It’s not often that a movie maker is bold enough to use the lack of their film’s star character’s most iconic trait, but that’s exactly what directors Mark Fairhead and Anthony Plant did with their 2018 documentary Spitfire! This is another one we watched on Netflix, however I'm not sure that it's still available on Netflix, but it is listed as being available both as a DVD and a host of other "on demand" channels. I’m not going to spoil the fun of you discovering this film for yourself but I will say that for 2 minutes we were absolutely mesmerized by a screen showing nothing more than gorgeous clouds with the tiniest suggestion of wind. No sound but a breath of breeze so soft we turned up the volume and I suggest you go ahead and do the same. And we watched that serene sky-scape for a solid 2 minutes. Waiting. Watching.Listening. It was a fantastic way to begin the story. As much as possible, inviting the viewer to experience a teeny tiny taste of the what it would have been like to be earthbound somewhere in the middle of WWII, waiting for the sound of the “plane that saved the world”. Tell everyone to stop talking and watch. And listen. And from off in the distance you finally hear the purring signature growl that sends gear-heads all a-quiver. The sound of the Rolls Royce Merlin Engine.
I’ve always been a fan of the planes powered by the iconic Rolls Royce Merlin engine and getting up close and personal with a P51 Mustang has always been a dream of mine! So it was a real thrill when—in 2014—we had the chance to attend the Return of the Redtails in Elmira, New York. It was a once in a lifetime event as six veterans of the WWII Tuskegee Airmen Red Tail Squadron were gathered and the keynote speaker that day was Dr. Roscoe C. Brown. However I was there to photograph a very particular moment. A friend of mine, Jack Ottaway, Sr., had asked me to document a very special meeting between his uncle, Dean Ottaway, and these fellow veterans of WWII. Dean had been a Top Turret Gunner and Assistant Flight Engineer on a B-24 Liberator Bomber in the 782nd Squadron of the 365th Bomb Group and flew on his 25th Mission on his 19th birthday, November 20, 1944. The agile Mustang’s duty was to protect the heavy bombers as they flew their missions and while Dean never knew if any of these men were the actual pilots that would have flown escort for his B-24 but that did not matter. These amazing men were part of Red Tails and that was good enough for Dean!
It was a great day and you did get the feeling that you were witnessing history happening as many generations stood in line to shake hands with these veterans. I wasn’t sure if I’d even get the chance for a clean shot. This moment wasn’t really about me getting the photo. Don't get me wrong, I was going to do my best BUT I didn’t want to intrude. As Dean waited through the 45 minute line of people, I did my best to estimate the most likely successful angle for the shot and just hoped that someone in the room didn’t walk through it. And in the end, I was lucky. I got that shot! And as added bonus, later on I got my chance to hear that Rolls Royce Merlin and photograph a Mustang for myself!
There was no way that I had the best camera with me for this shot! In my dreams I would have had a Canon 1DXMarkII and a 400mm lens. Canon wouldn’t even debut that camera for two more years! But it’s my dream so I just picture myself with that one! In the real world what I had to work with was my trusty Canon 1DMarkIIN and a 70-200mm lens, but I wasn’t going to pass up any chance like this.and even though I didn’t have the ideal camera for getting these shots, I got my first, but hopefully not my last, photo of a Mustang! If you're like me, you really want to know who got the amazing aerial footage. The answer to that question to the "who" is John Dibbs of The Plane Picture Company! For the "how", check out this great post on the website British Cinematographer.
I confess to being just a tiny bit jealous of the film makers and their chance to do something as epic as not only getting the amazing aerial footage, but to interview the men AND women who flew them!