Our listeners’ favorite aviation movies. In the news, the Alaska Airlines B737 MAX 9 cabin door plug incident and cockpit doors, a British Airways pilot was kidnapped and robbed, Spirit Airlines initiated a sale/leaseback transaction to pay their debt, Netjets instituted a mandatory age 70 retirement for pilots, and Cirrus Aircraft announced a new generation of the SR-22
Listener’s Favorite Aviation Movies
We asked our listeners to tell us their favorite aviation movie, not including Top Gun. (We excluded Top Gun because it would likely overpower the results.) Listeners responded in great numbers. In no particular order, these are our listener’s favorite aviation movies:
The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) (Paul F.) After WW1, an ex-pilot takes up barn-storming and chance-meets a former German ace fighter pilot with whom he co-stars in Hollywood war movies depicting aerial dogfights. Paul: My grandfather learned to fly in a Jenny and that movie just resonated with me. I recently found it on Netflix and enjoyed it all over again! Winner of the random drawing.
The Arrow (TV miniseries 1997) (Kevin H.) Starring Dan Aykroyd as Crawford Gordon, an experienced wartime production leader after World War II and president of Avro Canada during its attempt to produce the Avro Arrow supersonic jet interceptor aircraft. The film also stars Michael Ironside and Sara Botsford. Kevin: Ok guys…. so I’m not entirely sure if a TV miniseries would qualify, but if you played the four episodes back to back it would be a 180-minute movie. It was only Canada’s greatest aviation achievement, so of course it has a special place in the hearts of all Canadian avgeeks.
No Highway in the Sky (1951) (James H.) Starring Jimmy Stewart and Jack Hawkins in a supporting role (yes it was made in England), Based on a Neville Shute Novel, Great use of visuals, based on models, As the major plot point identified the issue of metal fatigue long before the Comet disasters, And while a black and white film is a well-told yarn.
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes (1965) (Holger L. and Thierry B.) Hoping to push Britain to the forefront of aviation, a London publisher organizes an international air race across the English Channel, but must contend with two entrants vying for his daughter, as well as national rivalries and cheating. Holger: It’s funny but it’s also about aviation history.
Airplane vs. Volcano (2014) (Hendrik N.) Not really my favourite aviation movie, but just to enter a really weirdly bad aviation movie. It is incredible how bad a movie can be. But it is so bad that it starts to be funny again.
Devotion (2022) (Greg H. and Dag G.) A biographical war film based on the 2015 book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos, which retells the comradeship between naval officers during the Korean War. Dag G: I saw the preview live-streaming theater in the woods on my laptop during AirVenture, and went to see it in the theater with one of my best friends. It has the most beautiful airplane shots and the most moving story.
Airport (1970) (Rick B.) The original featuring Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, and George Kennedy as the mechanic everyone aspired to be; Joe Patroni of TWA.
Air America (1990) (John R. and Tom B.) An action comedy film directed by Roger Spottiswoode and starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. as Air America pilots flying missions in Laos during the Vietnam War.
The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944) (Michael R.) Watching The Memphis Belle as a kid was a contributing factor to my interest in WWII, and especially in the B-17.
Memphis Belle (1990) (Mark C. and Andrew C.) In 1943, the crew of a B-17 based in the UK prepares for its 25th and final bombing mission over Germany before returning home to the USA. I enjoyed the Memphis Belle movie, about a flying fortress, when it came out in the early 1990s.I think it is time I see it again.
Midway (1976) (Ted P.) My grandfather took me to see it when I was school-age and it ignited my love of airplanes and naval history. He flew B-24s in WW2 but did not deploy as his father passed when his squadron was sent to Europe. He ended up training flight crews and family lore was he buzzed the family farm in South NJ and the chickens didn’t lay eggs for a week.
American Made (2017) (Pawel M.) The story of Barry Seal, an American pilot who became a drug-runner for the CIA in the 1980s in a clandestine operation that would be exposed as the Iran-Contra Affair.
Fail Safe (1964) (JD) A technical malfunction sends American planes to Moscow to deliver a nuclear attack. Can all-out war be averted?
Strategic Air Command (1955) (Jeffrey L.) It holds a special place since my 20-year Air Force career started at Carswell AFB, Texas when it still was a SAC base, and that’s where many of the B-36 scenes were shot. The hangar where Frank Lovejoy (yes, related) introduces the B-47 to Jimmy Stewart belonged to the squadron I was in from 1986-1992. The factory across the runway was where Consolidated was building the B-36s, and later F-16s, and now F-35s. Lots of history there.
Midway (1976) (Mike S.) I can watch that every week!
The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) (Paul F. and Roland H.) Stars Robert Redford, Bo Svenson, and Bo Brundin. Paul: My grandfather learned to fly in a Jenny and that movie just resonated with me. I recently found it on Netflix and enjoyed it all over again! Roland: I have seen this many, many times as a kid on a VHS tape recorded from TV. Years ago I tried to find it on DVD and it wasn’t that easy. I did find it eventually. I think I just feel the urge to watch it again 🙂
High Road to China (1983) (Adam H.) Grew up in an aviation family and was always fascinated by WW1 aircraft. When this movie came out in the 80’s starring Tom Selleck and Bess Armstrong I was hooked. An heiress hires a washed-out ace and his mechanic to find her father so he won’t be declared dead by the courts. They fly two Belgian Stampe biplanes filling in for Curtis Jennys from England to China and have plenty of adventures along the way.
The Big Lift (1950) (Gerard O.) Experiences of two Air Force sergeants during the 1948 Berlin Airlift. Starring Paul Douglas and Montgomery Clift.
Miracle Landing (1990) (Sarah J.) A made-for-television drama film based on an in-flight accident aboard Aloha Airlines Flight 243 in April 1988. I watched it as a 9-year-old with my mum and wasn’t allowed to tell anyone that she let me watch it. Oh, the thrill of having a secret! Also, the movie isn’t actually bad for 1990.
Hot Shots! (1991) (Kyle T.) A parody of Top Gun (1986) in which a talented but unstable fighter pilot must overcome the ghosts of his father and save a mission sabotaged by greedy weapons manufacturers.
633 Squadron (1964) (Bill A.) A RAF squadron is assigned to knock out a German rocket fuel factory in Norway. The factory supplies fuel for the Nazi effort to launch rockets on England during D-Day. I definitely love the Mosquito and the scenes of them flying what I think is the Mach Loop in Scotland.
Always (1989) (Andrew F.) The spirit of a recently deceased expert pilot mentors a newer pilot while watching him fall in love with the girlfriend that he left behind. It has a great cast, a great storyline, and really cool flying. Fun fact about this movie: The featured B-26 (and others) was owned by Hawkins and Powers Aviation in Graybull, WY. The owner would fly that airplane over to Sheridan, WY where I was based with Great Lakes Aviation. What I thought was really cool was that there were two different liveries painted on each side of the airplane. That way they could use it in the background of different shots representing more than one airplane.
Dunkirk (2017) (Matt R.) Not an aviation movie, but the aviation scenes haunt me. They made me think about how challenging and potentially frightening it would be to fly in a noisy cockpit with limited visibility, little communication, and no source of information except your eyes through goggles to warn you of an enemy whose goal is to destroy you, all with the ticking clock of fuel consumption constantly on your mind.
The Final Countdown (1980) (RT) A modern aircraft carrier is thrown back in time to 1941 near Hawaii, just hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It has multiple military aircraft (airplanes and helicopters), a dogfighting scene of F-14s and Japanese Zeros (What other movie would have that?), an aircraft carrier, and time travel.
The Rocketeer (1991) (Andy B.) A young pilot stumbles onto a prototype jetpack that allows him to become a high-flying masked hero. I fell in love it: pure fiction yes, but full of waning days of the golden age of aviation context- with just the right dash of historical anachronism to “…really tie the room together!”
Bat*21 (1988) (Mike S.) During the Vietnam War, Colonel Hambleton’s aircraft is shot down over enemy territory and a frantic rescue operation ensues. Starring Gene Hackman, Danny Glover, and Jerry Reed.
Behind Enemy Lines (2001) (Peter T.) A disillusioned pilot shot down over war-torn Bosnia goes on the run from the local military and an assassin, as his commanding officer risks all to save him. There is a good plot and is not necessarily aviation-intensive but the aviation scenes are, in my opinion, well done! I actually bought the DVD from Blockbuster. Starring Gene Hackman, Owen Wilson, and Gabriel Macht.
Iron Eagle (1986) (Quinn M. and Shannon V.) A young pilot plans a rescue mission when his father, an Air Force Colonel, is shot down over enemy territory and captured. The one that makes me smile at so many levels is “Iron Eagle” but not the sequels. One of my favorite features is the credits have a statement to the effect the the USAF had nothing to do with it but thanks so much to the Israeli Air Force for their help in filming… Explaining the camo that USAF planes have never used and the Kfir bad guy planes. I am very amused by the “totally not Libya” bad guy country that had features of Iran and some of the other Israeli neighbors. Shannon: Louis Gossett Jr. and the music of Queen, are you kidding me? It doesn’t get any better than that.
The War Lover (1962) (Ed L.) In 1943, while stationed in Britain, arrogant Captain Buzz Rickson is in command of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, but his recklessness is endangering everyone around him. A great, realistic, black-and-white, B-17 movie. It’s also a great book by John Hersey. Starring Steve McQueen, Robert Wagner, and Shirley Anne Field.
The Blue Max (1966) (Kerry K.) A young pilot in the German air force of 1918, disliked as lower-class and unchivalrous, tries ambitiously to earn the medal offered for 20 kills. Probably a favorite because it was seen at an early age and the details of the movie always stuck with me. Few movies about WWI and biplanes, especially with the same production value.
Cloud Dancer (1980) (Luke H.) A fictionalized account of a competition acrobatic pilot. They used real aircraft, the actors were also in the seat of the two-seat Pitts.
Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944) (Paul A.) A documentary on the 25th bombing mission of the Memphis Belle, a B-17 in the US 8th Air Force. I saw this as a kid and rewatched it recently. The scene that has stuck with me and that I remember as a kid, is the solemn, tense moments depicted when the ground crews wait for the planes returning from the mission. The viewer is on the edge of their seat as we watch real footage of the landing aircraft, the stragglers limping home and arriving one by one…we feel as if we’re on the airfield praying for the safe touchdown of the damaged aircraft.
Flight of the Intruder (1991) (Todd P.) During the air war over Vietnam, a U.S. Navy A-6 Intruder bomber pilot schemes with a hardened veteran to make an unauthorized air strike on Hanoi. “Fighter pukes make movies. Bomber pilots make… history!”
Airplane! (1980) (Markku H., Steve S., Steve L., and Adam W.) After the crew becomes sick with food poisoning, a neurotic ex-fighter pilot must land a commercial airplane full of passengers safely. Harkku: Funny movie, I saw it when I was a little boy. Perhaps not politically correct nowadays with the Air Israel kipa and beard on the plane. Steve S: The best and funniest aviation movie ever. And stop calling me Shirley. Steve L: So many classic one-liners. And don’t call me Shirley! Adam: I saw it many times as a kid and then had the fun of sharing it with my own child. Even seeing it at a different stage in my life, I laughed at some of the same things while also laughing at some different gags, all having to do with aviation. No doubt, I’ll watch it again sometime in the near future.
The Spirit of St Louis (1957) (Greg P.) Charles ‘Slim’ Lindbergh struggles to finance and design an airplane that will make his New York to Paris flight the first solo transatlantic crossing. Starring James Stewart, Murray Hamilton, and Patricia Smith.
Twelve O’Clock High (1949) (Rich M. and d12776) A hard-as-nails general takes over a B-17 bomber unit suffering from low morale and whips them into fighting shape. Yes, it is about flying B-17s in WWII. But it is also one of the best movies about leadership. I was an instructor at the Air Force’s Squadron Officer School in the late 70’s and we built an entire lesson plan on leadership and how Brig Gen Savage changes his leadership style depending on the situation. We taught situational leadership and this movie was a great example. Fantastic movie! Starring Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, and Gary Merrill.
The Final Countdown (1980) (Martin-Guy C.) A modern aircraft carrier is thrown back in time to 1941 near Hawaii, just hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I love the sequence F-14A v Zero. Sad that VF-84 no longer flies. Another good scene is the A-7E barricade.
American Made (2017) (Chris B. and Job S) The story of Barry Seal, an American pilot who became a drug runner for the CIA in the 1980s in a clandestine operation that would be exposed as the Iran-Contra Affair. Job: Definitely the best aviation movie ever… hands down!
Black Box (2021) (Belinda D.) A young and talented black box analyst is on a mission to solve the reason behind the deadly crash of a brand-new aircraft. A French language aviation thriller. I think it’s a really clever film, particularly in light of recent certification difficulties with Boeing- really really enjoyed it! Original title: Boîte noire.
Things to Come (1936) (Craig L.) The story of a century: a decades-long Second World War leaves plague and anarchy, then a rational state rebuilds civilization and attempts space travel. Starring Raymond Massey. Based on H.G. Wells’ “The Shape of Things to Come.” Check out the Wikipedia synopsis!
Up in The Air (2009) (Brian G.) Ryan Bingham enjoys living out of a suitcase for his job, traveling around the country firing people, but finds that lifestyle threatened by the presence of a potential love interest, and a new hire presenting a new business model. Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick.
Wings (1927) (Andy D.) Two young men, one rich, one middle class, who are in love with the same woman, become fighter pilots in World War I. The silent film, specifically when accompanied live by Clark Wilson at the console of a Mighty Wurlitzer theater pipe organ.
As Green As It Gets [Original title: Grüner wird’s nicht, sagte der Gärtner und flog davon] (2018) (Peter W.) The German 2018 movie where the protagonist gardener takes off in his beautiful Platzer Kiebitz biplane and travels through the countryside. The cinematography especially of the airplane scenes is fantastic!
The Aviator (2004) (Martin K.) A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, and Kate Beckinsale.
Flight (2012) (Max) An airline pilot saves almost all his passengers on his malfunctioning airliner which eventually crashed, but an investigation into the accident reveals something troubling. Starring Denzel Washington, Nadine Velazquez, and Don Cheadle.
Air Force One (1997) (Andre M.) It is a great movie, it has Han Solo in it, airplanes, and it is one I watched over and over when I managed to get my laptop to play those new fandangled DVD movies back when they first came out.
Soul Plane (2004) (E.R.) Things get raucously funny aboard the maiden flight of a black-owned airline, thanks to some last-minute passenger additions. Diversity and culture.
The Terminal (2004) (Dee) An Eastern European tourist unexpectedly finds himself stranded in JFK airport and must take up temporary residence there. It’s a demonstration of someone staying positive despite being presented with so many obstacles and loosely based on an actual event.
Godzilla Minus One (2023) (Bill H.) The movie starts with an airplane scene and there isn’t much more aviation until the last part of the movie. But it’s worth the wait. The story takes place in Japan in the immediate aftermath of WWII. A plan is devised to ambush Godzilla, but he must be lured to the right place. This job falls to our hero flying a specially prepared plane, the J7W Shinden. The Shinden was designed to intercept B-29s and inspired some hope among the Japanese at a time when the war had become hopeless. In the new Godzilla movie, the airplane is recast as a warrior in a non-military struggle, a role that suits it perfectly. Yes, it’s a low-budget monster movie, and all of the flying scenes are done with CGI. But it’s well worth it to see this spectacular airplane at center stage facing a worthy challenge.
One Six Right (2005) (Adam F.) There was just something about hearing so many stories of other pilots who loved flying at a time when I was so new to it myself. There are at least three spots guaranteed to bring on tears every single time I’ve viewed it. One section that’s especially powerful is the retired airline pilot explaining that as he was starting out in DC-3s, if he had been told by the end of his career he would fly near 40,000 feet at 600mph he would have considered that prediction as completely crazy – but with only 34 years between the DC-3 and 747, that’s how aviation grew in his career. On a cinematic level, the transitions between various segments can be a little rough – in a single movie covering everything from the history of a specific airport, emotional remembrance of the first solo, future warnings in the wake of Meigs, air traffic controllers, broader community complaints of noise, etc. But admittedly this roughness didn’t really occur to me until I had seen it more than a few times.
Pan Am (2011-2012) (Sarah M.) ABC TV series. Period drama about the pilots and flight attendants who once made Pan Am the most glamorous way to fly. Not really a movie, but…
The Geek’s Favorite Aviation Movies
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) (Max Flight) After an oil company plane crashes in the Sahara, the survivors are buoyed with hope by one of the passengers, an airplane designer who plans for them to build a flyable plane from the wreckage.
Sully (2016) (Rob Mark) When pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed his damaged plane on the Hudson River to save the flight’s passengers and crew, some consider him a hero while others think he was reckless.
Flying Tigers (1942) (Brian Coleman) Capt. Jim Gordon’s command of the famed American volunteer fighter group in China is complicated by the recruitment of an old friend who is a reckless hotshot.
The Final Countdown (1980) (Steve Visscher) A modern aircraft carrier is thrown back in time to 1941 near Hawaii, just hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
One Six Right (2005) (Grant McHerron) An exhilarating documentary film that celebrates the unsung hero of aviation – the local airport – by tracing the life, history, and struggles of an airport icon: Southern California’s Van Nuys Airport.
Strategic Air Command (1955) (David Vanderhoof) An ex-pilot and current baseballer is recalled into the U.S. Air Force and assumes an increasingly important role in Cold War deterrence. Starring James Stewart, June Allyson, and Frank Lovejoy.
Sky King (TV series 1951-1962) (Max Trescott) King usually captured criminals and spies and found lost hikers, though he did so with the use of his airplane, the Songbird. Starring Kirby Grant, Gloria Winters, and Ewing Mitchell.
Micah’s Favorite Aviation Movies
Our Main(e) Man Micah struggled to pick just one favorite aviation movie. In his story, he mentions these films:
- Top Gun
- The Aviator
- Iron Eagle
- Air Force One
- Snakes on a Plane
- Pearl Harbor
- Jet Pilot
- Flying Leathernecks
- Flying Tigers
- Islands in the Sky
- Fate is the Hunter
- The Wings of Eagles
- The High and The Mighty
- Task Force
- Fighter Squadron
- Dive Bomber
- Hell’s Angels
- Keep ‘Em Flying
- Captains of the Clouds
- Air Force
- God Is My Co-Pilot
- Zero Hour!
- Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines
- The Flight of the Phoenix
- Tora! Tora! Tora!
- The Great Waldo Pepper
- Midway (1976)
- Midway (2019)
- The Final Countdown
- A Guy Named Joe
- Twelve O’Clock High
- Command Decision
- The Dawn Patrol (1930)
- The Dawn Patrol (1938)
Move Favorite Aviation Movies
These movies were submitted by listeners after the episode posted:
The Right Stuff (1983) (Obiwankenobi8999, Joe) The U.S. space program’s development from the breaking of the sound barrier to the selection of the Mercury 7 astronauts, from a group of test pilots with a seat-of-the-pants approach.
A Gathering of Eagles (1963) (Tom L.) During the Cold War, Air Force Colonel Jim Caldwell shapes up his Strategic Air Command B-52 wing to pass a nuclear war readiness test.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939) (Peter D.) At a remote South American trading port, the manager of an air-freight company is forced to risk his pilots’ lives in order to win an important contract as a traveling American showgirl stops in town.
FAA investigating if Boeing failed to ensure certain aircraft were safe for operation after door blew on Alaska Airlines plane
The FAA is investigating Boeing to determine if the company ensured that “products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for safe operation in compliance with FAA regulations.” After the B737 MAX 9 grounding, Alaska and United found loose hardware on some planes. According to the FAA, these “circumstances indicate that Boeing may have failed to ensure its completed products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for safe operation in accordance with quality system inspection and test procedures.”
Immediately following the cabin decompression on the Alaska Airlines B737 MAX 9, the cockpit door swung open, to the surprise of the pilots. That’s the design behavior. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said that Boeing would make this clear in the MAX 9 manual.
British Airways Pilot Kidnapped, Brutally Assaulted and Robbed in Terrifying Ordeal During Layover in Johannesburg
The First Officer was on a 2-day layover, staying in a gated and guarded community. While returning to the community after shopping, a woman asked him for assistance but then he was forced into a vehicle. Taken to a house for four hours, his bank accounts were emptied.
The airline entered into a sale-leaseback deal. The transaction allowed the airline to repay $465 million in debt payments for the aircraft. The sale also generated $419 million in net cash proceeds. The specific aircraft involved were not specified. Spirit operates an A320-family fleet of over 200 aircraft.
NetJets instituted an age-70 limit for its fractional-share (Part 91K) pilots effective January 10, 2024. Fewer than 100 pilots are affected, and they have been removed from NetJet’s schedule.
Notice of the change was issued by NetJets on January 10, 2023. This came after Congress’s omnibus spending bill that was adopted in December 2022. That bill allowed certain Part 91K and 135 operators to implement an age-70 ceiling. Such operators had to have logged at least 75,000 annual jet operations in 2019 or any subsequent year.
The NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots (NJASAP) filed a grievance which NetJets denied. An arbitrator found no violation and also denied the grievance. Eight NetJets pilots filed a lawsuit seeking “a preliminary injunction to keep the age cap from taking effect Jan. 10, 2024.” The U.S. District Court Northern District of Texas Dallas Division rejected their arguments and denied the motion for a preliminary injunction.
Cirrus Unveils Generation Seven of the SR-22
The G7 features Cirrus Perspective Touch+™ by Garmin®, advanced safety systems, improved visibility, increased legroom, and enhanced convenience features. The G7 integrates a touchscreen-controlled flight deck with a comfortable and stylish cabin. This redesigned flight deck reduces pilot workload while offering enhanced situational awareness for both pilot and passenger.
Video: SR Series G7 Features
Hosts this Episode
Max Flight, Rob Mark, Max Trescott, David Vanderhoof, Brian Coleman, and our Main(e) Man Micah.