CineTV Contest: Biopic About Early Naval Aviation


This week the CineTV contest is “Movie with planes”. Talk about being right up my alley. And a topic for which there are so many great films that one could write about. So this is going to be a fun week on CineTV (and darn it, I have already covered some really cool ones, so those are off my list).

The Wings of Eagles poster - IMDB

For this week, my Bonnie Bride and I sat down and watched The Wings of Eagles (1957), directed by John Ford, a biopic about one of the pioneers of Naval Aviation, Frank “Spig” Wead. Wead was one of the first Naval Aviators, and set numerous flight records in the 1920s, prior to a serious accident in his home that left him crippled. It is a favorite film of mine, and my Bonnie Bride had not previously seen it.
Kenneth Tobey and John Wayne with the Curtis N9 floatplane - screenshot from The Wings of Eagles DVD

The film opens with Wead (John Wayne) and one of his closest friends, John Price (Ken Curtis), and the developing, and ongoing,rivalry between Navy and Army Aviation, with the Army side represented by the fictional Captain Hazard (Kenneth Tobey), Hazard being a really cool name, and is a modeled after Jimmy Doolittle, which is a matter of trivia (wikipedia and IMDB). Wead is an interesting, and complex man, and the film tracks this quite well with how he pretty much put his Navy career and aviation ahead of his wife, Min (Maureen O’Hara) and their children. Even after a tragic accident takes place, crippling him. The story continues to cover the Wead’s physical rehabilitation, subsequent career writing screenplays for famed director, John Dodge (Ward Bond), a barely camouflaged John Ford when you get down to it.

Curtis N9 flying over Stutz Bearcat - screenshot from The Wings of Eagles DVD

I had to do some looking up on what the aircraft was that Ford used in the beginning turns out to be a Curtis N-9 Floatplane, most likely manufactured by Burgess. This flight proves to be a bit of comedy as Wead had yet to solo, and Captain Hazard of the Army was being a pain in the, um, neck, so Wead took Hazard for a relatively Hazardess solo flight. The landing, of course, does end in a spectacular failure.

The Wings of Eagles is, for a biopic, a mix of comedy and drama, tragedy and redemption, and overcoming adversity as it continues to move through Spig Wead’s life up to, and including, his active role in Naval Logistics during World War 2.

When I was growing up and studying classic films, way back in the day, this is one of several films I was aware of, but it would be years before I would see it, in this case the first time was when I picked it up on DVD. Quite frankly, I don’t know how it would have impacted my life choices, maybe I would have chosen to head into Naval Aviation instead of Air Force data systems. But it does feed into my love of airplanes and military history (that part of my life can be attributed to my cousin, Kenn, who was an aviation historian).

John Wayne and Dan Daily viewing the USS Saratoga - screenshot from The Wings of Eagles DVD

It is also a classic film, with great production values, and required some serious acting chops on the part of John Wayne to perform during the part of the film covering Wead’s physical recuperation. Some of the actions Wayne performed under Ford’s direction will be considered a bit dated these days, and if you see this film, you’ll know which ones. As a biopic, it is fairly obvious that the creative team took a few liberties with Wead’s life story in order to enhance the dramatic feel of the film. It is a darn good film and worth seeking out.

There have been times I wish I had pursued flying, but now it is a bit too late for me to pursue. Darn shame, that. Plus, I don’t think my wife will let me buy a plane just for fun. Sometimes I do wonder what it would have been like to be a part of the early days of aviation, especially during the 1920s and ‘30s. Having grown up attending air shows as a kid and young adult, serving in the Air Force, and continuing to attend air shows goes a long way to satisfying my continued interest in aviation, especially the historical aircraft that are on display and flying.

F4U Corsair at Flying Cloud Airport, Wings of the North Air Show - 2014

I thought I would throw in a photo I took a few years back at an Air Show for fun, and is a type of aircraft used during the Pacific War sequence towards the end of The Wings of Eagles. It is an F4U Corsair, at Wings of the North Air Show in 2014.

Me and my daughter, Little Miss - at Flying Cloud Airport, Wings of the North Air Show - 2014 - Photo taken by my Bonnie Bride

Thanks for stopping by.

I was unable to find suitable images for this post online, so I took screenshots of the movie from the DVD.

For more info on CineTV and this week’s contest, check out -


Flying Cloud Airport? I grew up playing baseball and football on the fields by the same name. Small world. I gotta say, I wasn't expecting to read a movie review and seeing my hometown in the article. lol

This looks like a great film. I'm always interested in watching some of the older movies but my time for that is limited so I hate wasting time trying to find one that might interest me. This looks like it may do the trick. I'll have to check it out.