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Jul-04-2006 01:56printcommentsVideo

Movie Review:The Flyboys Shoots Myths About WW1 Pilots Down in Flames (VIDEO)

American pilots, who chose to enter WW1 before the U.S. officially became involved, joined a French Air Service organization called the Lafayette Escadrille. They fought and died and were cherished by France. The movie debuts today.

Eugene Bullard
Eugene Bullard was WW1's only African American pilot

(SALEM) - A movie set to debut in October called The Flyboys casts these historic pilots in a Top Gun sort of way and reminds the world of one of my ongoing points; that the pilots fighting over France in WW1 were little more than kids, with the early 20’s being the average age.

A few were older. Heck, Germany’s Red Baron, Manfred Von Richtoffen, was 26.

But pizza commercials have you believe he’s an old man with a handlebar moustache. Don’t believe it, these guys were young, though they aged quickly, if they were fortunate. This is a story about dogfighting and these pilots faced skillful Germans in a cold, kill or be killed environment. The trailer gives a person a good taste of what it was like flying a combat plane in 1916 and 1917.

It has been 40-years since Hollywood made a motion picture about World War One aviation. The last was The Blue Max with George Pappard which was a fantastic movie featuring epic flying scenes, a great love story, and Ursula Andres.

The Blue Max, like The Flyboys, seems to lose a few points in terms of historical accuracy.

They also changed the names of the pilots they based their characters on. But there was only one African American pilot in the entire war, and the character in the movie is based on Eugene Bullard. That is good news for the legacy of one of America’s most underrated war heroes.

According to the Afro-American Almanac, Eugene Bullard initially joined the French Foreign Legion, where he earned distinguished honors on the battlefield. He was then selected for pilot training and on May 7th, 1917, becoming the world's first black fighter pilot. As an enlisted pilot, Bullard scored two "kills," but only one of them was confirmed. His second kill, early in November 1917, however, was definite.

When the United Sates entered WW1, Bullard and the other members of the Lafayette Escadrille were encouraged to join the American Air Service. Bullard was right there with everyone, until the Army realized that he was black, and he was rejected from American service because of his race. It was a major blow to a man that France treated with respect and dignity.

Eugene Bullard later got into a fistfight with an officer. He was placed in the French Infantry for the duration of the war.

Just a few weeks ago, I was in Fort Upton, Colorado doing research on the American pilot, Lt. Frank Luke JR., who is the subject of a documentary I am working on, when I learned that the Lafayette Escadrille Museum housed many items related to Eugene Bullard as well. Seeing this collection and the wealth of information on Luke that I was searching for with fellow researcher, author Blaine Pardoe, and researcher Jean Armstrong, made my heart jump.

Then just a few weeks ago, I shot and produced a story about the first African American member of the Oregon National Guard to be promoted to General. Wouldn’t you know it, Brigadier General Garry Dean is a fighter pilot. You can catch that story here after you’re done here: So as a researcher/biographer and WW1 aviator documentary producer, I am very excited to see the new movie is coming, and I hate to have to wait until October. You will too after you watch the trailer, breathtaking doesn’t even start to describe it.

Here are the people who created and star in the movie, and the rest of the folks involved in getting it off the ground, so to speak.

Cast Credit

  • James Franco
  • Jean Reno
  • David Ellison
  • Martin Henderson
  • Jennifer Decker
  • Abdul Salis
  • Philip Winchester
  • Tcheky Karyo
Production Credits Credit
  • Marc Roskin Co-Producer
  • Dean Devlin Producer
  • Rachel Olschan Associate Producer
  • Duncan Reid Executive Producer
  • James Clayton Executive Producer
  • Kearie Peak Co-Producer
  • Marc Frydman Producer
  • David Brown Producer
  • Phillip M Goldfarb Executive Producer
Production Companies Credit

Electric Entertainment Production Company Maybe the movie will lead to more on Bullard. He is only one aspect of the story that The Flyboys lays out, but I find it to be of vast importance. In post-war France, Bullard, a national hero, became a successful nightclub owner and popular musician in Paris. He married a countess and became the father of two daughters. His list of friends in Paris was long, and he knew American legends like Louis Armstrong and many others. When World War II erupted, he was a member of the underground and an associate of the famed French spy and resistance leader Cleopatra Terrier. He was severely wounded in July 1940 fighting Nazis in Europe and was evacuated to New York City. But back in the states, he fell into obscurity. Only the French remembered his service, and he was honored in the late 1950’s in a torch lighting ceremony. A year after Bullard’s death in 1961, France’s President Charles De Gaulle internationally embraced him as a French hero.

The Flyboys gives us an opportunity to do the same.

The movie trailer is posted below courtesy of videos play on 99% of all computers through a flash media system. If you ever encounter a problem, there is a Flash download at the top of the site's video section.

If you want a higher quality version and have a suitable media player installed on your computer, you may want to watch if here for a full screen version:




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With almost 25 years of experience on the west coast and worldwide as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor, Tim King is's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine who follows stories of Marines and Marine Veterans; he's covered British Royal Marines and in Iraq, Tim embedded with the same unit he served with in the 1980's.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from traditional mainstream news agencies like The Associated Press and Electronic Media Association; he also holds awards from the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs; and was presented with a 'Good Neighbor Award' for his reporting, by the The Red Cross.

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Tim's years as a Human Rights reporter have taken on many dimensions; he has rallied for a long list of cultures and populations and continues to every day, with a strong and direct concentration on the 2009 Genocide of Tamil Hindus and Christians in Sri Lanka. As a result of his long list of reports exposing war crimes against Tamil people, Tim was invited to be the keynote speaker at the FeTNA (Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America) Conference in Baltimore, in July 2012. This is the largest annual gathering of North American Tamils; Tim addressed more than 3000 people and was presented with a traditional Sri Lanka ‘blessed garland’ and a shawl as per the tradition and custom of Tamil Nadu

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Comments are Closed on this story.

Jim January 13, 2013 12:41 am (Pacific time)

Sorry but, I am not familiar with your work but, please don't take that as critical! As it happens, I have not looked closely at WWI for sometime and your work no doubt came after my more active reading. My more recent interests have been in military rifles and I have been published on that subject myself.
Frank Luke would be a fascinating study. As I recall, there wasn't all that much known about him, he shunned attention and of course, all too quickly passed from the scene. Being a balloon buster was no way to live a long life. His preference for the very hazardous balloon busting alone would make him an object of interest. Was he at all suicidal? I know of him and that's about it really. I punched you up on the web and found a few things about your research on him. I also stumbled on reference to a work called THE STAND by S. Skinner concerning Luke's last flight. Is it any good?
As it happens, my G'Pa and his brother were in WWI. Both were in the same battery of the 313th/FA, I have his regimental history. It's well written and quite readable actually. I haven't done for years. It is available to read on line. You ought to check it out.

Tim King: It is interesting and good that people take accuracy very seriously in this area.  The Aerodrome is a great WWI online site, you should drop by and say hello to the good folks.  I have a problem in that as time goes by, I am less interested in this and more interested in helping the world find peace, as a human rights reporter.  There is a lot of contrast between that and my interest in military history.  At any rate, Frank Luke is not too obscure, what is though is accuracy, same thing.  I was with Stephen Skinner in Murvaux for the rededicatin of the Frank Luke memorial.  I have his book, I enjoyed it, but I actually collaborated with Author Blaine Pardoe for his book on Luke which is so good and complete that it almost puts the controversy to rest (Book Review: Terror of the Autumn Skies Examines Life of WWI Pilot Frank Luke (VIDEO) - Video Book Review by Tim King  Skinner contends that people did witness Luke's death.  What we learned in France was that the Germans had made villages cut down all of the trees along Mily creek, therefore opening the view that does not normally exist. Keep your seatbelt on, as we approach 2014 it is an anniversary year and time to bring this history back in front of people.  

Jim January 12, 2013 8:13 pm (Pacific time)

[quote]"The trailer gives a person a good taste of what it was like flying a combat plane in 1916 and 1917" is a somewhat of a misleading statement.[end quote] Nothing can tell us exactly what it was like for WWI pilots. The film falls far short of the rigors they actually suffered. Example. The engines in the film planes were 'radials' the cylinder heads arranged radially around the crankshaft but stayed in fixed place as shown. The actual engines used by the Nieuport (F.DR.1 and many others as well) were 'rotary.' The cylinders also rotated with the propeller. Lubrication was with castor oil a bit of which was ejected with the exhaust. On a 2 hour patrol, the pilot was breathing a constant mist of castor oil! Gut cramps were a constant problem. This also created a highly flammable film coating he side of the fuselage of the a/c. Another thought. The gas tank of most planes was located above and in front of the pilot's knees. Pleasant thought? They were LOUD too. Between the constant roar of short exhaust pipes and high altitude, stabbing pains from ear problems were frequent. Consider, it was often well below freezing at altitude and after a 2 hour patrol pilots were often so frigid as to have to be lifted from their cock pits and walked around to get them moving. Yes they drank alot. For the most part, their life expectancy was under 2 weeks and they knew it. They might be expected to fly as many as 3 or even 4 missions a day in particularly hard times. Flying high G maneuvers is very hard on the heart and with adrenalin pumping a combat was particularly exhausting and they had to go back again and again. The movie showed the pilots living in a mansion. It did happen but most lived in far meaner conditions and there was no evidence of the ever present mud they usually lived with. I spent 3 years in the army in Europe. Let me tell you- mud is miserable! But, for all that it was still better than the trenches. All the above paints a far grimmer picture tha that shown in the film.

Jim January 12, 2013 7:47 pm (Pacific time)

Gads! I need to proof read. I really AM more literate than that!
I would be glad to communicate. Btw. I am no expert on Bullard (or anything else!). In fact, the movie did this for me- I had not known there was a Black man in WWI aviation at all or ever heard of Bullard and his remarkable history. I am more a student of WWI aviation in general. Back to Bullard, a photo of him shows him standing next to an a/c with the famous French Storks squadron insignia. I don't know if he flew with them but, if so, he was in very good company. That was Georges Guyneymer's (54 kills) unit.

Editor (Tim King): Do you know about my work regarding Frank Luke?  I've traced his path from where he grew up in Arizona, all the way to where he was shot down in Murvaux, France. I have been shooting for a documentary on his life for years now, figure 2018 if nothing else.  I do believe Bullard with with Les Cigognes, the Stork squadron.   For years I had, wish I still did!

Jim January 12, 2013 3:44 am (Pacific time)

There is a misconception here. Eugene Bullard was real and certainly deserves recognition. However, he nor any Black man ever flew with the "Lafayette Escadrille."
Wait now! Hear me out. he did flay with the "Lafayette Flying Corps" aka "Franco-American Flying Corps." The difference is that only 38 men, the "Vaient 38," ever flew with the Lafayette Escadrille-(squadron). However, far more Americans served with France's Air Service being scattered throughout it's many squadrons. These men, including Bullard, were referred to as the Lafayette Flying Corps as noted above.
I also found the use of all German planes as red tri-planes, except the enemy ace! as too phony. The most commonly used planes by the German's were bi-planes of several types. Also, the figures given for the F.DR.I were all off. It was actually had a lower rated engine and was slower than most WWI fighters. It's strength was in it's manouverability. Finally, just so's you know, there were two (2) lions in the Laf. Escadrille- Whsikey and "Soda." When they got too large they were given to a zoo.

Editor: I'm sure I would enjoy talking to you about this Jim, not too many people pay attention, Bullard was quite a man.

Matt May 17, 2009 12:52 am (Pacific time)

I was there, It is spell it wrong, it is near Hudson, Colorado. Correct spell is Fort Lupton, Colorado- it is far off west from Platte Valley Airport...

Nicolas DE LEON October 4, 2007 7:32 am (Pacific time)

Hollywood keeps killing the REAL HISTORY... Flyboy´s is a shame to the memory of the real men and women who had WW1... The Real life of Eugene Bullard is a lot better than this brief Hollywood "fantasy film"... Find more about the late Mr. Bullard, you will see how his life spanded two world wars, and who he also served, and again was a hero in WW2. Flyboys, nothing but another Hollywood film...enjoy!

Cathy February 21, 2007 5:08 pm (Pacific time)

Mr. King; My husband and I just finished seeing "FlyBoys" and were very impressed with the movie. However, we were more impressed when we read your column. Not only have you educated us, you have piqued our curiosity concerning the men and women of "The Great War" Thank you wery much.

Chris February 8, 2007 6:03 am (Pacific time)

From a British perspective this film just felt like an insult

Tim King September 11, 2006 2:58 pm (Pacific time)

Keith, I can't wage an arguement with much of what you said, and I am familiar with the beliefs of many WW1 purists who inhabit places like I have a lot of time under my belt studying this period and I just think it is important that young people today "get" how radical Great War flying was; and how the pilots who flew them were young also. If you have not seen it, please check out my site in WW1 pilot Frank Luke Jr. at Again, you are right but since 40 years have passed since The Blue Max, it is good that Hollywood at least deemed the period worthy, I'm sure you agree. BTW, I love the F-14's too and I was around the actual planes used to simulate the MIG's also, they are the Air Force F-5's that were the Aggressor squadron at Yuma's Fighter Weapons School. Interesting to see Marines fly an Air Force plane, they made great MIG simulators but I believe they have been replaced with Falcons. (as if they mind that!) I also was fortunate to cover the first visit of a MIG-29 squadron to the U.S. Luftwaffe planes refitted with western engines and instruments, great stuff, I have the video.

Keith Marshall September 11, 2006 2:41 pm (Pacific time)

"The trailer gives a person a good taste of what it was like flying a combat plane in 1916 and 1917" is a somewhat of a misleading statement. There are no movies or videos etc. that record actual WWI air combat anywhere. In fact, the supposed photographs of "actual" WWI combat housed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum (now the National Museum of the United States Air Force) says point blank that the photos are more than likely fakes. All we have are written accounts of what it 'might' be like. While the trailer looks cool, I fear that this movie will end up being a WWI version of Pearl Harbor or Top Gun - a completely ridiculous and unrealistic story with over dramatic gee-whiz effects (although I did enjoy Top Gun for the F-14 scenes). Here is a list of movies I think that while some are fictitious at least seem to accurately capture the era depicted and are sure winners: The Blue Max (I thought the story weak, but the fight scenes are great and displays the gallantry and chivalrous tone of the period) The Great Waldo Pepper 30 Seconds Over Tokyo (Alec Baldwin as Jimmy Doolittle in Pearl Harbor? C’mon!) Tora, Tora, Tora (best ever!!!) 12 O’clock High Battle of Britain (bad story, but the flying more than makes up for the poor writing) Memphis Belle (reluctantly add as the story is real only in the name of the plane – people take things too literally!) The Aviator The Right Stuff (best next to TTT!) Top Gun (sigh - The Final Countdown is more fun because it is so unbelievable, but the concept is intriguing!)

Craig Lloyd August 19, 2006 1:17 am (Pacific time)

You and your readers may want to know of my book, Eugene Bullard, Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris (rev. ed. 2006 Univ. of Georgia Press)

Yvonne Heslinga July 9, 2006 12:02 am (Pacific time)

A must see, thanks to Regulus we had the news very early on our board: Forum Eerste Wereldoorlog

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