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.
On April 2, 1942, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet was part of a secret plan to strike back at Japan. With no room for aditional airplanes to land on the flight deck filled with B-25 Mitchell bombers, the US Navy turned to the Navy blimp L-8 for a specialy delivery.
In the early morning of June 6, 1944, thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen readied themselves for D-Day of Operation Overlord. For several divisions of American and British soldiers, the invasion had actually begun the night before on board Douglas C-47s.
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.