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Flying the Secret Sky

WGBH // Unrated // August 12, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted August 4, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Note: This review is based on a pre-release screener and may or may not reflect the content of the final product.

The Movie:
Flying the Secret Sky, which will soon be premiering on PBS stations around the country, is a fascinating look into a little known facet of both aviation history and World War II history in general: the development and implementation of the Royal Air Force Ferry Command, a death defying mission to get fighter aircraft to the United Kingdom across the North Atlantic, at that time the most treacherous air route in the world.

Producer-director William VanDerKloot has a personal stake in this story--his father was one of the heroic pilots who fought technological limitations and hazards of weather to help arm England when it was the most isolated and threatened country in Europe, after Hitler's invading hoardes had overtaken most of the rest of the continent. VanDerKloot has assembled a sterling array of still living pilots (including, incredibly, Kirk Kerkorian, the guy who owned Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at one time), as well as a vivid assemblage of vintage stills and film that help bring the era alive.

It's truly incredible what these pilots did, especially when one considers this was a clandestine operation (remember that America was still officially "neutral"), and that they were all civilians. Hearing these brave men recount their exploits in planes that would routinely ice over, with no sound insulation or insulation of any type ("When it was 50 below outside, it was 50 below inside," states one), is a testament to the human spirit and the lengths to which people went to make sure the Nazi threat didn't overtake the entire civilized world. These some would say foolhardy kids (some as young as 18) would launch a mission in the dead of night (the safest time to travel), get their plane to England utilizing only star navigation and in complete radio silence, and then hop a freighter (usually filled with German POWs) back to Canada, where in two days they would start the process all over again. VanDerKloot also doesn't shy away from those who didn't make it, with some touching anecdotes about those whose planes went down on the long trip from Gander to England (a trip that took up to 15 hours in those days).

This mission, at the time shrouded in secrecy, and now shrouded in the mists of history, may come as a surprise to many who feel themselves otherwise well acquainted with the minutiae of World War II history. VanDerKloot has done an outstanding job of highlighting this little known mission and done a valuable service to the pilots and navigators, several of whom appear in the documentary, making sure their contributions to the Allied war effort do not go unremembered.

The DVD

Video:
This screener was presented in an unenhanced 1.78:1 transfer, with excellent picture quality in the contemporary interview segments. As is to be expected, the vintage video elements vary in quality, with significant damage and abrasion to some.

Sound:
The standard stereo soundtrack is excellent, though Carlo Rota's heavily accented voiceover can occasionally be a bit hard to decipher. Fidelity is excellent throughout.

Extras:
No extras were present on this screener disc.

Final Thoughts:
Flying the Secret Sky is a fascinating examination into what for most has heretofore probably been a little known footnote to WWII's aviation history. The personal bravery of the many men and women associated with this clandestine effort is truy extraordinary, and VanDerKloot deserves major accolades for bringing their personal stories to the forefront of public consciousness after so long. Recommended.

____________________________________________
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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