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.
The P-51 Mustang was originally designed for the Royal Air Force. However, it became a long-range escort fighter for the U.S. armed forces against Nazi Germany. The production process was efficient and quick; about 14,000 were built during WWII. It was a powerful and fast aircraft with extensive range. The P-51 Mustang was stiff competition for the Luftwaffe.
Christopher Nolan’s latest movie, Dunkirk, will premiere in theaters this upcoming Friday, July 21. And although you may know it stars actors such as Tom Hardy, Harry Styles, and Cillian Murphy, you may not know that the National Air and Space Museum houses examples of two of the main airplanes featured in the film. We have a Royal Air Force (RAF) Supermarine Spitfire and a Messerschmitt Bf 109 of the Luftwaffe, although the Museum’s aircraft are slightly younger than those that participated in Operation Dynamo.
When Charles Lindbergh was asked by Pan American Airlines to conduct survey flights, there was no doubt in his mind who would be his copilot: his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In 1931 and 1933, Charles and Anne set off to determine where air routes and airports might be located. Anne learned Morse code and how to operate radios for the flight. She became so talented at this work that she won awards for distance flights and radio operation.
Today, when you fly to Europe you’re still using some of the same routes that Charles and Anne surveyed.
As the host of a STEM in 30, a TV show for middle school students from the National Air and Space Museum, I’ve been able to do some amazing things. I’ve flown in a helicopter with no doors, rode in a hot air balloon, and I’ve interviewed some amazing people from astronauts to engineers. Recently, however, I experienced one of the most powerful interviews I have ev
The Ford Tri-Motor was the first practical airliner in the U.S. True to its name, the aircraft had three engines. If one engine broke down, the airplane still had two engines to continue flying. The Ford Tri-Motor made air travel popular, showing the public that air travel was safe and reliable.
The Messerschmitt 262 was the first operational jet fighter introduced by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was more than 100 miles per hour faster than any other Allied fighter aircraft. Despite this, the Messerschmitt 262 faced problems. There were not enough resources to build the aaircraft and competition with other manufacturers was steep.
Nazi Germany turned to forced labor to build the Messerschmitt 262. An example of this was at the Gusen II concentration camp, where prisoners built the fuselages for the aircraft. Gusen II was known as the “Hell of Hell,” and records estimate that 8,000 to 20,000 people died there.
Although 1,443 aircraft were completed, it is estimated that only about 300 saw combat. The Messerschmitt 262 was introduced too late in the war to compete against the Allies.
Wiley Post set a number of records in the Winnie Mae, a Lockheed Vega. He and his navigator flew around the world in eight days. Then, he took the same trip by himself and took seven days. Post also worked with BFGoodrich to develop the world’s first pressure suit in order to fly above 50,000 feet and set more records.
Howard Hawks directed a film in 1930 whose influence can be seen in virtually every military aviation movie made since it premiered. The Dawn Patrol, with its dramatic aerial combat scenes and heroic and tragic pilot figures, is the father of all military aviation films. We will be screening The Dawn Patrol and providing commentary on March 17 as part of our Hollywood Goes to War: World War I on the Big Screen, film series.
The Boeing 747 is one of the most significant airliners in history. The airliner popularized air travel and ushered in a new era of affordable airfare. In the early 1970s many of 747s were outfitted with extravagant amenities like bars, piano lounges, and even spiral staircases. The economic reality of such amenities eventually hit the airlines. They realized they could make a lot more money by replacing lounges with seats.
How did you become a pilot for the SR-71 Blackbird? Buzz Carpenter knows. He started flying the SR-71 in 1975 after a week-long interview process that included an astronaut physical. Buzz shares what it was like becoming a Blackbird pilot, how pilots used their 580-degree windows to heat up their lunches, and how the aircraft got the nickname Habu.