Avengers: What happened to the original helicarrier?

By Mike Bachmann on


Something is bothering me this morning about The Avengers: Age of Ultron TV spot that was released last week. Here it is in case you need a refresher:

See what I mean? Unless you follow me on Twitter, you probably don’t. I was watching this again because, to my knowledge, it is the only trailer that features footage of Don Cheadle’s War Machine. On about my third time through, I noticed something in the background. A helicarrier. You can see it for a few frames behind War Machine, but here’s the shot for those of you who don’t want to micromanage your pause buttons.

Avengers AoU Helicarrier War MachineNothing too interesting there, as we’ve seen helicarriers in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. What is interesting, however, is the number. 64. The same number as the original helicarrier from The Avengers. Here, throw this proof in your helicarrier pudding.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier AvengersThis is the big helicarrier reveal from the first The Avengers. Clearly we can see that it’s the same helicarrier in both movies.

So what? So it’s the same helicarrier…why should you care? Because a lot of things have happened since The Avengers. Most notably, S.H.I.E.L.D. was revealed to be under the control of Hydra during the events of The Winter Soldier and was subsequently disbanded. The only other three helicarriers we know to be in existence blew each other away. Not to mention, S.H.I.E.L.D. had zero presence in Iron Man 3, which obviously implies the absence of the original helicarrier (which for simplicity’s sake I’ll refer to as 64). It also does not make an appearance or warrant a mention, save to say that the new ones are larger than the original. So the question is: what the hell-icarrier (sorry) has it been doing all this time? There are a few possibilities. We’ll start with the most obvious.

1. It was in for repairs.

Damaged Shield HelicarrierI’ll be honest: this is the most likely explanation we’ll receive. During The Avengers, Loki’s mind controlled forces attacked 64 and Hawkeye’s explosive arrow caused major damage to one of the four propellers keeping it aloft. On top of that, Bruce Banner literally went Hulk mode in a battle with Thor, doing significant damage to the internal components. Using its three remaining propellers, the helicarrier was able to make it back to open water. It stands to reason that repairs like that would take some time.

Here’s why I don’t buy it: The Winter Soldier. In that movie, Project Insight was the secret project that allowed S.H.I.E.L.D. to neutralize powered threats before they happen via three heavily armed helicarriers. Secretly, this was actually a Hydra plan to eliminate threats to Hyrdra ideals, but that’s beside the point. The point is that S.H.I.E.L.D. had time to build three brand new helicarriers before The Winter Soldier. Note that these are new models which are significantly larger than 64 and have completely redesigned propulsion systems. It doesn’t add up that S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn’t be able to repair 64 in that time, so let’s assume it has long since been repaired. That still doesn’t address the more obvious problem.

2. Hydra has it.

Hydra Baron Von Strucker

No part of S.H.I.E.L.D. was left untouched by Hydra; both The Winter Soldier and the Agents of Shield series went to great lengths to make that clear. The infiltration went all the way to the top with Alexander Pierce acting as a member of the World Security Council overseeing S.H.I.E.L.D. (In case you don’t remember, that’s the council Nick Fury is seen speaking to at the end of The Avengers. Alexander Pierce speaks to them multiple times in his office in The Winter Soldier as well.)

So, we know Hydra is everywhere and in every S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. They can be seen taking over the Triskelion in The Winter Soldier and taking over The Hub in the Agents of Shield episodes that followed. Given how deep the conspiracy goes, we have to assume that 64 was infiltrated at the same time. We’re not given any information about the fate of 64 in any Marvel movie or TV show, so either it was successfully taken by Hydra and they’re just saving what could be their greatest weapon for a rainy day or…

3. The United States Army has it.

Agents of Shield Glen TalbotMost of the fallout from The Winter Soldier has so far taken place on the Agents of Shield TV show. Even Samuel L. Jackson made an appearance at the end of season one to give Agent Coulson a device (the purpose of which has yet to be revealed) and to task Coulson with rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. from the ground up. During the end of season one and much of season two, Coulson is locked in a three way battle between the United States Army, Hydra, and the newly formed S.H.I.E.L.D., in order to secure the old S.H.I.E.L.D.’s bases and assets.

We know exactly what Agent Coulson’s team has been up to, so we can be confident that new S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t have it. Also, we see at the end of The Winter Soldier that Natasha Romanov, aka Black Widow, is testifying about S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets to a Senate subcommittee on Capitol Hill. Presumably, if the U.S. government didn’t know about 64, they absolutely do now and would most likely be able to find it, destroy it, or take it back. If the Age of Ultron trailer is to be believed, they didn’t destroy it. Of course, both two and three on this list assume that 64 was in active duty at the time of The Winter Soldier. Nick Fury did say that the propulsion systems on the Project Insight helicarriers were redesigned by Tony Stark so maybe…

4. Iron Man has it.

Tony Stark QuinjetIt’s possible that after the events in The Avengers, with 64 out of commission, it was moved to a location where Tony could work on it and develop a better method of propulsion. Still, we know how Stark works. He’s a prototype man as we see from his many Iron Man suit revisions. There is no way he would just look at the damaged helicarrier, redesign it in software, and send the designs over to S.H.I.E.L.D. for implementation. He would prototype his systems on the existing helicarrier first. That would mean that 64 is repaired and sitting in a hanger somewhere under Iron Man control. Why wouldn’t he have used it in Iron Man 3 and where was it in The Winter Soldier? (Before you say anything, I completely understand why Marvel would want to steer clear of “deux ex helicarrier” as a plot device in a non-Avengers movie, but that doesn’t discount its absence as a counterpoint to Tony Stark possessing 64.)

There’s another problem though. When would he have found the time? We know that between The Avengers and Iron Man 3, Tony was suffering from a pretty severe case of PTSD. During that time, he threw himself into his work, building a number of Iron Man suits – each with its own benefit and purpose. By Iron Man 3, he is perfecting the Mark XLII (42) suit (that’s the one that can fly to him in individual pieces). To put that into perspective, in The Avengers, he piloted the Mark VII (7). That is thirty five different suits. Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe largely moves in real time, that means he completed all of those suits in exactly one year. (The Avengers was released May 4, 2012 in the US. Iron Man 3 was released May 3, 2013.) I’m barely even willing to admit he had time to do that, let alone work on 64.

Even in the eleven months after Iron Man 3, it would have been difficult. At the end of that movie, Tony initiated the “Clean Slate Protocol,” in which Jarvis destroyed all of the remaining Iron Man suits. That means time needs to be spent constructing new ones, albeit, probably not as many or as fast as he did before. Also, time was spent planning a breakthrough surgery to finally remove the shrapnel from his chest. That is a problem he’s been struggling to solve since 2008, which couldn’t have been easy. Add some recovery time on top of that. I am totally willing to believe that Tony may have submitted some specs for repulsor technology to S.H.I.E.L.D. for use in their helicarriers, but it’s significantly less believable that he would have done the work himself, and thus been in possession of 64. But maybe there’s a compromise to be made here…

5. Iron Man does have it now, but it was decommissioned until after the events of The Winter Soldier, at which point S.H.I.E.L.D. dissolved and Tony Stark resurrected it as an Avengers mobile headquarters.

Tony Stark on HelicarrierBear with me now as I paint you a word picture: after the helicarrier was severely damaged during the events of The Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. decommissioned it, or at least set it aside to be decommissioned. Either due to the sheer amount of damage or due to newly revealed security flaws after it was attacked, S.H.I.E.L.D. decided not to repair it, but instead to focus on the new fleet for Project Insight with Stark’s suggested improvements.

As far as I know, there’s no precedent for how long it takes to decommission a vessel as large as 64 in the MCU, but we can gain a little bit of insight (no pun intended) from how the U.S. Navy handles its ships in the real world. Some ships are preserved and placed in a reserve fleet, some ships are taken to a remote oceanic location and scuttled, and those with historical significance are sometimes turned into museums. 64 is the only ship known to have taken part in the Battle of New York, in which Earth makes contact with aliens publicly for the first time (Thor and Loki not withstanding). It’s fair to say that an event like that would rival World War II for historical significance and make 64 a prime candidate for the museum treatment. It’s likely that all sensitive data would have been removed from the ship and it would have been turned over to the relevant organization in charge of historical preservation in such an event. These things take time, of course. A suitable location would need to be found and tons of permits would have to be issued. By the time Hydra revealed itself two years after the Battle of New York, it would most likely be sitting dormant in the exact condition in which S.H.I.E.L.D. left it. Now check out the beginning of the final The Avengers theatrical trailer:


Now the Avengers were obviously not implicated in the events of The Winter Soldier, as evidenced by Black Widow’s testimony to the Senate subcommittee, in which she tells them that they won’t throw her or Steve Rogers in prison because the world needs them for protection. But as we see here, the Avengers are allowed to operate out of Avengers Tower in the center of Manhattan, so their peacekeeping activities are obviously publicly sanctioned. Captain America is leading the Avengers, but all of their equipment is designed and paid for by Tony Stark. It’s obvious, however, that not all of his tech is Stark Industries original. He definitely gained assets after S.H.I.E.L.D. fell, as the Avengers are seen arriving at the tower in a Quinjet, the standard issue S.H.I.E.L.D. fighter/transport aircraft. We see that former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill is working for Tony Stark (which isn’t a surprise since it was hinted at the end of The Winter Soldier and confirmed in Agents of Shield). Hill is also seen in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be working with the U.S. military to secure former Shield bases from Hydra, so she obviously still has friends in the government. If Tony Stark didn’t already have enough pull to secure the old helicarrier, he does now. Using his massive resources and Hill’s connections, it’s entirely possible that he was able to refit 64 and get it ready for use by the Avengers as their new mobile center of operations. Plus in the comics, Stark Industries builds the helicarriers. Also, the U.S.S. Jimmy Carter is used as the headquarters for the Avengers in the Ultimates universe, which the Marvel Cinematic Universe borrows heavily from. So there is that. Unless of course, I dunno…

6. Maybe Ultron fixed it.

Ultron AvengersUltron’s got a lot of robot drones and can interface with anything that’s got a computer in it. Working day and night, he could probably have that thing up and running in a week if I’m being generous. Ok. I’m reaching now.

The main reason I don’t see this happening is because we already saw helicarriers used for evil in The Winter Soldier. I also don’t see director Joss Whedon retreading that ground. It’s kind of silly.

Who knows?

What do you think? Do you think the fact that it’s the same helicarrier is significant? Do you even believe that it is the same? Continuity errors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are very few and far between. Everything means something and everything is connected, so it’s unlikely that this is some kind of mistake. That being said, we’ll definitely get an explanation when Age of Ultron hits theatres on May 1st. Until then, feel free to discuss or point out my mistakes in the comments!




  1. Between your first and second possibilities, I think you may have discounted a hefty source of work delays: bureaucracy. Yes, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a large, multinational organization with hefty resources. But after the BoNY and leading up to Winter Soldier, those resources were going into three new helicarriers with new propulsion technology and lots o’ guns. Top brass probably wouldn’t have seen the need for 64 and simply mothballed it. Once those three shiny, new helicarriers and their super-secret maintenance bays were turned to scrap in WS, suddenly a 3/4 functional helicarrier doesn’t seem like such a bad investment, much like Coulson’s refitted Mobile HQ from Agents.
    I can see S.H.I.E.L.D. tapping Stark for his resources in refitting 64, though. I wonder if they’ll add that fish tank Coulson wanted.

    • Except that 64, according to the information I was able to uncover, was S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first helicarrier and at the time of Avengers would have been their only one. Shield being a global organization, it would have been a huge strategic advantage. As extensive as the damage was, it still appeared to be highly localized. It would seem that it would be much more cost effective to repair the existing helicarrier and get it back into service than to wait for redesigns from Stark and build construction on three brand new ones. Of course, I am assuming no more were in construction at the time the first was built and they didn’t have a replacement lined up, but that’s where we move from speculation supported by the MCU and just plain speculation which I’d like to avoid. There is no mention of any other helicarriers that i’m aware of other than the four we’ve seen in Avengers and The Winter Soldier.

      Thanks for the comment though! If there’s no fish tank on 64 in Age of Ultron, I’m walking out of the theater and going to see Paul Blart 2 instead.

  2. Josh is right. In Agents of SHIELD season 2 episode 20, named Scars, it shows a flashback where Coulson and Agent Sam Koenig are observing the repairs on helicarrier #64.

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