Netflix doesn’t warn you when a movie or show is about to expire, but some users glean that information for the rest of us.
The film required a large number of period aircraft. In September 1965 producers Harry Saltzman and S. Benjamin Fisz contacted former RAF Bomber Command Group Captain Hamish Mahaddie to find the aircraft and arrange their use. Eventually 100 aircraft were employed, called the “35th largest air force in the world”. With Mahaddie’s help, the producers located 109 Spitfires in the UK, of which 27 were available although only 12 could be made flyable. Mahaddie negotiated use of six Hawker Hurricanes, of which three were flying. The film helped preserve these aircraft, including a rare Spitfire Mk II which had been a gate guardian at RAF Colerne.
During the actual aerial conflict, all RAF Spitfires were Spitfire Mk I and Mark II variants. However, only one Mk Ia and one Mk IIa (the latter with a Battle of Britain combat record) could be made airworthy, so the producers had to use seven other different marks, all of them built after the battle. To achieve commonality, the production made some modifications to “standardise” the Spitfires, including adding elliptical wingtips, period canopies and other changes. To classic aircraft fans, they became known as “Mark Haddies” (a play on Grp. Capt. Mahaddie’s name). A pair of two-seat trainer Spitfires were camera platforms to achieve realistic aerial footage inside the battle scenes. A rare Hawker Hurricane XII had been restored by Canadian Bob Diemert, who flew the aircraft in the film. Eight non-flying Spitfires and two Hurricanes were set dressing, with one Hurricane able to taxi.
A North American B-25 Mitchell N6578D, flown by pilots John “Jeff” Hawke and Duane Egli, was the primary aerial platform for aerial sequences. It was fitted with camera positions in what were formerly the aircraft’s nose, tail and waist gun positions. An additional camera, on an articulating arm, was mounted in the aircraft’s bomb bay and allowed 360-degree shots from below the aircraft. The top gun turret was replaced with a clear dome for the aerial director, who would co-ordinate the other aircraft by radio.
N6578D was painted garishly for line-up references and to make it easier for pilots to determine which way it was manoeuvring. When the brightly coloured aircraft arrived at Tablada airbase in Spain in early afternoon of 18 March 1968, the comment from Derek Cracknell, the assistant director, was “It’s a bloody great psychedelic monster!” The aircraft was henceforth dubbed the Psychedelic Monster.
For the German aircraft, the producers obtained 32 CASA 2.111 twin-engined bombers, a Spanish-built version of the German Heinkel He 111H-16. They also located 27 Hispano Aviación HA-1112 M1L ‘Buchon’ single-engined fighters, a Spanish version of the German Messerschmitt Bf 109. The Buchons were altered to look more like correct Bf 109Es, adding mock machine guns and cannon, redundant tailplane struts, and removing the rounded wingtips. The Spanish aircraft were powered by British Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, and thus almost all the aircraft used, British and German alike, were Merlin-powered. [N 3] After the film, one HA-1112 was donated to the German Luftwaffenmuseum der Bundeswehr, and converted to a Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-2 variant, depicting the insignias of German ace Gustav Rödel.
Two Heinkels and the 17 flyable Messerschmitts (including one dual-controlled HA-1112-M4L two-seater, used for conversion training and as a camera ship), were flown to England to complete the shoot. In the scene where the Polish training squadron breaks off to attack, (“Repeat, please”), the three most distant Hurricanes were Buchons marked as Hurricanes, as there were not enough flyable Hurricanes. In addition to the combat aircraft, two Spanish-built Junkers Ju 52 transports were used.
Permission was granted to the producers to use the Royal Air Force Museum’s Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber (one of only two that survive intact). The 1943 aircraft was repainted and slightly modified to resemble a 1940 model Ju 87. The engine was found to be in excellent condition and there was little difficulty in starting it, but returning the aircraft to airworthiness was ultimately too costly for the filmmakers. Instead, two Percival Proctor training aircraft were converted into half-scale Stukas, with a cranked wing, as “Proctukas”. To duplicate the steep dive of Ju 87 attacks, large models were flown by radio control.
To recreate airfield scenes in the film, with the limited number of period aircraft available for the film, large scale models were used. The first requirement was for “set decoration” replicas. Production of full-size wood and fibreglass Hurricanes, Spitfires and Bf 109s commenced in a sort of production line set up at Pinewood Studios. A number of the replicas were fitted with motorcycle engines to enable them to taxi. Although most of these replicas were destroyed during filming, a small number were made available to museums in the UK.
The other need was for models in aerial sequences, and art director and model maker John Siddall was asked by the producer to create and head a team specifically for this because of his contacts in the modelling community. [N 5] A test flight was arranged at Lasham Airfield in the UK and a model was flown down the runway close behind a large American estate car with a cameraman in the rear. This test proved successful, leading to many radio-controlled models being constructed in the band rehearsal room at Pinewood Studios. Over a period of two years, a total of 82 Spitfires, Hurricanes, Messerschmitts and He 111s were built. Radio-controlled Heinkel He 111 models were flown to depict bombers being destroyed over the English Channel. When reviewing the footage of the first crash, the producers noticed a trailing-wire antenna; this was explained by an added cutaway in which the control wires of a Heinkel are seen shot loose.
Catch it now, if you’re interested.
Oh, and the film was yet another influence on Star Wars: