There have been great movies about military aviation for almost as long as there have been movies and airplanes—seriously, the very first Best Picture Oscar went to a WWI aero-epic called Wings (and if you ever win bar trivia with that, buy us a drink). Eventually, the US military realized that high adventure onscreen could boost their recruiting efforts, and began to officially cooperate with films featuring flying service members. In this episode, we’ll look at two movies staring iconic aviators—Top Gun and Captain Marvel—and discuss how the military leans into their role as supporting players on the silver screen.
In May 1919, the U.S. Navy sponsored three Curtiss flying boats—the NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4—each with a crew of six, in an attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Lt. Commander Albert C. Read commanded the NC-4, the only aircraft to succeed in its mission. As we prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NC-4’s historic transatlantic flight, the materials in Read’s collection are available to transcribe in the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center.
The first pioneering pilots flew the airways during the day without purpose-designed maps. This presented a problem for the U.S. Post Office: Without flying at night, airmail was slower than by railroad and the higher cost of air transport had no value.
Introduced in 1927, the Vega was the first product of designer Jack Northrop and Allan Loughead's Lockheed Aircraft Company. Sturdy, roomy, streamlined and fast, the innovative Vega became favored by pilots seeking to set speed and distance records.
Seventy years ago, on June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union closed all surface routes into the western zone of Berlin. For 18 months, American and British aircrews flew around-the-clock bringing supplies into Berlin, in a mission called the Berlin Airlift.