The Official The Masters of the Air Series Review

The Official “The Masters of the Air” Series Review
By Branden Thompson

“Please note: Spoilers ahead so if you have not watched the series, this is your notice”

When I first heard about Apple TV+ coming out with a tv series focused on airmen during WW2 I
was met with a mixed reaction. Part of me was really excited to see classic airplanes grace the
big screen, while my other side was extremely nervous that the airplanes would play a co-star
role to some Hollywood love story with a little aviation mixed in and some vague facts about

Now, before we get into the actual review I want to praise Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and
Gary Goetzman - the producers of Band of Brothers and The Pacific, they tackled another topic
that most of Hollywood would rather not address. War and especially WW2 are not “fun” topics
or “feel good Hollywood stories”. Bravo gentlemen!

I love the B-17 Flying Fortress. I was privileged enough to watch the gathering of B-17s during
“Thunder Over Michigan” many years ago and to this day I can still hear the roar of the engines
flying overhead. At the time there were at least 9 airworthy B-17s at the show.

shop our selection of B-17 products

The B-17 is considered one of the main characters of “Masters of the Air”, if not the main
character and this aircraft did things no other aircraft could do at the time. The technological
advances of the B-17 during the early stages of the war are simply amazing. One thing that
stood out to me was the ball turrets and how advanced they were in the 1930s. The
hydraulically operated turret could rotate 360° as well as point straight down.

Introduced in April, 1938, the B-17 Bomber was produced from 1936-1945 with over 12,000
units manufactured. As of March 25th, 2024, only 6 B-17s are airworthy with 5 in the USA and 1
in the UK. The early B-17s, manufactured by Boeing, featured four Pratt & Whitney R-1690
Hornet radial engines, each producing 750 horsepower. After initial flight tests, Boeing updated
the engines to Wright R-1820-39 Cyclone engines. Several variants of the B-17 were produced,
the B-17G (8,680 created) was the most produced variant, the B-17F (3,405 created) was the
second most produced variant.

Episode 1, after watching the first episode of “The Masters of the Air” you quickly realize why
there are only 6 airworthy B-17s left. The series wastes no time in letting you know that coming
back alive from an air raid mission was no guaranteed task. For many, you weren’t expected to
come back. You were either shot down and hopefully survived your descent to the ground to be
captured or you simply did not make it and paid the ultimate price for your country.

Early episodes do a fantastic job of showcasing the B-17 during the early stages of the war.
Several scenes focus on the preparation of the aircraft, preflight checks, pilot preparedness.
What was really fascinating is when the B-17s roar down the runway and the actors, true to their
profession, convince us through their accurate checks and V-speed callouts, that they’re well
educated when it comes to aviation and flying these aircraft . Once the B-17 would enter enemy
territory it was automatically met with flak and most of the time, every B-17 in formation would
encounter some type of damage whether it be engine failure, portions of the wings being blown
off or shot down.

Halfway through the series something happens that still doesn’t make sense to me. Up to this
point the top two characters are, Buck Cleven and his close friend John “Bucky” Egan. Both are
top 100th Bomber Group pilots and remember, the majority of the characters in the series are
based on actual people. Buck Cleven has escaped several close calls and then BAM! Buck
goes up for a mission and his B-17 does not come back. No inflight scenes, no build-up from the
flight, nothing. Just Buck Cleven is gone and you're left assuming Buck was shot down,
eventually captured or even worse, Buck died.

Now, it doesn’t take long to realize as the viewer that Buck is still alive and the directors will
integrate Buck's fate into the rest of the story because you still have several episodes to go in
this short series. I think this is where the series got it wrong. You don’t build up the main
character as this “superhero” pilot who escapes everything and then misses out on the one flight
where your “superhero” is “superhuman”. How did Buck get shot down? How did Buck handle
this situation? Where did he land? How did Buck get captured? All of these questions are left
unanswered which is a crime. You literally watch everyone else's journey from being shot down
to being captured except for Buck.

Now let’s pivot to Buck's good friend, John “Bucky” Cleven, who now becomes character
number one and guess what happens to “Bucky”, he gets shot down, captured and now is
escaping several close calls on his life. As this storyline plays out we start to hope that “Bucky”
and Buck will somehow end up in the same prisoner camp and somehow once again come
together to save each other. Spielberg is a master of his craft in directing the viewer's thoughts
and ideas because guess what, this is exactly what happens.

Even though this is one of the weaker parts of the storyline, you have to remember WW2 really
happened and both of these aviators were part of the 100th Bomber Group as well as close
friends and “superheros”. This is a true story, not some Hollywood made for TV special. Buck
Cleven and John”Bucky” Egan went through Hell on earth and came out on the other side. This
brings me back to the beginning episodes where as a viewer you see what these young men
and women went through. Either in war, back home, as a country, as a world, as mankind, WW2
was literally Hell on earth.

After the last episode of “Masters of the Air” I was left pondering my own life and my own
struggles and how I now look at them in a different light. WW2 was something some people
want to forget ever happen, others progressed through their lives changed forever in ways most
of us will never understand. War is dark, war is horrible, war is something I hope no one reading
this will ever have to experience. What we can do is educate ourselves about those who
experienced it. I’ve found myself watching several WW2 documentaries and I encourage you to
do the same.

Thank you Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman (for not revolving airplanes
around a love story). Thank you AppleTV. Thank you to the actors who made “Masters of the
Air'' great. Thank you to the real life Buck Cleven and John “Bucky” Egan. They were real life
aviators who made it possible to overcome Nazi Germany during WW2. And lastly, thank you to
those who lost their lives during WW2, they’re the real “Masters of the Air”.

shop our selection of B-17 products
shop our selection of P-51 products

Sign up for Special Offers

Stay up to date on new arrivals, email exclusives, and more.