens to the silver paint applications on the chests of Cobra Officers, Viper Pilots and the silver-pads version of Grand Slam.

His simple parachute pack is a decent enough accessory, with good moulding and the correct colour choice (black), but I know putting it on and removing it, repeatedly, would accelerate his chest wear.

The moulding is good, though soft in spots. And although the helmet is cool, it is clearly out of scale. I know figures like Beach Head, Cross Country and Shockwave are known for their big heads, but AVAC is the prime example of a pinhead figure. To have a human head fit into a helmet that size requires a scaled, child-size head or a lack of chin and jaw. This would be less noticeable if his body wasn’t so bulky, which just exacerbates the issue.

Helmet sizes seems to be something Hasbro’s designers struggled with, as AVAC’s was too small, Steel Brigade’s was too big, the BATS head was too tall, the Techno-Viper too wide. And yet, regardless of his imperfect helmet, I somehow like this figure immensely.

Shortly after putting AVAC into the Terror Drome for the first time, as an adult, I gave him a nickname, “the Main Event”. And the reason is silly, of course.

When a bunch of Cobras are in the Terror Drome, it seems like they’re hiding out, because the walls are so high and only a few really have any tasks to do other waiting around for GI Joe to attack. Then they ask AVAC to jump into the Firebat and fight the Joes. So in my mind, AVAC in the Firebat is the Main Event.

I got my first AVAC through eBay in 2014, from a dealer in Tofino, BC, about six hours from here, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This fact fascinates me, because I’ve been to that little town a dozen times over the years, and it would be almost as exciting to meet up with another Joe collector as to go to the beach or visit the Roy Henry Vickers art gallery there.

Almost.

That first AVAC was a little beaten up, so in the years since, I traded him away and acquired two better conditioned figures, one from BTNT Toys in Salt Lake City, on a work trip in 2018, and another from This N That, a small collectibles shop in Courtenay, BC, later that same year. Owning two AVACs seems logical, given that I have the original, dark red Firebat, and a bright red, mailaway Firebat that I acquired from Hasbro Canada when I was in high school. Both need pilots.

But, interestingly, I’ve never put them both on display together.

I’m just not sure I could handle the excitement of having two Main Events.

6 replies on “1986 AVAC”

This is a great write-up, and lovely pictures! I admire your skill in putting the parachute on; I broke a chute about 20 years ago and have been too squeamish to try with my good one since then.

I was too young to get the Terror Drome at retail, and then missed out on mail-ordering the Firebat (I think I was satisfied with my Hurricane, my FANG II, and my flea market Mamba). When I got a Terror Drome secondhand, the Firebat was missing its canopy. And by the time I found that part, I was no longer really playing with Joes. So I don’t really have any childhood memories of the Firebat, and as a result I tend to forget about the AVAC. But this is a great reminder of how good they are.

Your idea of the Firebat as the Main Event of the Terror Drome certainly fits with the comics, where their entire purpose is as launch bases (ok maybe not their REAL purpose, once the ultra low frequencies are revealed, but you know what I mean).

Thanks as always for the compliments.

I do have one spare parachute so that made it easier to ignore the risk putting it on.

I think part of my “main event” theory is that I haven’t actually spent much time exploring the lower level, since I didn’t play with it as a kid. All my guys are on display on the upper level, and there’s only a few roles up there: gunner’s station, computer station, rocking chair, Firebat pilot or just standing around. And there aren’t easy ways to move figures around and into the action because there aren’t stairs. With the MCC, by contrast, it’s easy to move the figures and get them into different roles. Sure, guys can still stand around but it feels more immersive.

I don’t know what happened to me in 1986. I have no recollection of ever asking for or wanting the Terrordrome, despite the fact that I was still heavily involved in Joe. I always got a big toy for my birthday or Christmas. But, I have no memory of what it was in 1986. It wasn’t a toy, though.

As a kid, I would have loved the Firebat. In 1986 and 1987, my play was heavily focused around small aircraft. So, Skyhawks were my only Joe flying vehicles and the drones from the Night Raven and, later, Mamba were their Cobra counterparts. The Firebat blows both of those away and would have been completely central to my play and, likely, one of my favorite toys.

I also got my mail away Firebat from Hasbro Canada. Though, in 1999. About 10 years ago, all Firebats and AVACs got cheap for a while. I picked up a lot with a Terrordrome Firebat and two AVACs with chutes for like $20. It was a great time to collect.

I need to get mine out for photos as both vehicle and pilot are great looking toys and really complement each other well.

That’s funny. I think I loved Joe the whole time but had little gaps where I got pulled into other interests. Some of the 1987 vehicles and the movie (luckily!) slipped my notice, so I can relate.

I think the Firebat is the most frustrating vehicle to me as an adult, not because it isn’t nice or fun, but just that it’s so fragile. The belly guns break everytime I look at them and that is so frustrating to have something valuable and temperamental!

The most interesting thing about that Sears Canada order for me was that they weren’t all mailaway versions. The HISS was and the Firebat was, but the APC wasn’t the CUDA. Oh well, at least I got a few things. But, man, I wish I tried to order again since they were still shipping for years after Joe left retail.

Even a few years ago the AVAC price wasn’t too prohibitive. I think I spent as much on the Canadian filecard as I did on any of the three AVAC figures.

The AVAC is one of the few figures from the vintage line I’ve never seen in person. So I’m intrigued to learn about how small his head really is.

AVAC looks cool, the design is neat, because he’s unique, but there’s some subtle throw backs to the HISS Driver and Wild Weasel in his design (Or maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see)

Well, I’m glad you asked! I did actually measure it to make sure it wasn’t an optical illusion. His head is ~1/2 inches tall, whereas a random sample of other Joes show most ~5/8 inches.

I had noticed some connections with Wild Weasel, for sure, and see it with the HISS Driver too, now that you say it.

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