This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
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.
Know before you go.
News and deals straight to your inbox every day.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards