The Impossible Mission, but with Cool Planes. Other vehicles in other mediums may be used (spaceships in space, submarines underwater, etc) if necessary. In any case, the impossibility of the mission comes from the fact that the vehicle in question is forced to operate in an environment it wasn't designed for. Instead of soaring through the open skies, the Cool Plane will be forced to maneuver through a narrow canyon; the spaceship will be in an Asteroid Thicket or a near an Black Holes Suck; the submarine will be forced to operate at (or beyond) its maximum diving depth. Basically, our heroes are forced to take a route that would be a bad idea at the best of times, much less under enemy fire, on a time limit, with dire consequences for failure. For additional entertainment, the path will often destroy itself as it's being travelled.
A common form of The Climax. Done correctly, it shows off the main character's courage, resolve, and Improbable Piloting Skills, allows them to defeat the Big Bad in one fell swoop, and provides plenty of chances for Visual Effects of Awesome. Rather than trying to top this, it's often best to just put it at the end of the story and wrap things up as soon as it's over.
Since The Dam Busters, or rather, Star Wars's homage to The Dam Busters for the fight against the Death Star, there has been in increasing chance such missions will require flying though a canyon, shaft, city, or other form of trench or absurdly long and spacious corridor.
- One episode of Gundam Seed Destiny features Shinn flying though a cave in the separated parts of his Impulse Gundam in order to avoid Earth Alliance defenses protecting a Wave Motion Gun built into a mountain, and then reassemble it once he reaches the gun itself.
- In Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?, after the allied Zentradi forces and the Macross itself have punched into Boddol Zer's moon-sized fortress, Hikaru Ichijo flies his VF-1 Valkyrie, alone and armed to the teeth, into the very heart of the installation. He must weave through Laser Hallways, twisting corridors, and impossibly thick laser barrages—all set to the movie's titular song—until reaching Boddol Zer himself... and blasting him to atoms point blank.
- Macross Frontier, A homage the Super Dimension Fortress Macross sequence at the climax where Alto must destroy the Vajra Queen's head, and Grace along with it, but first he has to blast his way across the surface of an orbital ring structure and survive the onslaught of the Vajra and the Galaxy Fleet's assault carriers.
- In Macross Plus, for the climax of the personal conflict between Isamu and Guld, they take their grievances to each other to the streets of Macross City.
- All versions of Area 88 has the base pilots flying through a canyon to evade radar and SAMs en route to an enemy base. A few of them don't make it.
- The Dam Busters, based on a Real Life example. Hitting a concrete dam with strategic bombers from high above was virtually impossible with 1940s technology. Hitting it from the side is childs play, but requires approaching it at almost ground level.
- 633 Squadron, which climaxes with a fictional assault by RAF Mosquito aircraft on a Nazi rocket fuel plant, sited at the end of a long, narrow fjord.
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, directly referencing both The Dam Busters and 633 Squadron, only Luke's run is so difficult that the only way he was able to do was with some timely assistance by Han and Chewie eliminating his pursuers while he used The Force to hit the impossible target.
- Also done by Lando and Wedge in Return of the Jedi, as they plunge into the depths of the Death Star to blast the core at short range, and then fly back out of the suprestructure as they Outrun the Fireball.
- Referenced in The Phantom Menace, when Anakin accidentally flies his Naboo starfighter into the Trade Federation's central droid command ship, and accidentally causes it to explode.
- Memphis Belle, the first B-17 crew to achieve twenty-five missions in the European theatre in WWII. Because of the propaganda needs, the crew hopes for a milk run (a propaganda drop in occupied France). Nope. They're bombing a factory (wedged between a hospital and an orphanage, of course) deep in Germany.
- Down Periscope, A newly appointed submarine commander must take a renovated diesel submarine and evade the American Navy's detection to shoot mock targets in Charleston and Norfolk during a war game exercise. If that weren't hard enough, an admiral is determined to see him fail through any means necessary.
- Interestingly, the crew that Admiral Graham handpicks for Dodge (because he considers them unworthy of his navy) ends up being exactly what Dodge needs to win (except, maybe, Lake, as Dodge is actually just as good a diver as her but felt sorry for her).
- The climactic battle in Iron Eagle II requires the pilots to hit a terrorist base located inside the side of a mountain. It had a decidedly death-star-attack-esque feel to it.
- In the novel The Fire Dream, the protagonist and his fire direction unit have to call down a napalm strike to support the lead company of his brigade, which is being overrun by superior enemy forces. He is several miles behind their position. He cannot see either the enemy or the troops they are engaging. The enemy is almost directly adjacent to the friendly troops. And the planes cannot see the ground because of the bad weather. The spotter is reduced to using dead reckoning, a stopwatch, and listening for the sounds of the plane's engines (a technique normally used in the book for guiding planes to a general area for saturation bombing) to try and drop a precision strike on the advancing enemy without hitting any friendlies, because the situation is so desperate that everyone is reduced to praying for a miracle. Fortunately, he gets one.
A Company Commander: We die either way, Stuart! We're being overrun!
Lt. Stuart: Whiskey One, set up for a napalm strike against enemy infantry assaulting our lead position. Be advised I have no choice but to call you by sound-timed drop.
Whiskey One: How close is the enemy to friendly forces?
Lt. Stuart: Whiskey One, friendlies are being overrun, I say again, being overrun.
Whiskey One: Jesus Christ, cowboy, you'd better be plenty desperate and plenty good.
- The X Wing Series is generally about Old School Dogfighting and daring commando missions, but highly improbable airstrikes have a place too. One mission has them virtually recreating the iconic Death Star mission, with a run through a canyon followed by a proton torpedo strike on a pipe embedded in the canyon wall.
- The X Wing Series even gives a name to the "maneuver through this difficult terrain in order to bypass enemy defenses" tactic. Targets destroyed by those means are said to have died of "Trench Run Disease".
- The Guns of Navarone begins with planes coming back from such a mission against the titular fortress. At Navarone, however, it was impossible, which is why the mountain-climbing team had to be sent in.
- A possible subterranean example in Perry Rhodan would be the kidnapping of the visiting Emperor of Arkon off the planet Ertrus (occupied by said Empire at the time), which due to all the security measures aboveground necessitated the commando team in question infiltrating the area (and ducking underneath a force field) by taking an only somewhat vaguely defined route through the high-gravity planet's rather geologically active underworld...in midget chameleon submarines because the way back to the surface led straight through a geyser right in the middle of the capital.
- Battlestar Galactica: In one episode Apollo ends up flying through a tunnel to hit a Cylon target that was otherwise unreachable. The commentary specifically notes that this was intended to be the moment that proved Apollo had chops, by giving him something that was, on the surface, practically impossible.
- Airwolf never had to perform one of these directly, but "Proof through the Night", where String and Dom had to fly a weaponless Airwolf deep into the USSR to retrieve a defector and his family definitely qualifies.
- Hilariously parodied in Firefly, when Wash flies Serenity through a canyon in an attempt to shake off a pursuer...who simply flies above the canyon.
- Done in Stargate SG-1 with a Space Fighter, where O'Neill and Carter have to take out Anubis's mothership's Wave Motion Gun before he fires it. However, his shield is impervious to conventional weapons. They end up making a short hyperjump to bypass the shield and launch a missile at the target.
- In one episode of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Pilot has to fly the main ship down an entrenchment leading to the control center for Lord Dread's Icarus Platform while Power, Tank and Scout assist her against the trench defenses on their skybikes. Pilot's job is to blow the doors of the control center using a proton missile so that Power and crew can get inside and blow the platform before it can be used to digitize a whole lot of people.
- The Ace Combat series is in love with this. There are several commonly used variations:
- At least once per game (with the exception of Assault Horizon), you will fly through a tunnel, bunker, or some other underground structure in order to destroy something inside, usually the last or second to last mission.
- Another popular type is a mission in an area with obscene amounts of antiair firepower, requiring you to fly through a canyon (complete with ground strikes and dogfighting inside the canyon itself) to avoid the AA. Fly out of the canyon and you get hit by a swarm of missiles from all directions.
- Ace Combat 6 had a particularly ludicrous example: during the final mission (after the standard "fly underground to destroy something" bit), you have to fly down the barrel of a giant railgun as it's firing. Time it wrong and you get vaporized by the shot.
- That can be made easier, however. The shells that the gun fires can be targetted and destroyed before being loaded. Do that, and you'll have a much longer opening between shots to make your run.
- A more recent trend is where you have to avoid pockets of enemy radar in an attempt to slip into an area undetected.
- Afterburner Climax is similar to Ace Combat, but deserves mention for the times the enemy uses Frickin' Laser Beams as "tripwires" to damage your plane with.
- Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge involves flying through two zeppelin-eating grinder machines to take out their power cells, before diving into a giant rotor to blow up more of them. In order to prevent it from using its weather control weapon from leveling Chicago. Hey, Rule of Cool.
- In Star FOX, several missions could be considered this.
- The mission "The Space Armada" in the original SNES game has you flying through a battleship's interior in order to destroy its core.
- The "Venom Core" missions have you flying through the conduit leading to Andross' inner chambers. The "Venom Surface" mission in the second route, additionally, pulls you through a very highway path with a roof and a wall to the right, so the only opening is to the left.
- Star fox 64's penultimate boss fight on easy-mode Venom, where you chase a Humongous Mecha enemy through an imposing stone structure of some kind as he flings obstacles in your path, comes to mind.
- Video Game/Starfox Assault's final mission has you flying into the core of the Aparoid home world, where the Aparoid Queen waits for you. The mission isn't actually all that difficult, however, given that it's a fairly wide tunnel and the enemies all approach from the front.
- Any mission on Solar, which has the team flying far too close to either a really hot gas giant or a fairly cold star.
- In Rogue Squadron 2, the last mission in the regular campaign is practically impossible. Based on the attack on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi (above), it's not only Airstrike Impossible but adds components of an escort mission. Naturally, high-speed flight down winding tunnels, mooks-a-licious and getting out before it all goes boom are all featured.
- Star Wars Episode I: Starfighter, the training mission falls into the trench category of Airstrike Impossible, thanks to an invisible ceiling keeping the player inside a wing-scrapingly narrow canyon. The self-same canyon (complete with ceiling) is reprised in an escort mission filled with Trade Federation baddies to make That One Level. Interestingly, while tunnel fighting appears in the final level (attacking a Fed Battleship), side-tunnels actually provide time to hide and recharge shields, hence subverting the trope into a tactical advantage.
- Star Wars: X-Wing, the player is encouraged to fly down the trench (they get an arbitrary speed boost given only within the trench), but you can just as easily ignore the trench entirely and dive-bomb the target if you prefer.
- Secret Weapons Over Normandy, at least in the dambusting mission, which is of reasonable difficulty. Later missions tread a jot into Airstrike Impossible territory, though.
- Strike Gunner, the final level one-ups the typical Shmup by including dead ends. Thank god the rest of the game is kinda easy, but still, it's hell if the final two bosses managed to clip a few lives from you. The final trench run has killed more than its share of one credit runs.
- Airforce Delta, as Konami's answer to Ace Combat, of course has to attempt to one-up it at every opportunity, but the original takes the cake by being an homage to UN Squadron of all things. A cavern, strewn with girders, with the target on the ceiling.
- Tom Clancy's HAWX had an entire level based around three such airstrikes. If you deviate from the course the game sets you up with at all, you'll be targeted by a buttload of SAM batteries and most likely killed.
- Free Space has a fanmade Vasudan installation (the GVI Karnak) includes destructible doors and a hollow superstructure, specifically to allow this trope to be pulled off. The campaign Silent Threat Reborn plays with it by having an enemy fighter attempt to do this, with the player having to fly inside to defend the station's reactor. Far from being a Scrappy Mechanic, most players consider this totally awesome.
- Note that FreeSpace fighters are far slower and easier to maneuver in the tunnels than, say, Ace Combat planes.
- Blue Lightning has a mission where you fly through a set of narrow canyons to take out enemy bases, complete with an invisible ceiling keeping you near ground level.
- Wing Commander III, The final mission was supposed to be this, with staying in the canyons on the way to the fault target to avoid attracting the attention of infinitely respawning Ekapshii, but a glitch in the transition from the space leg of the mission to the atmosphere leg allowed the "one time" cloak to be used again, making it trivially easy to get there, by cloaking and flying above the mountains in a straight line.
- In the video game adaptation of Airwolf, the whole game was like this.
- While it is a side-scrolling shump, the Area 88 game (UN Squadron in the United States) has the player fly into canyons and caves for a few missions.
- The suicide mission to Ilos in Mass Effect has a particularly spectacular version. Joker, an Ace Pilot that came across as arrogant the entire game (he straight up says he is the best human pilot, period) proves his skill here. Flying a frigate in a near vertical dive, straight at a small clearing of 20 meters (one-fifth of the minimum for such a drop), pulling up at the last second to fling the Mako—with your commando team inside—straight at The Dragon. The blast doors close, and the Mako pulls to a stop...five feet from the doors. To put this in perspective, Saren was always one step ahead of you, mocking you each time, and at this moment, he has a brief Oh Crap moment at seeing a combat drop flung at him from nowhere.
- The Suicide Mission in Mass Effect 2 is mostly a commando operation, but Joker's insertion operation has shades of this while engaging in a dogfight with enemy constructs a fiftieth the size of the Normandy in a field full of the debris of every spacecraft that has tried to make it through the Omega-4 Relay in the entirety of galactic history and blowing up a cruiser-sized vessel (the same one that destroyed the original Normandy) equipped by the Reapers with a scout frigate.
- The Full Motion Video game Sewer Shark is based entirely around this premise.
- In Scramble, the player had to do this after getting through the enemy base and navigating a maze of Deadly Walls.
- Star Strike for the Intellivision and Atari 2600 had the player flying down a Death Star-like trench to bomb five missiles poised to destroy Earth.
- In Halo: Combat Evolved, the mission where the Master Chief goes to find Halo's control center has an example when Foehammer flies you within walking distance of your objective.
Foehammer: I hope your analysis is on the money, Cortana. This Pelican won't turn on a dime.
Cortana: Look on the bright side, Foehammer. The last thing the Covenant will expect is an aerial insertion from underground.
- Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, a series of animated videos were pretty much all this, each complete with a corridor run of varying levels of justification.
- The live-action series itself plays the trope during the "Project New Order" arc. Power and his team discover that the newly launched Icarus weapon platform will digitize many people and that the Prometheus plasma generators will incinerate the East Coast, so they decide to blow up the Icarus platform and send it crashing into the Prometheus main power generator on Volcania via an homage to the Star Wars trench run, in which Pilot has to fly the main ship down an entrenchment leading to Icarus Control and blow the doors using a proton missile while Power, Tank and Scout provide cover for her from their skybikes against the trench defenses. As bonus, the ending credits for every episode flew through this same path, but without any interference from the characters, so that the audience could play along with the interactive toys.
- Duck Dodgers Subverted and Lampshaded, where Dodgers tries to make a Trench Run to take out Marvin the Martian's new Dreadnought, while Marvin calmly aims a laser cannon at him and wonders how many fools die trying to recreate that scene.
- In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Far From Home", Brainac 5's spaceship performs a Trench Run maneuver to ram the hangar doors of the Fatal Five's baseship.
- The Brits did a raid on the battleship Tirpitz deep in a Norwegian fjord littered with AA guns and anti-torpedo nets. In order to thwart the torpedo nets, they instead opted to drop a Tallboy directly onto the ship from high altitude, which would require insane amounts of both luck and accuracy, and the pulled it off! Getting the same bombers that survived the Dambuster operations probably helped too.
- Operation Tidal Wave was the low level attack against the Ploiești oil refineries in the Mediterranean Theatre of World War II. The extremely low altitude resulted in gunners directly engaging anti-aircraft batteries and pilots having to maneuver over fence lines and haystacks. The mission was a failure, with massive losses among the Allies for little damage done to the facilities, but it resulted in no fewer than 5 Medals of Honor being awarded.
- The events in MiG Alley also served as inspiration for canyon runs (certainly for the one in Firefox, if not Star Wars), since a plane in pursuit often took damage from the dust kicked up by the running plane, aiding evasion, and that region of North Korea is lousy with convenient canyons.
- In 1981 the Israeli Air Force pulled off an impossible mission in Operation Opera, the long range attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor. A force of heavily laden F-16's and F-15's traveled across Jordan and Saudi Arabia at altitudes as low as 30 meters before popping up to completely destroy the reactor complex. Ground defenses were taken completely by surprise and not a single Israeli aircraft was damaged.
- The Israeli Air Force conducted an encore against Syria in 2007's Operation Orchard, where they destroyed what is now suspected to be a covert nuclear reactor (never mind that the operation doesn't officially exist).
- Don't forget Operation Focus that was the opening series of air strikes that Israel used to preempt an Arab invasion and win what came to be known as the Six Day War. The attack made use of almost the entire Israeli Air Force with only a handful of planes left in reserve to defend its home airspace and comprised a go-for-broke gamble to disable the air forces of its enemies to pave the way for an Israeli ground strike. Preceded by detailed planning and practice to, especially in the area of quick turning its strike aircraft to make followup sorties, Operation Focus achieved complete surprised and by noon, the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian Air Forces, with 452 aircraft, were completely destroyed.
- 1965 India-Pakistan War. The Pakistan Air Force converted the C-130 Hercules transport planes, known (and not affectionately) as "buses" or "trucks" and used them to bombard Indian positions. And no plane was lost.
- Not an air-strike (usually) but Pakistani (and Indian) operations in Siachen, routinely flying helicopters at altitudes of 22 thousand feet or more through the highest mountains in the world. And did I state that the altitude is more then 10,000 feet above the normal operating ceiling of the aircraft?
- The famous RAF Dambusters mission involved flying big, lumbering strategic bombers so low over the target dam reservoirs that the German AA guns couldn't depress enough to fire at them. Not surprisingly, it was that unit which later attacked the Tirpitz.
- They were in fact flying so insanely low that at least one of the bombers had to abort the mission because it took damage from clipping a tree.
- During the first deployment of the F-22 at Red Flag, the U.S. Air Force's largest air war exercise, the single squadron operating it was effortlessly curbstomping everyone. At one point, out of desperation, the Red Flag Ace Pilots mounted a run through a canyon at night in an attempt to ambush the F-22s. Didn't work, as the F-22s still managed to pick them up, but an impressive attempt nontheless.
- Operation Jericho. What do you do if you learn the Gestapo have captured some of the leaders of La Résistance, are holding them in Amiens prison, and are going to execute them in the morning? Well how about sending a flight to bomb the guardhouse and blow holes in the walls - without hitting the cell blocks - so the prisoners can escape. All done at low level, in broad daylight and with unguided bombs to boot.
- Perhaps making this even more of a Crowning Moment of Awesome for the crew of the bombers were the fact that the officer in charge of the operation had no prior experience in low-level attacks, and - more to the spirit of the trope - the bombers had to attack in bad weather.