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Have a rainy day on your hands and nothing to watch on TV? Below are five favorite aviation documentaries that will take you behind the scenes of flying the friendly skies, and help you learn about what goes into getting you from here to there.
1 – One Six Right
One Six Right is the “Endless Summer” of aviation films. Like the famous surfing movie, One Six Right opened many eyes to the passion that pilots have towards flying and the benefits that general aviation bring to the industry. The movie showcases the ups and downs of Van Nuys airport, just north of Los Angeles. Once the world’s busiest general aviation airport in the world, VNY is an icon. (I’ve had the privilege of flying there once and landing on runway 16R — One Six Right.) This is the home of Amelia Earhart’s speed record, the filming of Casablanca, and the base for the hit TV show, Airwolf. And the commanding officer of the US Army Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit, one Ronald Reagan, assigned a film crew to interview workers assembling remote-controlled planes during WWII here. Marilyn Monroe was one of those workers, and it was at VNY that she was discovered by a photographer. The doc is available here.
2 – City In The Sky
City in the Sky — a reference to the fact that at any one time, there are one million people aloft — is a fascinating look at every imaginable facet of aviation. A series of three episodes by PBS, it takes viewers behind the scenes of commercial air travel today, from how your baggage actually moves onto the plane, how the big jets were assembled in the first place, to air traffic control around the world. This series is an excellent primer for all things travel and features excellent production values. Just sit in the jumpseat for the takeoff of Lufthansa A380 and you’ll be hooked. Available on Netflix.
3 – Flying the Feathered Edge
An aviation favorite, Flying the Feathered Edge is the story of Bob Hoover, one of the greatest pilots of all time. When he joined flight school for the US Army Air Services, Hoover’s initial flying instructor reported to his commander that Hoover was already a better pilot than all of the instructors. Hoover was promptly put to work training the instructors on various aerial maneuvers. A test pilot overseas in World War II, he was shot down on a mission and spent 16 months as a prisoner of war. Hoover escaped the POW camp by stealing a German aircraft (!) and flying it to safety. He went on to be a test pilot for North American Aviation, and later an aerobatics pilot. This is a man with impeccable stick and rudder skills. Available on Amazon.
4 – Ice Pilots NWT
It’s astonishingly cold most of the year in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. Imagine flying old warbirds in temperatures approaching -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Meet the crew of Buffalo Airways, a northern operator flying Douglas DC-3s, DC-4s, Curtiss Commando C-46 and Lockheed Electras as passenger and cargo aircraft between Yellowknife, Hay River, and points north. An interesting behind-the-scenes look at the missions they fly and how they keep 80-year-old aircraft flying, Ice Pilots NWT is great aviation. Available on Netflix (two seasons) and Amazon (six seasons).
5 – Airbus vs Boeing: The Jumbo Jet Race
Airbus v. Boeing is a historical primer on the epic battle between Boeing and Airbus for commercial airplane dominance. Beginning with the Boeing 707 and 747 in 1969 and Airbus’ entry to the market with the A300, forerunner of the A320, you’ll have a much better appreciation for the planes you fly, and a sense of the provenance of today’s jetliners. The documentary covers some 40 years of competition between the two planemakers, with interviews of some of the original warriors. If you’ve ever wondered how planes are developed and sold, and the politics of it all, Airbus vs. Boeing is for you. Here’s the trailer on Amazon.
Mike Arnot is the founder of Boarding Pass NYC, a travel brand and a private pilot.
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