What’s showing at your next movie night? If you’re stumped on film ideas for an upcoming pilot or aviation fan get-together, these twelve documentaries are good bets for crowd-pleasing choices.
1. The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944)
A military and aviation history lover’s delight, The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress was made immediately after WWII and is comprised entirely of original footage. It follows the crew of the legendary Memphis Belle starting from the moment they are briefed on their 25th and final mission all the way through their return home. Climb aboard the B-17 bomber and experience the mission first-hand as the camera crew takes you along and the narrator describes the action.
2. Miracle of the Hudson Plane Crash (2009)
Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is one of the few airline pilots who the general public knows by name, all thanks to his impressive piloting skills at the controls of US Airways Flight 1549. In addition to the Hollywood drama starring Tom Hanks, you may also enjoy the Discovery Channel’s documentary about Captain Sully’s “miracle landing” on the Hudson. The documentary version features interviews with the passengers, crew, and first responders who were on scene that day.
3. Top Tens of Warfare Season 1, Episode 1 “Aircraft” (2016)
Of course many of the most hi-tech and impressive aircraft belong to the military. The Top Tens of Warfare series kicked off its first episode by exploring legendary aircraft like the Sopwith Camel, P-51 Mustang, F22 Raptor, Harrier Jump Jet and more. Enjoy rare archival footage mixed with expert interviews and see if your favorite military aircraft make cut for the top ten.
4. On Board Air Force One (2009)
Technically as soon as the U.S. President steps aboard any airplane, its designation changes to the callsign “Air Force One.” Still, we usually associate Air Force One with the two identical Boeing 747s (military designation VC-25) that have been specially equipped for the president and staff.
These massive 3-deck planes provide 4,000 square feet of real estate to conduct meetings, hold conferences and function as a mobile aerial White House.
Follow National Geographic as they meet sitting presidents and take us on a tour of the special one-of-a kind planes that provide mission support for our country’s leaders.
5. Secrets of the Dead, Season 1, Episode 4 “What Happened to the Hindenburg?”
One of the great aviation disasters and ongoing mysteries of the 20th century was the 1937 fire that consumed the Hindenburg. The rumors and theories surrounding this infamous dirigible’s demise continue to swirl on into the 21st century. In their first season, Secrets of the Dead turned to NASA scientist Addison Bain to take another look at what may have caused the Hindenburg disaster.
6. The B-2 Stealth Bomber: America’s Deadliest Weapon
The Air Force is finally beginning to share more details about the B-2 Stealth Bomber, and they teamed up with Janson Media to offer us a behind-the-scenes look. This aircraft documentary takes you back to the beginning and follows the B-2 program from conception to design, manufacture, and production. Discover the secrets of one of the most silent and deadly military aircraft ever created.
7. The Space Shuttle’s Last Flight (2011)
Space Shuttle Atlantis’ final flight in the summer of 2011 marked the bittersweet end of a 30-year program that carried NASA astronauts into space. Now, take a look back at the legacy of the shuttle program and the origins of its design. Consider anew the impact of the Challenger and Columbia disasters and celebrate the ingenuity that it took to create a fleet of reusable spacecraft.
8. Kitty Hawk: The Wright Brothers’ Journey of Invention (2003)
Journey back to the beginning of modern aviation and follow Orville and Wilbur Wright on their challenging quest to build a craft capable of manned flight. Experience the triumphs and setbacks along this historic journey. As an extra special touch, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and John Glenn provide the voices of the Wright brothers.
9. 8 Days to the Moon and Back (2013) and Apollo 11 (2019)
There are no shortage of movies about NASA’s space program, but if you are looking for quality documentaries that capture the excitement of the lunar landing, we have your winners. Both films are well-made, and 8 Days makes skillful use of genuine declassified cockpit audio which it meshes with digital effects and dramatized acting. With their 90-minute run time, each of these films offers up a feature-film-length view into aviation history.
10. Ice Pilots NWT (2009-2014)
Looking for more than a single movie or episode? Pop some extra popcorn and settle in to binge watch all 6 seasons of Ice Pilots NWT. This engaging series follows the crew and pilots of Buffalo Airways based out of Yellowknife in Northwest Territories, Canada. A hardy and daring team braves the frigid winter to keep the fleet of WWII-era DC-3 prop planes flying year-round. With no permanent roads to remote areas of northern Canada, communities rely on the Ice Pilots of Buffalo Airways to fly in critical food and other supplies.
Watch the official Ice Pilots NWT season one trailer to get a feel for what to expect from theseries.
11. Jumbo: The Plane that Changed the World (2014)
In the mood for an aircraft documentary that dives into the details of jumbo jet design and manufacturing? Jumbo takes you along on the bumpy ride that brought the iconic Boeing 747 to fruition and revolutionized commercial passenger air transport.
12. Airbus vs Boeing: The Jumbo Jet Race
Two of the greats face off in Airbus vs Boeing. Watch their rivalry come to life as they fight dirty and each company pulls out all the tricks in the book to come out on top in the jumbo jet race. In a high-stakes game of power and influence, contracts matter, fairness is thrown to the wind, and billions of dollars are up for grabs.