Top 10 Aviation Films

It’s a subjective exercise picking a favourite anything and for every fan of Top Gun there’s another who thinks its gung-ho brash and bluster style is just too much. Here’s my 10:

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

There’s a stiff RAF officer played by Peter Sellers and crazed USAF B-52 nuclear bomber pilot played by Slim Pickens (later to be seen in the farting scene in Blazing Saddles).

The aircraft play a crucial part as they are they can start World War III if they are not recalled in time.

This film by Stanley Kubrick was made in the middle of the Cold War and while its special effects are rudimentary it retains its power to both chill and entertain.


The Sound Barrier (1952)

In the post-war period British aviation continued its innovative ways that had found such success in the 1939-45 conflict. This David Lean-directed film showed how the British attempted to break the mythical Sound Barrier first. Not all survive it…

Angels One Five (1952)

Battle of Britain film with stiff upper lipped officers and daft inexperienced junior pilots. ‘Septic’ is not a name you’d see on a Top Gun helmet that’s for sure.

The Battle of Britain (1969)Battle of Britain film poster

Michael Caine, Robert Shaw, Susannah York, Spitfires, Spanish Heinkels, a great theme – plus a whole lot more. Laurence Oliver plays Hugh Dowding and Trevor Howard plays the commander of 11 Group, Keith Park. There are rumours of a Ridley Scott Battle of Britain film but it will take some effort to rival this epic telling of the only aerial conflict of the war.

Reach for the Sky (1956)

Kenneth More played the much-loved war hero and double amputee Douglas Bader. One not just for Sunday afternoons.

Firefox (1982)

Clint Eastwood steals a top secret Russian fighter jet which has a voice-activated cockpit – it’s the future!

633 Squadron (1964)633 Squadron

A brave mission, with many repeated shots of Mosquitos flying up Scottish glens – I mean Norwegian fjords. Can you spot the models being swung round on string? Not bothered, it’s a stirring war movie made in the 1960s and one of the main stars is not one of the Mosquitoes drafted in for the flying sequences but the dramatic theme tune.

The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

It’s an American film from the 1970s and is actually about something, with incredible flying sequences including a couple of shocking moments.

The Dam Busters (1955)

This is one of the stand-out war movies. It’s in black and white, it’s got clipped accents, an actual wartime hero in the shape of Richard Todd (who took part in D-Day) who played Guy Gibson and it’s got Lancasters, an un-PC dog and the best theme tune of all time. The daring exploits of 617 Squadron were portrayed in this film which bears repeated viewings.

The Right Stuff  (1983)

The film version of Tom Wolfe’s seminal book about the test pilots at Edwards AFB and the early Mercury astronauts. Yes, you can tell the aircraft are models but who cares with a cast including Sam Shephard, Fred Ward, Dennis Quaid and Ed Harris. Contains scenes of bravery and crewcut haircuts.

Not Fake News – Apollo 11 and the Truth

In July 1969 two American astronauts walked on the Moon. It was widely reported on the radio and television with live broadcasts recording every moment from lift-off to the tense landing and then the return journey to splashdown on Earth’s Pacific Ocean. Newspapers also reported on this, the biggest news story of the age – the Space Age.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

At the time the Soviet Union was the USA’s rival in space exploration. It was first in space with its unmanned satellite Sputnik in 1957 and the first astronaut/cosmonaut was Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the Earth in April 1961. When Apollo 11 set out for the Moon the Soviets sent information on its own unmanned spacecraft, so that it would not interfere with the American spacecraft’s trajectory.

In 1977 Hollywood made a film called Capricorn One about a space mission that was faked, with a sinister government (this was soon after Watergate) setting out to cover up the deceit and kill the witnesses – the three astronauts themselves.

Over the years since a disturbing trend has taken hold that suggests that the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s were faked, that the astronauts didn’t walk on the Moon, that the photographs and movies were filmed (by Stanley Kubrick, whose epic 1968 sci-fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey
brought new levels of special effects sophistication to audiences) and that the government and NASA made the whole thing up.

2001 A Space Odyssey

This trend has perplexed many of those who were around at the time and also those who have grown up watching the films taken by the astronauts or listened to their testimonies. How can something so plainly visible and so public somehow not be true? The answer of course is that some people have become so detached and wary of official or government news that is frequently put through the PR Spin-dryer that they have extrapolated this to the biggest event of the 20th century.

They are prepared to disbelieve all the witness testimonies, the hours of film, the thousands of still images, the audio recordings, the scientific experiment results – everything – in order to believe the conspiracy.

There has been ‘evidence’ put forward on TV shows and blogs – and even published books – that are supposed to make us doubt. The work of those 400,000 who took part in this gigantic endeavour is pushed aside because of the way the shadows fall ‘the wrong way’ in a photograph. Spurious claims about the lack of starlight, or the amount of radiation, or the way the dust isn’t shown underneath the landing module, or something else all are given reverence as Facts.

And while the government bend the truth sometimes (and also lie) this should not be taken to mean that they are lying about the Moon Landings. American’s president Nixon may have said there would not be a whitewash in the Whitehouse but when he spoke to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, he was on Earth and they were on the surface of the Moon. To say they weren’t is to call these courageous and decent men liars. Something that is a disgraceful thing to do.

What is to be done?

Everytime you’re on twitter, Facebook, YouTube or in conversation and someone tells you that they landings were faked – tell them They Went.