‘Masters of the Air’ Updates

In October last year I wrote a post speculating where Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg might shoot the airfield scenes for their new WW2 mini series, ‘Masters of the Air’.

Since then I’ve been updating it as new bits of information come in, but that makes it a long and unwieldy post, most of which is irrelevant since we now have a pretty good idea which airfield they are using – and it’s not any of the airfields I suggested!.

So I’m moving the updates to here.

The condensed story so far

‘Masters of the Air’ is a World War II TV mini-series based on Donald Miller’s book of the same name covering the USAAF bombing campaign in Europe. Spielberg and Hanks are producing this, their third WW2 mini-series after Band of Brothers and The Pacific, through their production companies, Amblin and Playtone, to be streamed exclusively on Apple TV+.

Hanks & Spielberg have been working on this project for many years, but next to no details have been revealed… until recently. Now they are beginning to trickle out and filming is due to start in April 2021. (There’s a little more detail on the original post)

UPDATES…

23 Jan 2021 The Northamptonshire Telegraph reports that a team from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin production company were scouting out some of Northamptonshire’s WW2 historic locations in the summer of 2019 for ‘Masters of the Air’. They visited Boughton House, which was the temporary campsite for hundreds of U.S. servicemen in May 1942, and the Grafton Underwood airbase – the first airfield in England to receive an Eighth Air Force flying unit (15th Bomb Squadron).

Neill Howarth of The Friends of the 384th – a group of enthusiasts who are trying to set up a permanent museum on the airbase – hopes that the mini series will feature some original locations such as these: “It would be wonderful for the area and tourism for years to come.”


 

31/01/2021 I think we may have nailed it!

I’m indebted to a reader, Annette Johnson, who sent me this planning application for the temporary use of Abingdon Airfield in Oxfordshire. Annette lives on the edge of the airfield.

The application to White Horse Vale District Council does not give the production title, nor does it name the principal production companies involved (Amblin or Playtone), but the scale, description and dates would tie in with what we know about Masters of the Air.

It says that the airfield “will be used by a television production company as a setting for a new series. It is a high-end and prestigious production. The production would plan to recreate the airbase on the airfield. There will be no flying although the runway will be used to film aircraft landing and there will also be aerial photography over the runway of planes taxiing etc.”

“This proposed filming use includes the following works, all temporary:

  • Re-creation of a Period airbase (not functional) with control tower
  • Other temporary set buildings
  • Associated additional hardstanding if required (roads, tracks, pathways)
  • Green screens – to be erected on storage containers”

The application is for a 47 week period from tomorrow (1st Feb) to the end of the year (31 Dec 20201). That covers the get-in & preparation/build period; the filming/shoot period from 12 April to 24 October 2021; and then the strike (take down sets), clear up & make good period.

Technical drawings of some buildings to be used on the set
Some of the likely buildings to be used on the set

Now, all this doesn’t confirm that the airfield scenes for Masters of the Air will be shot on Abingdon Airfield, but the description, scale & projected dates of this production certainly fit, AND the drawings submitted of some of the temporary set buildings to be constructed on the site include what is unmistakably a 1940s control tower! So I think it is highly likely!

Since we are already on the eve of construction, I suspect that COVID might cause some of these dates to wander slightly.


 

06/02/2021 As you can see from Jane Cousins’ comment (on the original post), there is activity on Abingdon Airfield now, which suggest the production schedule is on track. 🙂


 

08/02/2021 And Annette Johnson has sent some photos of the activity.

Distant view of work on the Abingdon Airfield
Set construction
Distant photo of a small mobile home parked by the airfield entrance
Security van
by entrance
Yellow containers being placed on Abingdon Airfield
Construction work
underway

Set construction on Abingdon airfield

 

 

 

 

 


 

28/02/2021 The first news of ‘Masters of the Air’ casting broke this weekend. As we thought, Major Gale Cleven and Major John Egan from the 100th Bomb Group are the leading real life characters to be cast. Austin Butler (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) will play Cleven and Callum Turner (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) is to be John Egan. Look for them this summer in the pubs around Abingdon!


 

17/03/2021 Another cast member added…

Anthony Boyle is set to co-star opposite Austin Butler and Calum Turner in ‘Masters of the Air’ according to Deadline. Boyle will play the lead role of Major Crosby.


 

18/03/2021 The latest photo of construction work on the airfield, courtesy Annette Johnson :).

Skeleton structure of a large hanger being assembled

Also, interestingly, news that the Abingdon Air & Country Show is scheduled to go ahead on 11th Sep. So maybe the MOA crew & cast will take a break that weekend?

The air show newsletter adds: “We are extremely delighted to welcome Elly Sallingboe and her team to bring to us Europe’s only airworthy Boeing B17 Flying Fortress ‘Sally B’. She will arrive the day before & be part of the evening photoshoot and static on show day, to display and depart later that afternoon. The first time we have this iconic World War Two bomber.”

Seems odd. I’d expect the MOA crew to make some use of her, before or after.

 

26/03/2021 Confirmation (of sorts. It IS the Sun & then the Daily Mail re-writing the Sun’s story) that it is Masters of the Air that’s being filmed there!

As The Sun’s source says “For loads of people locally this is the most exciting thing that has happened in a long time, but for some folk very close it’s a real life nightmare.”

https://www.thesun.co.uk/tvandshowbiz/14457737/steven-spielberg-tom-hanks-oxfordshire-village-fury/

 


02/04/2021 Full scale B-17 fuselage spotted arriving on the airfield  and other photos of buildings, aircraft, 2d aircraft, and US Army vehicles on site in the Dalton Barracks/Abingdon Airfield Facebook group here.


07/04/2021 The Oxford Mail has caught up with events.


07/04/2021 Casting news:  Deadline says that “emerging Brit actor Raff Law, the son of actors Jude Law and Sadie Frost, will play the role of Sgt. Ken Lemmons” 


17/04/2021 It looks like they will start filming in earnest next month. These letters were posted through the letterboxes of houses bordering the airfield last night. Hat tip to my local correspondent, Annette 🙂

 


21/04/2021 The Eastern Daily Press reports that Steven Spielberg has been spotted in Bledlow, Buckinghamshire, filming ‘Norfolk’ village scenes with WW2 American servicemen & vehicles.

 


27/04/2021 So, it turns out they are filming at TWO main location sites.

Grant (see comments below) has sent the planning docs for the site at Newland Park, just outside Chalfont St Peter in Buckinghamshire. And simultaneously, the Mail Online has published some excellent aerial photos of the site.

It looks as if the airbase/barracks scenes will be shot among the Nissan huts and USAF vehicles at Newland Park, which is 25 km (15 miles) from the village of Bledlow where they have been shooting some of the village scenes.

The airfield/aircraft scenes are being shot, as we know, at Abingdon Airfield. (Unfortunately my airfield correspondent, Annette, says they are just putting up another big hanger building right in front of her house, so her view is obscured. Especially of the mound of earth where they are rumoured to be prepping a pyrotechnic aircraft crash scene!)

 


10/05/2021 New in from Annette Johnson up at Abingdon airfield (Dalton Barracks). Filming today. Looks like they have good weather for it. (Photo taken on mobile phone at max zoom!)

Crowd gathered around a B-17 bomber in the distance

Can’t see any ID letters on the tail. It might have given us a clue to what scene they are filming.

 


12/05/2021 It looks like the Daily Mail have themselves a drone. From the markings on the static B-17 prop, I’d say it’s meant to be from the 350th Squadron of 100th Bomb Group.

 


07/06/2021 Who’d be a producer?! Not only has their filming schedule been messed up by the atrocious weather throughout May, now they’ve had a COVID outbreak! I hope the rest of the summer treats them better!

 


08/06/2021 … but there’s some good weather here!

 


10/06/2021 Warbirds News has published some excellent aerial and telephoto shots of the filming and the prop B-17s at Dalton Barracks/Abingdon airfield. From the aircraft markings they’ve also delved into the history of those aircraft and crews, giving us some clues to plotlines.

 


 

12 Comments

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  1. Really looking forward to this production. Hanks and Spielberg do a good job of trying to capture the reality and grit of it all.

    Bernie and Jess Watt / Reply
  2. Hello
    Do you have resident dates Whirwind filming for June?
    Cheers

    Mike / Reply
    • Not at the moment. I expect it’ll be quite busy, they’ve had the worst May weather for several decades. They’ll probably need to make up for lost time! If I see them, I’ll post them. 🙂

      Alastair / Reply (in reply to Mike)
  3. Alistair- any idea who is supplying the vehicles, props, equipment. I have a warehouse full of B-17 equipment that we brought to states after Memphis Belle filming in 1989. Also any idea who wbuilt the full scale B-17’s. They look good.

    thanks,

    Bruce Orriss
    Los Angeles,Ca

    Bruce Orriss / Reply
  4. They’ve built another base at Newland Park, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire.

    https://pa.chilternandsouthbucks.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=QO0J9CESHKD00

    Grant / Reply
    • Interesting! Thanks for that, Grant.
      And I see the Mail Online has got some great aerial shots of the site.

      Alastair / Reply (in reply to Grant)

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