By today's standards, the scene in the pre-titles sequence of GoldenEye where James Bond rides his motorbike off the cliff, discards the bike, freefalls towards a pilot-less plane in nose-dive, catches to it, hauls himself into the plane and the cockpit, and wrestles with the controls before lifting the nose and flying away to safety, looks a little ropey. As the special effects supervisor, Chris Corbould, says: 'The shot where he comes in from the doorway is on wires…it's probably not our finest moment' (Empire, June 2012). Well, I can think of worse (Bond glacier surfing in glorious CGI in Die Another Day?), but in any case, the scene is as exciting now as it was when I first saw the film in 1995. At least the scene was shot with real people, real props and, yes, real wires.
I remember that there was much incredulity expressed about the science of the stunt, but it is reassuring to know that the stunt was theoretically possible. In June's Empire magazine, Martin Campbell confirms that the production team considered performing the stunt in reality, and Chris Corbould suggests that the plane, a Pilatis Porter, could be slowed sufficiently to allow a skydiver to catch up to it and clamber on board.
Indeed, an early version of the stunt appears to have been performed during preparations of the aerial scenes in Octopussy. George MacDonald Fraser, who co-wrote the Octopussy screenplay, describes in his memoir, The Light's on at Signpost (Harper Collins, 2002), a stunt which was performed by the stuntmen B J Worth and Rande Deluca, who doubled for Roger Moore and Kebir Bedi in the aerial scenes. In retrospect, the stunt could have been a prototype of the GoldenEye sequence. B J Worth flew a light plane, out of which Rande Deluca jumped. Worth then took the plane into a nose-dive, caught up to Deluca, then manoeuvred the plane to allow Deluca to haul himself back inside.
The stunt doesn't match the GoldenEye sequence exactly, and it is unclear if the stunt was in fact related to the Octopussy preparations. However, GoldenEye's skydiving was performed by B J Worth, and it is possible that he provided elements of the stunt that he had successfully carried out around the time of Octopussy to the sequence which closely resembled it.