Replica B-17 Flying Fortress Spotted On ‘Masters Of The Air’ Set

Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for National Board of Review
Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for National Board of Review

A quiet airfield in Oxfordshire has been returned back to the 1940s for the upcoming miniseries Masters of the Air. Abingdon airfield was used during WWII for RAF training purposes, but is now being used in scenes with B-17 Flying Fortresses.

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are producing the series, a duo that have previously worked together on famous WWII-related epics like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and The Pacific. The series will focus on the U.S. 8th Air Force, which was the largest of the Air Forces and pummelled Nazi Germany with devastating heavy bomber raids throughout the war.

Like Band of Brothers and The Pacific, Masters of the Air is an adaptation of a book, this time Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought The Air War Against Nazi Germany by Donald L. Miller.

As with any Hanks and Spielberg project, the production has gone all-out on historical accuracy and budget, featuring a mock-up B-17 Flying Fortress, which has been spotted at the Oxfordshire airfield.

The B-17 Flying Fortress

B17 Flying Fortress en route to England, 1942.
Photo Credit: Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The B-17 is one of the most recognizable WWII aircraft, made famous for its durability, firepower and sheer numbers. The four-engine bomber was designed and built by the U.S. during the 1930s and 1940s, and it quickly became the symbol of strategic bombing during the war.

Over 12,500 B-17s were built in total, and they flew alongside the B-24 Liberator, which was actually able to carry a heavier bomb load and built in higher numbers. Despite this, the B-17 dropped more bombs than any other aircraft, dropping an estimated 640,000 tons from 1.5 million tons.

The B-17 carried more machine guns than the B-24 (13 in total) and was much more durable. For these reasons, crews preferred the B-17, while commanders preferred the B-24 for its heavier bomb load.

Masters of the Air

It is believed that the series is in possession of two B-17 replicas, which are towed into position between scenes. From a distance, the replicas could easily pass as the real thing. Around the aircraft, the airfield itself has had a WWII makeover at the cost of £5 million. The cast can be seen in period-uniforms on set.

The project has been in the pipeline for nearly 10 years, originally thought to be released by HBO like Band of Brothers and The Pacific. It was announced in 2019 that Spielberg and Hanks had in fact made a deal with Apple to release it on Apple TV+.

The series commenced filming in February and will star Austin Butler, Callum Turner, Rafferty Law, and Anthony Boyle. Estimates for the miniseries’ budget are between $200–250 million.

On their newest project, the dream team producers will likely follow a similar format to Band of Brothers and The Pacific. The first episode of Band of Brothers aired on HBO in 2001, and eventually became critically acclaimed by reviewers, achieving a 99% score by audiences on Rotten Tomatoes and 9.4 out of 10 from IMDb.

Publicity photo from Band of Brothers
Promotional still from Band of Brothers. (Photo Credit: HBO / MovieStillsDB)

The series followed the exploits of “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, from their training all the way to the end of WWII. Its immense budget of $125 million (half that allotted to Masters of the Air) was the biggest in history for any TV miniseries and gave the series a scale that had never been seen before.

Along with Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers became the ultimate depiction of WWII, inspiring movies, games, and media on the subject.

After Band of Brothers, Hanks and Spielberg produced The Pacific, which first aired in 2010. Its budget of over $200 million means it is currently the most expensive miniseries ever made. While Band of Brothers focused on the war in Europe, The Pacific detailed the war for the 1st Marine Division in the Pacific.

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The series paid more attention to the horrors and terrifying brutality of war, and blurs the lines between the conventional “good guys” and “bad guys.” The Pacific was not quite as well-received by audiences, although it was still rated highly by reviewers. The series did not receive the cult following that Band of Brothers did, despite its huge budget.

Hopefully, with its budget and masterful producers, Masters of the Air will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors and provide a great viewing experience.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE