Donald Miller’s tome Masters of the Air is finally coming to life on the big screen. It’s an epic story of the WWII heavy bomber boys in England, with a particular focus on the 100th Bomb Group – nicknamed “The Bloody Hundredth.”
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are behind the mini-series. It’s positioned for critical acclaim, following in the footsteps of its predecessors Band of Brothers and The Pacific.
John Orloff, who also wrote episodes for Band of Brothers, penned the series. His Twitter feed hints at (and makes explicit, in some cases) the many years he’s poured into this project. Cary Fukunaga, Director of True Detective and the latest James Bond installment, is yet another heavyweight associated with the project.
Filming appears to have slowed down as of early 2022, and rumors have it the series will premiere as soon as late 2022.
Despite Apple’s public silence on the series, an impressive amount from filming has leaked on social media. All signs suggest the series will be spectacular, bringing the elusive air war to life – a task that’s never quite met the mark.
Want to go behind the scenes of the oh-so-secretive series? Keep scrolling for a gallery of the best snaps from set, culled from the depths of social media over the nearly year-long shoot.
And in case you missed it, check out this Business Insider article I co-wrote about Masters of the Air, which was the impetus for this post. Many of the photos below were collected while developing the BI piece. Because of the positive response to our article, a photo dump felt right to share here – aggregating the best photos from filming, with some history peppered throughout.
WHERE WAS MASTERS OF THE AIR FILMED?
It filmed throughout England, recreating 75-year-old scenes from London to East Anglia, with three major filming locations:
- An airfield set at Abingdon with two impeccable (but stationary) B-17 replicas and a Control Tower that looks straight from the war.
The airfield set includes hardstands (above) and follows the wartime blueprint for heavy bomber bases to a tee.
- A German POW camp set (Stalag Luft III) built in Bovingdon, costing over five-million pounds, complete with the eponymous guard tower, wire fence, and snow (albeit fake) on the ground.
The POW camp set above is a carbon copy of the real thing where downed airmen were imprisoned 75-years-ago.
- A sprawling warehouse set for filming scenes inside a B-17; here, B-17 components (ball turret, nose turret, etc.) hung from scaffolding, presumably to film all angles of the cramped bomber. Most impressive is the Volume, a cutting-edge technology featuring a circular “green screen” to film missions in the clouds.
Director Cary Fukunaga’s Instagram Highlight Reel features a behind-the-scenes tour of the warehouse set.
The map below lays out known filming locations. Click the pins to learn more about filming locations.
SNAPS FROM SET
A camera roll featuring the best of the best photos from sets, organized thematically.
FILMING INSIDE A B-17
The cockpit of a B-17 constructed for filming. Filmed in circular green screen called “the Volume,” CGI clouds are visible in the background.
Above is the view from the B-17 cockpit in “the Volume.” Behind the camera, there’s a crystal clear view of the CGI clouds. The B-17 cockpit in “the Volume” isn’t on the ground, it’s rigged 10-20 feet in the air on a bed of scaffolding. In the picture above, you can see the camera operator is clipped onto a safety rope.
The devil is in the details – and the set designers don’t appear to disappoint: The instrument panel in the cockpit above is a carbon copy of the real thing from WWII. The aluminum above it is scratched and scuffed, like it would’ve been in combat, and a photo of the pilot’s sweetheart is taped in the corner.
COSTUMING FOR A WARTIME MISSION
It looks like no stone was left unturned when it comes to costumes. Director Fukunaga posted the three snaps above to his Instagram, showing actors wearing heated flying suits and sheepskins that look remarkably like the real thing.
Above, actor Elliot Warren, who plays James Douglass in the series, wears an A-2 leather jacket and an Officer’s hat.
FILMING B-17 EXTERIOR SHOTS
One of two full-sized B-17 replicas – sans wings – fuels up at a gas station in England. The replicas were spotted – with wings – on a set in Abingdon, England.
On the Abingdon Airfield set, one of the B-17 replicas is lifted on a crane above the runway to simulate takeoff/landing. Note the props were removed, presumably to be added with CGI later.
A close up of the stationary B-17 rigged above the airfield.
Another view of the B-17 replica lifted above the runway.
Sally-B, one of the last airworthy B-17s, buzzes the set at Abingdon.
Two hardstands were constructed on the Abingdon set where the replica B-17s were parked.
Note the overgrown grass surrounding the hardstands, like it would’ve been in the war.
Aerial view of hardstand set.
Another view of the hardstands set. The Control Tower constructed for the show is visible in the background.
A closer look at the Control Tower.
Additional views of the B-17 replicas parked on the Abingdon set.
One of the B-17 replicas parked on sand-dusted concrete, allegedly for an episode that takes place in North Africa while the 100th BG was on detached service during the war.
FILMING OTHER WARBIRDS
Abingdon residents had an unusual – and reportedly very loud – visitor on an October 2021 afternoon as WWII-era fighters circled the sky. Onlookers allegedly spotted a pair of red-tailed P-51 Mustangs and a Russian-marked Spitfire.
There’s much speculation online about how these fighters will appear in the mini-series. The temporary paint job they were given for the filming that may offer some hints. The iconic red tails left little doubt that these P-51s portray the Tuskegee Airmen. The nose art and markings offer clues about how the fighters may fit into the bomber boys’ story.
Captain Edward Toppins, a near ace with four enemy kills and 141 wartime missions to his name, was the real-life pilot of Topper III, the P-51 above. He’s remembered as one of the greatest Tuskegee flyers, so skilled he was known by name to the Germans.
Margo, the second P-51 pictured in the photos above, didn’t survive the war. Shot down in the summer of 1944 over southern France, her pilot bailed out and became a POW at Stalag Luft III – the same camp that MotA has rebuilt in England for the series.
A day after Margo and Topper III were spotted flying above the set, the red tail paint job was washed away. The final picture in the series above shows the P-51s after their red tails were washed away.
FILMING A B-17 CRASH
At Bovingdon, the same location of the POW bombed German village set, a burned-out, crashed B-17 nose was photographed. Behind the crash wreckage is the war-torn German town, hinting at a scene depicting a B-17 crew shot down over Germany and captured by German forces.
A fence and tarp cover the charred, wrecked B-17 nose when not filming.
The bombed-out German village set is visible in the background.
FILMING A GERMAN POW CAMP
Five million pounds was the cost to reconstruct Stalag Luft III for the mini-series. Production submitted the above building plans to the Borough for approval before production began.
Several angles of the Stalag Luft III set.
FILMING A BOMBED-OUT GERMAN VILLAGE
This massive set appears to be a German town hit by bombs or artillery fire. Rubble from destroyed buildings lines the street.
The blue material running atop the structure is likely for CGI/post-production.
The building detail above is exceptional – bullet holes, broken glass, and dirty facades authentically replicate the damage done by war. The shop sign reads “Dorfler Werkzeu,” which loosely translates to “Tool Shop,” seemingly confirming this set is meant to simulate Germany.
SWASTIKAS ON SET
Swastikas were spotted in England 75-year after Hitler was defeated. Above, a Swastika appears on a WWII-era train spotted on set.
The eponymous red Nazi banner adorned with a Swastika is spotted behind a train car.
While filming at Chiltern Open Air Museum, crates stamped with Swastikas were spotted stacked against a fence.
FILMING ENGLAND AT WAR
An Air Raid Shelter was built in Hemel Hempstead’s Old Town. The sandbags cover a modern-day tattoo shop.
Production isn’t forgetting the primary wartime mode of transit for English and American Airmen alike – a bike – thanks to fuel shortages and many square-mile airbases. A gigantic pile of them was spotted on set.
The German bombing campaign against Britain appears to be part of the series, too. The setting is presumably London, but the time period is unknown (ie. destruction from the Battle of Britain or V1/V2 rockets).
The perimeter around the rubble is part of set. The signs hanging from the red and white bar tell passersby that if they steal, they will be punished.
The blue backdrop in the photo above is likely for CGI so the set can be blended in with neighboring buildings in post-production.
The devil’s in the details, and production appears to be knocking it out of the park. They’ve recreated dozens of wartime newspaper headlines. The papers don’t give away a date, but headlines detail an RAF nighttime raid on Stuttgart, the Italian fleet shelling their foe in Yugoslavia, and Russia gaining traction.