12/11/1941 – The Day the Poet Died

Curiously enough, December 11th, 1941 was a Thursday, just like 2008.  It was cloudy in England on that day, but not cloudy enough to prevent 412 Squadron from flying.

The squadron practiced formation flying above the clouds for about an hour.  On returning, Magee was part of a flight of four “letting down” through the cloud cover.  (No Air Traffic Control in those days.)  Sergeant Pilot Dwayne Linton saw the entire horrific event unfold right in front of him; Magee was #3, and Linton was #4.

At 1,500 feet above the ground, the air was very hazy.  The flight was going about 350 mph.  Linton caught site of an Airspeed Oxford bomber trainer coming at right-angles to the 412 flight.  Linton warned his flight; #1 and #2 were able to get out of the way, but apparently it was impossible for Magee to avoid a collision.

Linton had also turned to avoid, but saw the explosion when the Oxford and Magee’s Spitfire collided.  By the time Linton recovered from his evasive manuevers, he was only about 100 feet off the ground.  He saw Magee’s parachute “stringing” … meaning that it did not deploy enough to be effective.  A farmer on the ground saw the collision as well; both accounts stated that Magee had been able to get out of the cockpit and jump, but he was too low for his parachute to open.

John Magee was killed instantly upon impact with the ground.

The pilot of the Airspeed Oxford was also killed.  He was Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) Earnest Aubrey.  Aubrey was a student pilot flying out of RAF Cranwell, which was a very short distance away from the 412 Squadron’s base at Wellingore.

John Magee had foreseen his death, but he rather imagined it to be a somewhat more glorious death, being shot down in heated aerial combat.

And so it was that the world lost a most promising young man.  But not before that poet-pilot had given us something enduring, an amazing poem that still, 67 years after being written, charms us.

Thanks, John, and rest assured that we will not forget you.

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Inspiration

While I’ve been working on High Flight – The Movie, I’ve sought inspriration from many sources.  Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s movies, sometimes a wonderful letter.  I’d like to share some of what has inspired me.

Websites.  There is one website in particular which is wonderful.  When you go to it, turn up your speakers.  Brian is an enormously talented guy, somebody who knows all about taking your passion and flying with it!  I cannot recommend his "One Six Right" DVD enough…  it is amazing.  Get the soundtrack CD and companion volume "One Six Left" while you’re at it:    www.onesixright.com

Harrison Ford is Just Another Pilot, according to this wonderfully moving short video:  http://www.studiowings.com/video/hfjap.html

The Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) annual meeting is known the world over as, simply, Oshkosh.   I’ve had the honor of speaking there a couple of years ago and am going to apply to speak there again this year.  This video neatly sums up Oshkosh (and, yes, it’s narrated by Harrison Ford): http://www.airventure.org/about/spirit_video.html

I won’t list my entire Zune (similar to an iPod) playlist here, but I will list some of my favorites. 

  • Classical Gas by Mason Williams is my all-time favorite piece of music
  • the entire soundtrack to One Six Right
  • Overture from Tommy (Assembled Multitude)
  • Theme from Harry’s Game (Clannad)
  • Dream On (Aerosmith);
  • High Flight and We Will Remember Them (sung by Dwayne O’Brien)
  • Introduction to The Rocketeer
  • Spirit, The Wings That Fly Us Home, and many others by John Denver
  • Until The Last Moment and many others by Yanni
  • 10,000 Miles (from the movie "Fly Away Home" sung my Mary Chapin Carpenter)

I’m sure there are others, but those are some of the highlights.

Resurrection!

Long ago I started this Blog, and then it languished for over a year.  Well, I decided it was high time to get it going again! 

I have transferred several years worth of News entries from the High Flight Productions website.  Don’t know why… but it does kind of give one an idea of what’s been happening.

What happened to the Blog is indicative of the entire project.  I have been swamped with work from my “day” job, and have neglected the script, the website, and everything else.  I cannot continue to let this be the case… and if what it takes is staying up late at night, so be it (for the record, it’s 20 minutes past midnight right now… and I’ve got an early wake-up… oh well!).

I don’t even know if anybody is going to read this, but what the heck.

Stay tuned… because I’m kick-starting the entire project!  It’s going to be a heck of a ride.

Past Entries – 2007

November:  If I thought May came quickly, then November really got here fast! 

I have re-written the script several times and am narrowing in on what I think is a great end result.  So stay tuned!

I continue to do research on Magee, his life and times.

May:  Can it be nearly the end of May already?  How time flies…  I have been working on the screenplay quite a bit, while continuing doing research on Magee.  I have acquired a complete copy of Magee’s RCAF logbook, and have discovered the exact date that he made a flight up to 33,000 feet (the letter to his parents which contained High Flight mentions that he was inspired to write the poem during a flight to 30,000 feet… an uncommon occurrence while at an Operational Training Unit).  The date?  August 18th, 1941.

I have also discovered a bit of trivia that I will share in the Interesting Facts area (above).  All I can say is: it’s a small world, and the Six Degrees of Seperation thing is really true! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_degrees_of_separation)

I will be speaking on John Magee and High Flight at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Fly-In, Arlington, Washington on Wednesday, July 11th and Thursday July 12th at noon, plus on Sunday July 15th at 10:30.  (www.nweaa.org)

I am very excited to have been selected to speak at the EAA AirVenture event at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  My talk will take place on Saturday, July 28th at 11:30, at the Museum.  For those of you who don’t know, “Oshkosh” (as the event is generally known) is the largest aviation event in the world.  Where else in the world can you get a ride in one of *THREE* tri-motored aircraft?  Where else can you see flying aircraft that run the range from the F-22 Raptor to a Curtis Jenny?  Where else do they park 15,000 aircraft on the field?  During the aircraft arrival period, Wittman Field becomes the busiest airport in the world.  It’s all pretty amazing.  I have been there several times, and now I have the honor of speaking there!  I’m jazzed! ( www.airventure.org )

Hopefully I will see you at one (or both) of the events.  If you do attend, please come up and introduce yourself!

Past Entries – 2006

December: December 11th of 2006 – exactly 65 years after John Magee perished in 1941.  There was a memorial service at Digby, England – stay tuned, I hope to be getting some pictures as well as some video of the occasion.

November: I have released a new version of the High Flight Compilation DVD, and am calling it Volume 1+2.  It combines Volume I and Volume II onto one DVD. 

Last summer I had a major change of direction on this project.  The more I learned about John Magee and his life, the more I came to feel that his story rated being made into a feature film instead of an A&E-style biography.  On August 1st, I started on a feature film screenplay, and as of today (November 15th), I have 167 pages done!  I do need to trim it down a bit, as the maximum length should be around 120-130 pages.  I am really very happy with the story, and I think that it will make a grand movie!  I already have interest from an agent at a major Hollywood agency… so stay tuned!

Since deciding to make “High Flight – The Movie” instead of the straight biography, I have gotten tremendous feedback from many people.  Some are already casting the film, with Leonardo DiCaprio leading the votes for playing John Magee.  My response is that it is WAY too early to start casting the movie … but it is kinda fun … DiCaprio is too old, since I am portraying John from aged 16 to 19.  One person I thought might be good is Skandar Keynes, the actor who played Edmund Pevensie in “The Chronicles of Narnia.”  Please stay tuned – I will try and keep this website updated as to the progress!

April: Time flies, as usual.  I am polishing the script to the High Flight movie, and will be hopefully attracting some attention to it within the next few months.

I will be speaking at the May meeting of the Beaverton Chapter of the Oregon Pilots Association, on Friday, May 5th, 7:30 p.m., at the Twin Oaks Airport near Beaverton.

I have added a new section about interesting facts concerning JGM, to which I will be adding things once in awhile.

Past Entries – 2005

January: Well, 2004 just zipped by.  There were quite a few ups and downs in my personal and professional lives.  Lots of opportunities for growth!  The JGM/High Flight biography/documentary project had to go on the back burner for awhile, but I am still intent on completing it!

For those of you waiting for the T-38 version of the USAF High Flight Television Sign-Off, your wait is nearly over.  I will hopefully have it in hand within by April.

I have acquired a video of William Conrad reciting the poem.  I understand that this film was shown in some areas as a sign-off film.

I have gotten a PAL version of the movie, “High Flight” starring Ray Milland.  Need to get it converted to NTSC before I can watch it — don’t know if it has any references at all to the poem.

April: Amazing, but true: the long wait is over!  I have obtained the T-38 version of the USAF High Flight Television Sign-Off and am in the process of adding it to the HF Compilation DVD Volume II.  In addition to the T-38 piece, Volume II will contain the William Conrad version of the Sign-Off film and John Denver singing his “Flight (The Higher We Fly)” song on the Bob Hope Show.

Stay tuned… I will be sending out a mailing to all those who have ordered the HF Compilation DVD as well as those who have requested to be notified when the T-38 version was available.