Episode 94

The history of 'Masters of the Air' with an Aviator turned Historian (a Watch with History episode)

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In this episode of 'Talk with History', hosts Scott and Jenn review the Apple TV Plus miniseries 'Masters of the Air'. They explore how closely the show portrays the historical realities of the experiences of World War 2 B-17 bomber crews. They delve into the complexities of flying planes, the psychological pressures the soldiers endure in combat and the resounding aviation concepts passed down to subsequent generations. They also touch upon the relevance of superstitions in the aviation world and the hidden meanings behind nose art.

Jenn, a former US Navy aviator, provides her insightful perspectives throughout the episode.

The Bedford Boys podcast link

0:00 Masters of the Air Watch with history

00:05 Introduction to the Podcast and Hosts

00:31 Appreciation for Listener Reviews and Feedback

00:48 Discussion on the Bedford Boys Episode

02:00 Introduction to the Main Topic: Masters of the Air

03:45 Insights into the Life of a Pilot

04:58 Jenn's Personal Experience as a Naval Aviator

07:45 Historian Bias

09:57 The Setting

10:07 The Impact of the Hundredth Bomber Group

11:31 Differences between WWII ground warfare and air warfare

14:45 Challenges of flying in a B17

23:21 Training to be a POW

24:28 The Importance of Sharing Information

25:17 The Bloody Hundredth: Reputation and Reality

27:59 The Unpredictable Nature of Combat

29:59 Dealing with combat and the role of superstition in aviation

33:14 The Importance of Checklists in Aviation

36:45 LT Rosenthal

38:39 The Munster Raid and how they got their name

40:05 Why a book about the 100th?

41:40 Larger-than-life stories

43:39 The Legacy of the Men of the Century

45:22 The Impact of Nose Art and Personalization on Morale

48:31 Conclusion: The Masters of the Air

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Transcript
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Welcome to Talk With History.

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I'm your host Scott here with my wife and historian, Jen.

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Hello.

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Today's podcast is part of our series We are Calling Watch With History.

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The Watch with History series will focus on your favorite historical

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films where Jen and I will review the Hollywood historic classics we all

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know and love, while also discussing the history behind these films

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along with some interesting facts.

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We hope you enjoy watch with history.

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3, 2, 1.

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Here we go.

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And real quick, before we get into our main topic, I just

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wanna give a shout out to.

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VA jam over.

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They gave us five star review on Apple podcasts.

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That's awesome.

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So I really appreciate that.

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The title of the five Star review is Bedford Boys.

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I was incredibly moved by this episode.

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Thank you for sharing.

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We have received a lot of really great feedback on that episode.

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If you're watching this and you're curious, the Bedford Boys, we talk about.

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The National World War II Monument Monument in Bedford,

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Virginia that we got to visit.

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It's an amazing, it's probably one of the best episodes that

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I've done for the podcast.

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Um, and I, I've re received some incredible feedback on that.

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It's a very good sister episode to this since we're about World War II today.

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Call Lincoln in the show notes.

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Uh, Bedford Boyce is about D-Day, and it's about per capita, Bedford

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Virginia took the highest loss of life.

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Than any other city or town in the United States of America.

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That's right.

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So again, thank you for the feedback.

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Uh, we we're getting more stars, I guess on Spotify.

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They don't do reviews.

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We've got seven, five star reviews over on Spotify.

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So if you're listening, thank you so much.

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Leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, five star reviews, positive or negative.

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We will read them.

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And also kind give us a drop us some stars on Spotify as well.

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Today's episode is for the history buffs and the aviation enthusiasts.

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Because we're taking off on a deep dive into the skies of World War ii,

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we are zeroing in on the Apple TV plus mini series Masters of the Air.

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A show that's captivated audiences with its portrayal of the eighth

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Air Force's B 17 Bomber Crews.

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But how close does Masters of the air actually fly to the historical

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realities of those missions?

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And more importantly, what is it really like to be strapped into

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one of those metal beasts hurdling towards flack filled German skies?

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Now as a naval aviator, Jen spent countless hours in cockpits facing down

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G-forces and the ever present threat of that pesky thing called gravity.

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But I'm sure nothing compares to the pressure cooker of a B 17 on

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a daylight raid over Nazi Germany.

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These young Americans, barely out of their teens faced unimaginable dangers, icy

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temperatures, oxygen deprivation, and the constant dance with death that came from

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German fighters and anti-aircraft fire.

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So in this episode, we're gonna pull back the curtain on masses of the air.

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We'll separate the Hollywood heroics from the.

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Gut wrenching reality by examining the decisions the characters

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make in the heat of the moment and why they do what they do.

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From the Bombardiers agonizing choices to the pilot's split.

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Second reactions, we'll explore the psychology and the tactics that

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keep these planes in their crews in the air mission after mission.

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So strap yourselves in, folks.

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We're about to take off on a journey through history.

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A flight into the heart of what it meant to be a master of the air.

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Alright, Jen here, here we are talking about Masters of the Air.

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Ugh.

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I'm so excited to do this episode.

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I'm so honored to do this episode and to talk about this because oh, we always.

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We laugh about it because the running joke is, how do you know

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who the pilots are in the room?

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Don't worry.

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They'll tell you.

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That's right.

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And I, Scott says, I always seem to work into a conversation that I'm a pilot.

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I always seem to work it in somehow.

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And if you're a pilot, you understand that you've worked really hard, you've

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mastered an aircraft, you've mastered something, you've gotten your wings.

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It's it's accomplishment that you're really proud of.

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I always say there's two egotistical people you want in your life,

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your surgeon and your pilot.

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That's right.

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So this is where we start to see, uh, in, in this episode.

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I really appreciate those kind of characteristics, those types of

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characters, those types of people, and.

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There are people on here who, who we surprisingly don't know

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that I'm a pilot, so yeah.

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She wears a hat with little aviator wings on it.

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She wears a flight jacket in multiple videos.

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Yes.

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But if for, for those who who aren't familiar with, this is the first time

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you're seeing one of our, our episodes.

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So Jen was a naval ator.

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She flew in the Navy for about seven years.

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She got the chance to fly all sorts of different aircraft.

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I mean, even as a midshipman, she got to fly in an F 14, F 14, so

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she flew T 30 fours, which is F three, t3, all all those aircraft.

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Mm-Hmm.

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She, she got to fly.

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Now, her primary aircraft was.

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Helicopter Helicopter B, black Hawk paint silver.

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Yeah.

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Seahawk.

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So, so, but she flew combat missions right after nine 11.

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I mean, she's legit.

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And so I, I like to kind of put that out there and me put that out there

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so that people kind of understand where we're going in this podcast.

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'cause not only are we gonna talk about the show, some of it's.

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Historical kind of inaccuracies, but you're also gonna talk about kind of the

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mindset of pilots that fly into combat.

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Mm-Hmm.

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And kind of why, especially in these first couple episodes

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they're doing what they're doing.

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Yes.

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And I like to stress too, that I, I was winged 20 something years

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ago, so my call sign was Yoko.

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I broke up the band, one of the first females.

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So proving yourself a lot as a woman.

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But first in my class at a flight school and always rated one of

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the best pilots in the squadron.

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And I had great comradery with all the guys I flew with because.

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You will see, just like in Masters of the Air personalities can be very different,

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but when you start to build the trust that you're good at your job, then that

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love comes shining through and it really doesn't matter when you're in the cockpit.

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It's you two in your crew and you've got each other and you're in this together.

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So that really is the camaraderie you feel as a pilot.

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So that's what I think they're really trying to show in the first couple

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episodes is these hodgepodge crews, these hodgepodge people coming from

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all around the US and they stress out with the dots on the map.

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Yep.

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That these men are coming from all different areas.

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So this very different personalities and they're showing.

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These two really good characters who are gonna have this deep seated love for

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each other that are very different and love, I mean the brotherhood love, they

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are gonna really rely on each other to get each other through this together.

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And that's GaN and Cleven.

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Yeah.

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And.

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They couldn't be more different.

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When you really think about it, they, they, they really are.

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And they, I think they do a good job as we record this.

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We've only seen the, the first two episodes.

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Mm-Hmm.

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But Jen's been reading the book and, and so we've kind

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of making our way through it.

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We're looking forward to the next episode coming out.

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And, you know, kind of one last thing that, that Jen wanted to stress

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before we kind of really dive into the show and the characters was kind of

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the, you know, the, you know, you've acknowledged kind of your own bias here.

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Yeah.

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So I wanted to talk about that.

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As a historian, and I am a historian, academic historian, you have to

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acknowledge your bias, and my bias will definitely be on the side of

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these pilots because I know what it takes to go through this training.

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It's hard training.

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It's academic, it's fast paced, it's high level, and then you have to fly at

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high efficiency and be very good at it.

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And what they don't show is what it takes to make it through flight school.

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And how many people actually wash out a flight school?

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'cause you have to be both.

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You have to be good at knowing their aircraft and schematics and what

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an aircraft is doing, but you also have to fly the aircraft and be

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good at understanding aerodynamics.

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And so.

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What you're gonna see a lot of, and they've already stressed it in these

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first couple episodes, and we'll talk more about this is the high learning curve

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that all of these men are going through.

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This type of bombing is new.

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This type of flying is new for them.

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This bomb site is new, even though they've gotten very proficient of it in America.

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They're not proficient using it in Europe.

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Different weather conditions.

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Even when you see GaN listen to Crosby who's giving him

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details about how to fly back.

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He's, I, I suggest we go 2, 4 4 and then turn south when we hit Scotland.

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And then you see GaN think about it.

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Let's do that.

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That's not what normally happens.

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Your plans are all done before you even leave.

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Right.

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But they're adjusting on the fly.

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They're adjusting on the fly.

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Yeah.

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And you're gonna see this, you're gonna see the, this is

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unknown territory for these men.

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This is new.

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They're making it up as they go.

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So you're gonna see error, you're gonna see human error and

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you're so, you're gonna see me.

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Really feel for them and, and making their decisions in the cockpit and making

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them quickly, under a lot of pressure.

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And because I know what that feels like, I'm going to be biased and really

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side with them and, and forgive them a lot of their errors where there will

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be a lot of that probably happening.

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Yeah.

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And, and I think that's good to acknowledge so.

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Let's dive in.

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Yes.

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Let's dive into the show.

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So we've watched the first couple episodes, so why don't you kinda lay

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the groundwork for us and, and for the audience about where we're at,

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kind of the general setting, and then let's, let's just kind of dive in.

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So we're gonna talk about the bloody 100th.

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So you have to think of the eighth Air Force.

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We've seen Banded brothers.

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They're giving you the infantry of the Army.

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You've seen the Pacific.

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They're giving you the Marines.

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This is gonna be the Army Air Corps.

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So we're getting the third chapter, and this is the eighth Air Force.

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This is the hundredth bomber group.

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Bombardment group, and it's made up of four squadrons, which the

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numbers are weird and crazy.

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Because I never understood how squadron numbers are made

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up anyway, in the military.

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You know what, it's kind of like a classic, it's a running joke on any

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military base that two buildings that are next to each other, their

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numbers could be two and then 217, it's probably the same thing.

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Right?

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The numbering just doesn't really make sense.

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It doesn't.

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So the, the four squadrons that are part of the hundred that are there at Thorpe

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Abbott's airfield is 3 49, 3 53 51, and.

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Yeah.

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So those are the four groups you're gonna get.

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And you have Egan's in one, CLS in another.

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And so you're gonna get, they're making up these four groups now.

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They're in, um, nor Norfolk, England, and we're in Norfolk, Virginia.

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Oh yeah.

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That's interesting.

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So it's very interesting.

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It's about an hour and a half north of London.

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It's by Norridge.

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So they're, they're kind of close to the, like a little

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city, but away from the big city.

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Yeah.

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And this is another kind of change.

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You're gonna see from like Band of Brothers or Pacific.

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You're gonna see.

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Hot meals, you're gonna see warm showers, you're gonna see them being

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woken up from nice, warm bunks.

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So this is a different type of warfare these air crew are fighting, right?

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Yeah.

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Because they're, they're, they're flying back.

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You know, those that make it back, they're flying back from their mission.

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Mm-Hmm.

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To a spot that is well behind.

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Enemy line, they're flying back to England, north of London.

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Yes.

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And these airfields, because there's hundreds of these airfields that

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basically were put up in London and surrounding areas, they're kind

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of squeezed into village areas.

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So what you also see is a lot of civilians that are kind of like on the airfield with

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them and kind of watching and and farming.

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As they're landing aircraft, which you don't get stateside here in

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America, our airfields are, are bases.

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So they're, they're, they're fenced off.

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Fenced off.

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Yeah.

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And so you're not gonna see that here.

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So you're getting this understanding that this war fighting during

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World War II was very much immersed into the whole civilian lifestyle.

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Yeah.

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I mean, it was all hands on deck.

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You know, for in the Navy, that means that everybody's fighting.

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Yeah.

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And so the local people built these places for them.

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So.

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Even if you visit Thorpe Abbott today, there's a real sense of community there.

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People are very protective of their history.

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Yeah.

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That these men came and did.

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So there's a lot of comradery there, and I.

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There is a little, kind of the spoiler alert, there is a kind of little

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animosity scene between the British pilots and the American pilots.

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Yeah.

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It was episode one, I think, and I think people have a little hard time with

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that because they're like, well, there really wasn't this kind of animosity,

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but you and I spoke about this in this Hollywood ease that gets done.

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Yeah.

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And we really believe.

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Spielberg doesn't just throw characters in for no reason, and there is gonna be a

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moment where there's like a full circle.

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The hundredth is gonna become the bloody hundredth and these men are

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going to these British men Yeah.

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Are really gonna appreciate.

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Nope.

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Uh, my, my only guess is that those, these, these Brits are

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gonna, uh, make a second appearance somewhere during the show.

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We haven't seen it yet.

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We haven't seen it yet, but, so we kind of open up the beginning of

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June and so you have to think Thorpe Abbott flew its first mission.

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June 25th, and that's, we're gonna, they're gonna lo lose those

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three bombers and that was 44.

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43.

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43 43.

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And so they're gonna fly their last mission in 45.

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So you got 8 22 months.

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Yeah.

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Right.

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So in 22 months, you're going to see a lot, and I stress this to people.

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When America entered the war, we were like sixth in creating

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aircraft, making aircraft.

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We were sixth in a, in military wise.

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By the end of the war, we're number one.

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Yeah, that's crazy.

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We're be rolling off aircraft like crazy.

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We're gonna, the whole country comes together and starts building.

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When they're losing these aircraft, they're replacing these aircraft.

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And the 17 is the third most built bomber, but the 24, the liberator is

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gonna be the first most built bomber.

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So you can imagine they're just turning out these aircraft, the 17 that you

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see on there in the, in the show.

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It's pretty authentic.

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It's hard because it's not a lot of seventeens that fly now.

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Yeah.

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B seventeens.

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B seventeens.

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So.

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It's CGI i'd, but remember this is, I think it's before they got the

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chin turt on the front, but it's called the Flying Fortress because

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the first time somebody looked at it and saw all these guns, they're

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like, wow, that's a flying fortress.

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And that's how it got its nickname has the ball turt underneath it

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has what they call a square D.

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So they have a D on the tail that's painted with a white square behind it.

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Oh, okay.

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And that's the hundredth.

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So when you see the square D on the tail.

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And each bomber has 10 people on it.

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So when you start to have these losses of aircraft, that's something

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that is very different than you're gonna see at Band of Brothers.

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And Well, and I was thinking about, I was thinking about the 10 people in this

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aircraft, because I think it's about the same amount of people in a B 29 mm-Hmm.

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B 29 is much, much bigger, bigger aircraft.

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Mm-Hmm.

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Pressurized ca, you know, cabin and all that stuff.

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Our Masters of the air video, we have a master of the air video where we go

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to the National Air and Space Museum.

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Mm-Hmm.

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Um, as well as Arlington National Cemetery and visit some of these real masters

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there, real masters of the air and they have the fuselage of a B 17 there.

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And I'm thinking you're walking next to it and it's not like it's towering over you.

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10 men in this aircraft.

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I mean, a lot of 'em are just kinda.

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They, they can't stand up all the way.

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It, it's, that's a, that's 10 men in this aircraft.

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That's a lot, that's a lot for the, for the size of, of the aircraft.

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It's you, you kind of have to, if you ever get a chance to be in the DC

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area and you go to National Air Space Museum, try to go see that it's, right

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now it's off kind of in the back.

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Yeah.

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I have a feeling once this show gets more popular, it will kind

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of, it might be brought out.

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So I wanna stress some things because again, I, my heart belongs to the

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air crew and the people who are on this aircraft and the people who

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are keeping this aircraft flying.

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10 men in this aircraft, most of them are not gonna wear seat belts.

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Most of them might be strapped into their gun, the ball tour guy, but other

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people are doing two or three jobs.

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Navigator is not only navigating, he's working a gun.

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They're in freezing temperatures, and I'm not joking.

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Negative 60, negative 40, negative 20 degrees.

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It's an un pressurized cabin.

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So what does that mean?

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It means they have to be on oxygen and there's no heat.

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There's no air conditioning.

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It's because the air's thinner.

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Your hair's thinner up there.

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No, which means you can go faster.

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But it's also colder, but it's also colder.

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A lot colder, and there's no oxygen.

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So you have to wear the oxygen mask anytime you're above 10,000 feet.

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Now, as a helicopter pilot, we stayed below.

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Anytime you go above 10,000 feet, you have to put on oxygen or you become hypoxic.

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So hypoxia is where there's not enough oxygen molecules and you

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basically just suffocate your brain.

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Yeah.

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You don't realize it's happening.

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You'll pass out.

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Yeah.

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Mm-Hmm.

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And that's why you have to catch your own hypoxia.

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You don't realize it's ha you, you don't, you get kind of euphoric.

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So.

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They, they said filming this masters of the air, that was the hardest part.

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To portray drama because most of this drama's gonna happen above 10,000 feet.

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Most of this drama's gonna happen, right?

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They all, they all have to wear masks, masks realistic,

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so you won't see them talk.

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It's hard to see inflection.

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It's hard to see ization of their, their, their lines.

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Facial, facial expression, facial expression.

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So all you see is eyes.

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So you'll see a lot of interaction happen below 10,000 feet.

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That's where you see Crosby grow up and stuff, get air sick.

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And he actually said, Crosby said once he put the oxygen on, he was fine.

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Mm-hmm.

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And they're really not below 10,000 feet for very long,

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but they do it for the show.

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Sure.

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So they can have more of that interaction and talking.

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But these air crew are wearing these flight jackets and we get these

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flight jackets now more ceremonial.

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I did wear mine over the Rocky Mountains in a T 34.

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That's un pressurized.

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Because I was freezing my butt off over the Rocky Mountains.

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But that's where the flight jacket comes from.

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'cause it actually was a purposeful gear you were issued.

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Yeah.

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I mean that's why they have, that's where they have the thick collars.

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Yeah.

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And all this stuff.

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And we still have some remnants of a thick collar, but they were much thicker.

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Yeah.

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Then And they had the pants and they had a heated suit underneath.

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Kind of like an electric blanket they would wear that you could plug in.

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Oh wow.

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Now this is 1940s.

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Electric technology.

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So those didn't always work so great.

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But.

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This is where you get the issue of men peeing because they don't have access

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to a toilet and then it's freezing and then they're getting frostbite.

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Yeah.

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That's where that's coming from.

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And so this crew on an aircraft, these hours are like four hour missions.

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Three hours of nothing.

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One hour of complete chaos.

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And so even when they're flying back with injured people, it's

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usually an hour to get back and everybody has to be their own medic.

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So if someone's hurt, another person's coming off a gun or coming off of

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something to help somebody, and you're gonna see, this is what I think you're

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gonna see a lot more of as it progresses.

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Yeah.

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Is these crews are gonna get tighter.

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They're gonna overcome a lot of their differences because of what

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you have to do to get through a mission when it's just 10 of you.

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Also, if something happens to your aircraft, the 10 of you go down together

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and that's why you lose 10 at a time.

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That's what's different about the Pacific and Band of Brothers is there's no cover.

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If something happens, that's it.

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You go, you're all going.

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You go down or the airplane explodes.

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I mean that's, yeah, and they have parachutes and they have life preservers.

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But I want to remind everybody, these men did not go to jump school.

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Now in a helicopter.

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I.

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You got nothing.

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You're not, you're not wearing a parachute in he, you're not

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wearing a parachute in helicopter.

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Right?

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You're going down with the aircraft.

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You're going down with the aircraft.

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So I know kind of what that feels like.

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But I have flown an aircraft where you are strapped into the parachute.

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Usually they're strapped into your ejection seat or the seat you're in.

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But the T 34 was a bail out where you had to open the cockpit,

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get on the wing, and bail out.

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So I went to school.

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Before you did that, they prepared you for it.

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These men were not prepared for that.

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So if.

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There was an instance where they are gonna bail out.

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They're that's they're learning on the fly.

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Yeah.

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This is, here we go.

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I'm gonna pull this.

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Shoot.

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I hope it opens and it is the best I can do.

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'cause I never got trained in this.

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And this is probably one of my biggest problems with this, uh, depiction,

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this Hollywood depiction of this.

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Yeah.

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'cause this is true as well, is when eagan first goes through the flack field, flack

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is where they fire up metal that hits you.

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And it just disperses.

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It could hit you like a hundred miles an hour.

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So you don't know.

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It's little pieces of metal.

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Yeah.

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It's basically like a anti-aircraft.

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Shotgun.

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Yeah.

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And you don't know where it's gonna hit.

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And so flack fields, people just flew through them.

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One of the hardest thing for pilots to do, because you can't do anything for flack.

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Yeah.

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You have to, can't fight back.

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You just have to hope for flack.

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Yeah.

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You just, that's what a wing and a prayer comes from with flack.

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You just go and so.

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When GaN first flies through the flag field and they make it back, and

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the other pilot says to him, don't tell them, they'll figure it out.

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I think it's the worst thing you can do.

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Yeah.

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That, that was, that was an interesting kind of mentorship that, that they gave.

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That someone more senior gave to Egan before.

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Mm-Hmm.

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And that was even cl Even's response at the end of that episode.

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Why didn't you tell me?

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Yeah, so I think what they're getting into there is that these

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men weren't trained for this because there was no way to train for this.

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And this is where my loyalty comes to these guys is as a pilot, you realize

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everything you learn, everything you train on is written in blood.

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Someone has learned from this and done this and more than likely died from it.

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And so you learned the emergency procedure or how to?

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Survive something like this.

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Yeah.

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Well, in aviation, mistakes are fatal and you learn from your mistakes.

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And so if you've learned from someone else's mistakes, you've

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learned from someone else's fatality.

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Exactly.

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That's why they say natops is is is written blood.

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Written blood.

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Mm-Hmm.

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So, and Natops is kind of the, the Navy's aviation Bible aviation Bible

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that we carry on our, and that's why our, our emergency procedures.

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Are all learned because someone else has learned what to do to save themselves.

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But I think you always prepare someone by telling 'em what to expect, because

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what you're doing as a pilot is you're aviate, navigate, communicate.

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And if you can't even do that because you're experiencing something you've never

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seen before, it's hard to do your job.

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So if someone can at least prepare you, hey, they're gonna

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fire this flack up at you.

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It's gonna be metal.

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There's nothing you can do.

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Be prepared for not being able to do anything.

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Now, I'm not sure if you would look this up ahead of time, but I know

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you've, you've talked now, every now and then about going to SEER School.

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Yeah.

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So they search, evade, rescue and Escape.

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Rescue and Escape.

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So, PPW Camp.

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Yeah.

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POW.

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They, they train pilots kind of how, if they go down behind enemy lines, how to

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basically escape or if they get caught.

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Mm-Hmm.

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How to be a POW.

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Did they train this be during World War ii or was this kind

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of a lesson learned after?

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This was, again, it's all baptism by fire.

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Right.

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That's kind of what I think episode one and two is really

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showing you at baptism by fire.

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Yeah.

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POW Sears School comes out of Vietnam.

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Okay.

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All right.

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So that's, that's where it came from, comes out of, so everything we

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learn, because pilots, we learned, we learned from the, from World War

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II and Vietnam because pilots who were captured during Vietnam Yep.

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Didn't know how to take the.

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Being captured.

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Yeah.

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And being tortured.

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Yeah.

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And so they teach us now how to do that.

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Yeah.

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Which is what I think you always tell if you learn something, you

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always tell, we call it the gouge

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in flight school.

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You learn something.

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You learn something that they're gonna ask.

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You learned a little piece of information.

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Yeah.

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Gimme the goe.

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You always give the goe.

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I think that's probably why I was, I was.

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First in my class out of flight school, as I always gave the gouge,

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if I learned goe, I would tell you.

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So if I'm learning something on a flight, I'm gonna come back and

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be like, this is what happened.

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Yeah.

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Be prepared for this because it, it just allows you to have a mental

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preparedness, which I think is pilots is the biggest thing you need.

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So as far as the, the TV show so far is, is concerned, I mean, how

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are they doing with, as far as the characters and their accuracy there?

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I know you've been kind of hunting down some other interviews and

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stuff like that about why they kind of focused so much on some of the

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aviation scenes that they showed.

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Sure.

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I wanna stress they, they.

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So focus on the hundredth because of its reputation as the bloody hundredth.

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Yeah.

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Although statistically, it's not gonna be more losses than any other aircrew.

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Every other, if you joined the eighth, it's a 50% chance.

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Yeah.

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So that's gonna be the same.

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It's just that these, a couple missions that the A hundredth

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had, they had catastrophic losses.

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There's gonna be some missions that come back unscathed.

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But a couple missions, they're gonna have just one aircraft come

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back, two, and you're gonna learn.

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There's a couple things that kind of add to this, and again, baptisms

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by fire, things are written in blood formation flying bombing.

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So let's talk a little bit about formation.

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They, and they actually stress that quite a bit.

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Mm-Hmm.

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So when you fly in formation, it is safer as a group because

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it's just like anything else.

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There's safety in numbers, right?

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But.

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Where you end up in formation can make you much more vulnerable.

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And they talk about that.

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So there were times when the hundredth would be a part of a group and they

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would get, uh, I think it's called Purple Heart Corner, where they would

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be at the back corner of a formation.

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So when the, the lo HFA would come, that's what they call

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the mil, the German Air Force.

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Yeah.

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That's, they pick off the back left and they work their way in.

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And so.

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You knew if you were sitting in that part of the formation, your easy pickings.

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Yeah.

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So it, it, it was interesting because they'd be kind of in, in

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like, I'll call it the ready room.

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Mm-Hmm.

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So the, the pilots would be getting their briefings and the colonel

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would be up front saying, okay, we're going on this mission.

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This is where we're going, and this is the spot we have.

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And you would either see them just completely dejected, oh no, this is,

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this is, we do not wanna be there.

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Or just.

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Overly joyous saying Yeah, they're basically out in front.

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They're gonna be the ones dropping the bomb and and they're not

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gonna be picked off from the back.

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Yes.

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So for, I love formation flying.

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It's my favorite flying to do.

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And the closer you are tucked into somebody, the, the more fun it is.

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But it's also dangerous because thank God B seventeens are dual piloted.

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Because if you are flying formation, you really do not take your eyes off the

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aircraft because you're tucked into them.

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Now they're not quite as close, but they are pretty tight.

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But you can't take your eyes off them.

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'cause as you see, you could fly into them.

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All it takes is through a cloud, a second to glance away, and you could

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tilt into another aircraft, hit another aircraft because you're so close.

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So one pilot's looking at the controls, making sure you're not losing air

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pressure or gas a fuel or is leaking.

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And the other pilots sting in formation

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now as.

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They start to fire as the they engage of the German attacker

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fighters and they engage and they start to fire their machine guns.

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People ask, well, do they hit each other by mistake?

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Now they fire a stream of bullets.

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Yeah.

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And they're so close in formation.

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The answer is yes.

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So I always tell people, situ situational awareness is the most

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effective thing in combat, and usually the first thing to leave, yeah.

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And you don't realize it.

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You're engaging the enemy and you're firing, and then all of

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a sudden you're firing right to the aircraft right beside you.

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So the friendly fire did happen.

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Bombs were dropped on our own aircraft.

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Oh wow.

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By our own aircraft.

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Again, I give these air crew big leeway because this is so much.

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An experiment.

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These men are learning this, this is new.

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So, well, and, and you, if you ever talk to someone that's been through

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combat situations, so there's, there's, there's, I, I've, there's people

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that I've, I've worked with or worked with, uh, that have done deployments

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of Afghanistan and stuff like that.

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And I, I heard someone talk about one time a situation where, you know, they go

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through all this training, they're doing convoys and this, that, and the other.

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And this, this chief gets out of, of a Humvee because they're stopping.

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'cause they thought they saw an IED.

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Mm-Hmm.

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And then they, you know, someone starts approaching their convoy

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and my chief said his, uh, he got so amped up and so locked in.

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Like he almost shot this guy.

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Mm-Hmm.

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Because he couldn't hear anything.

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This is, this is him telling, he couldn't hear anything.

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All he saw was this person and he almost pulled the trigger.

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And luckily his buddies were there.

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No, no, no.

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He's a friendly.

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And so I can only imagine flying through the air over Nazi Germany

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and all of a sudden you've got enemy aircraft attacking you.

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The same exact thing's gonna happen.

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You get locked in trying to shoot that aircraft to protect your own and the

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like you said, the first thing that goes away is that situational awareness.

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And, and the unfortunate happened.

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The commanding officer that you see, um, Harding was a big drinker.

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He encouraged his men to drink.

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So you see that a little bit of that.

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An Egan Yeah.

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Is a big drinker.

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And this is how men will deal with this kind of stress.

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Yeah.

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He encouraged it.

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He encouraged them to fight.

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You see the fighting, this is all from real life because this helps you alleviate

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that stress and the next day, 'cause you're doing it all again and, and you

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don't know who's coming back every time.

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Yeah.

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And there would be months where you'd have no casualties and then all of a

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sudden you'd lose 50% of everybody.

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Yeah.

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So.

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Superstitions are big and they show a lot of that, uh, in the first

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couple episodes with the salt.

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Yep.

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With uh, which is fun.

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Which is also funny.

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It was funny.

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I love that Cleven took the card even though GaN this is my lucky card.

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Take the card and Cleven.

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No, but you see Cleven eventually take the card.

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I'll tell you why.

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'cause every pilot is superstitious.

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Yeah.

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I don't care who you are.

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We do believe that there is, it's, everybody's got their own thing.

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It's, we believe it's a bit of luck and a bit of skill.

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Is luck again where you end up in formation.

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If the fighters come out that day, if they don't come out that day.

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If you have good weather, if you don't have good weather.

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And then the skill of the pilot when it's needed.

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Yeah, it really is a bit of both.

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And I also wanna stress you're not flying with the same crew all the time.

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Yeah.

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And I think that's a good thing to remember.

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'cause a lot of people think, and we talked about this in our Arlington video

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about mess with the air at Arlington, about how a lot of people will assume

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that the same pilots are flying with the aircraft because of the nose art and they

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painted it and this, that, and the other.

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And that is absolutely not the case.

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No, because you gotta think people are getting injured, people are getting

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what they call, they have PTSD, I think they call it flack fire or something

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where they give 'em a little break.

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Yeah.

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And same thing with aircraft.

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Aircraft would get damaged aircraft and you'd be down for

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a while, go down for a while.

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And so you would do a hodgepodge crew and you almost see that with Crosby

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being pulled in this navigator 'cause the navigator's sick and you're flying

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with different people all the time.

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So you have to really learn this camaraderie.

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With everybody.

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Yeah.

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You kind of build this camaraderie with everyone.

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Everyone.

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And Crosby, I really appreciate he, I think he writes a book, I think he

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wrote Wing and a prayer, but he talks about how that first mission, how

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he's, let's fight this, this, this, and this, and then as if flying back.

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He forgets to make radio calls about the change that they made and

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they land and he's given an award.

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He thinks he's gonna be court-martialed.

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'cause he didn't tell them that he changed the plan.

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Yeah.

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And they give him an award because they think he didn't make

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radio calls for radio silence.

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Oh.

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That's, which kept the fighters from coming.

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And it, it saved, they only lost three planes everybody made.

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But it's really just because he forgot Really?

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'cause he forgot.

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And again, all this baptism by fire, sometimes it's luck.

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Yeah.

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So then you learn, oh, maybe I shouldn't make radio calls.

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Maybe we'll learn.

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Yeah.

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That now on, on the other side.

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Mm-Hmm.

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One of the things that you actually appreciated.

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With some of the pre-flight scenes.

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Yes.

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So I love the checklist.

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Yeah.

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I loved that scene.

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And did, and they, I think, was it you, we had either seen a video or you

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were listening to a, a, another podcast that they intentionally put those,

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check those check listings in there.

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I, I listened to Tom Hanks talk about it.

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So Tom Hanks loves the B 17.

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I mean, he, he executive producer of Master of the Air, he wanted

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to stress how just measured pilots are and how we are so rigorous with

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rules and regulation, and we do those checklists every time, every step.

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You do not skip a step.

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You do not half as it, you're gonna do the whole thing and.

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I think it builds trust because you're doing it together and you're zeroing

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things out and you're setting things up and you're getting ready and it just

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shows how attention to detail you both are and you're not gonna skip anything.

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Well, and it's the same for the rest of the crew and every crew is doing it.

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Mm-hmm.

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It is a normal thing and that's because you're not flying with the same crew.

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So you do it every time and every aircraft you have your checklist

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that's usually on your knee board, which is a, a board you strapped

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to your leg and you go through it.

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And he showed explicitly in that scene.

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Each cockpit was doing it, and they, he showed a different part of the checklist

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as each cockpit's going through it.

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They're all doing the same one.

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They're all doing the same one.

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Yeah.

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They're all doing it the same way.

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And I just really appreciate that.

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As a pilot, you're gonna do a pre takeoff checklist, a takeoff

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checklist, and after takeoff checklist.

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Yeah.

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And, and, and, and for, for those watching the video, Jen had secretly watched

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the two episodes the night before.

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And then told me in the morning, Hey, it came out Thursday night.

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I watched it.

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I'll watch it with you again tonight.

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And then when we were going through the checklist scene,

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I've never seen her so happy.

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She's checklist, checklist, she's so excited about these checklists because

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it is such an important part of what, what pilots do and that piece of it,

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right, that it was, was so realistic and kind of, again, showing that true

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pilot nature and, and what the crews do and, and all the steps that it takes.

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Every single time they're taking off, every single time, they're

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not just jumping in and cowboying off the runway every single time.

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And if something fails on that checklist and the aircraft can't

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fly, okay, we're gonna get out.

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We're gonna go to the next one.

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Mm-Hmm.

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I want people to know.

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We know every switch, every circuit breaker, every instrument on that panel.

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Every single.

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I know what everyone does.

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I know what electrical source it's connected to.

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I know what it's showing you.

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I know if I lose power, what I'm gonna keep, what I'm gonna lose.

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I know if a circuit breaker gets unset, if I can reset it, if I can't.

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I know everything about that panel of every aircraft I have ever flown in.

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It's not just the one you're assigned to, it's every aircraft you fly in.

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You know everything about it.

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That's why pilots are not dumb.

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I tell people all the time, we're not, it is like cowboy.

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It is a little bit of that, but you also have to be pretty smart when,

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and just like you said earlier, right, there's, there's kind of

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two people, overly confident slash cocky people you want in your life.

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It's a pilot and your surgeon.

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And both require incredible intelligence following procedure.

Speaker:

Mm-hmm.

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And, and knowing this stuff blind, but also following those checklists.

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I mean, I'm, I'm not a doctor.

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I don't know too many that are surgeons.

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I.

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But I'm sure they have their own checklist that they do every time when they're

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prepping a patient or doing Mm-Hmm.

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Everything, all that stuff before they cut somebody open, similar kind of thing.

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So bloody 100th gets, its.

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Its name, let's say one character we haven't seen yet.

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You're gonna see Rosie Rosenthal.

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Uh, he's gonna be in this, he, he's a big part of Masters of the Air.

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Yes.

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You were talking about him.

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Rosie Rosenthal is considered the old man because he's 25.

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Oh my gosh.

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To a military college.

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Mm-Hmm.

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And I was 1920, and I remember there was, we had someone who had

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been in the Navy for a few years before he came to the Naval Academy.

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He was 25 years old and we call him the old man.

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So I've, I've absolutely, I've absolutely been there, but now it makes me roll

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my eyes and wish I was 25 again.

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I know.

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So Rosie Rosenthal is a lawyer.

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Uh, he's Jewish.

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So for the him, this is, you know, means a lot.

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And he comes there and he's amazing pilot.

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He does two combat tours.

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He doesn't have to fly as many missions as he does he, I think.

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At first you had to do 25 before you got sent home, but then it changed.

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They changed it to 35.

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He ended up doing 50, but he survived them all.

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And being a lawyer, he's part of the Nuremberg Trials and he's gonna,

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actually, I think he interviews the second in command of the Nazi party.

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Oh, wow.

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So after Hitler commits suicide, he's the next guy who's interrogated

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during the Berg trials and he's in, he's in charge of the Lou Hoffa.

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Rosie Rosenthal's interviewing the man who's responsible for killing his.

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Fellow air crewman, his velo pilots and who tried to kill him, and he's

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part of the whole, his execution and, and he follows through with all of it.

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Yeah.

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And he's just a very unassuming guy.

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And you're gonna see, he's definitely gonna be a character in Master of the Air.

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Yeah.

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That I, people like that just absolutely blow my mind.

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And, and usually those people, if you ever meet someone like that.

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Are the most kind of just understated.

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You would never know it by just passing 'em on the subway or, or whatever.

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August 17th, 1943.

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We haven't gotten to this mission yet, but we'll see it Regensburg, they

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have a, they're flying in formation.

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They're flying in that purple heart corner.

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Mm-Hmm.

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Like we talked about before, of.

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22 planes that go up of the hundred, they, they lose nine, so they have a 40% loss,

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but the big one is October 10th, 1943.

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It's a monster raid.

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They're, I think they're dropping bombs on a worker camp.

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So think about war economics.

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Yeah.

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That's what they're, they're trying to hit centers of gravity targets on,

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they're, they're hitting steel mills.

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They're hitting gasoline.

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They're hitting oil rigs.

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They're hitting, they're hitting places that kill the war.

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Economics.

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Yeah.

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Which they eventually do in Germany.

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We'll talk more about how the technology's gonna shift here from the Germans

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being the better pilots with the better aircraft to the Americans being the

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better pilots with the better aircraft.

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But they're gonna launch 13 planes.

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Only one will make it back, and that will be Rosie Rosenthal's plane.

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That's where they get the reputation of the bloody 100th.

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That's ab Absolutely wild.

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Mm-Hmm, absolutely wild.

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I, I can't even, he's gonna land after losing two engines.

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I.

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He's gonna lose his intercom system and they're gonna lose this supplemental

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oxygen and he still gets the plane back.

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I know he's badass.

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This is what we're gonna see depicted.

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Yeah.

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This is what this drama sensation's gonna show.

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And so it's different than Band of brothers.

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It's different than the Pacific.

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You're gonna see this a massive loss.

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In a short period of time, and that's the gut punch of being an aviator.

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And you and I know you can see someone in the hallway one day

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and then lose them the next.

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Yeah.

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And when it happens to 50% or the guys you've been hanging out, all the guys

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you've been in hanging out with for the last couple months, this is why

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they have this amazing reputation.

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The reason why this book exists in.

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Masters there is about them is because they have more documentation

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than any other bomber group.

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Okay.

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And when Ronald Miller was teaching at Oxford, he had gone over to Thorpe

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Abbotts and they had so much, uh.

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Stories and they had captured so much of people's interactions.

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Yeah.

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And he found this really great relationship between GaN and Cleven.

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Yeah.

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And he was able to pull so much accuracy from That's cool.

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These stories that he could write this.

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So saving all of that is also important.

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Saving these stories is also important.

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So I just wanted to stress that as well.

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But you're gonna get these colorful personalities.

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You're gonna get.

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The survivalism of surviving things like this Sure.

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And what it takes and how people do it.

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Medicate with alcohol.

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Yeah.

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Fighting.

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They, they don't know.

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They didn't know then what we know now.

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Exactly.

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Another myth that's kind of created, I don't know if they're gonna show

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it in this because people don't know if it's exactly accurate, but

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the four 18 is a captain where.

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The loof Hoffa have basically taken over the plane and they wanna

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capture the plane and to kind of surrender, you would drop your gear.

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So they're, they're, he's dropped his gear and they're taking him into a, a landing

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field, and he ends up right before he lands shooting, he has them shoot both

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the planes and then raises his gear.

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And flies back And takes off.

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Yes.

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And so they claim that the Lu Hoffa now has a vendetta against the square D.

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Interesting.

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They're looking for the squared.

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They're looking for the bloody 100th.

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No one knows if that's exactly what happened.

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Yeah.

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If maybe somes claim he had lost an engine, so he had surrendered,

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but then got the engine back.

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Oh.

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And then knew, and then was like, was like, all right, here we go.

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Let's buckle up boys.

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But people don't also think that the loof are like, had it out for one.

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Sure.

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Because like they're not gonna waste their time to fly to these B

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seventeens when they can pick up these best B seventeens that are closer.

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Sure.

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So it just might be a lot of myth and folklore, which you

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get a lot of in aviation anyway.

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Sure.

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Avi Aviator stories, they get better every time and there's a reason for that.

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Right.

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They start off here and they end up way over here.

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So one thing I will say that's kind of funny is you see him bring the dog.

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On the plane.

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Yeah.

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So at one point this is true, they're in Africa and they somehow

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get like this little donkey onto the, just another aviator thing.

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Of course they do, aviators do stupid things.

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And so they get this and they bring the little donkey back to England and

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they have it in the base for a while.

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Show up bringing back a donkey.

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But I do wanna, I wanted to say there is a, a really good quote.

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Here,

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the hundredth bomber group major, John Bennett, he summed

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it up as what the hundred lacks.

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In luck, it makes up foreign courage.

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The men of the century have fighting hearts and they were called the men

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of the century 'cause of the one.

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Oh yeah.

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Yeah.

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That's awesome.

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I really love that.

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There is a lot more, they're wearing their.

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Their survival vests and their parachutes.

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We still wear life vests when we fly.

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That stuff has all kind of just been innovated, but we still wear it.

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And parachutes, they usually are, like I said, in the ejection seats.

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And if you do bail out, sometimes seals wear 'em before they bail out.

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But you're not bailing out in a helicopter.

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Yeah.

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So we don't have 'em.

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Yeah.

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But a lot of the stuff that they have and they're wearing has just evolved.

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And we still do the same things today.

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We still have the same things today.

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Things that, like I said, born in blood, but we still have the flight jacket.

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We still have a lot of things that are born of aviation that

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we still follow through because we are very much about tradition.

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Yeah.

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And loyalty.

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And once a pilot, always a pilot.

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There is a comradery with us and I just, I just really appreciate watching this.

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I do love it.

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I see peoples.

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Criticisms online, and I do know that there is some historical

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accuracies that aren't there, but as far as I'm concerned, I love seeing.

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Yeah.

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And we would love to hear from you guys watching this video and

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kind of what you thought of the show, any experience you may have,

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whether you're an aviator yourself.

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Or kind of just what you thought of this compared to Band of Brothers or your

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favorite character, your favorite lines.

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Uh, we, we wanna hear from you guys because we, we've had other videos

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that are growing in popularity and, and we love having these conversations.

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Sure.

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And as we close, I just wanna touch on one last thing.

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Sure.

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No art.

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Yes.

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Yeah.

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So if you know me, I love No Art, and we actually have an episode

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coming out tomorrow on No Art because I, I love it so much and I.

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I appreciate again.

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What these men are going through and what it takes to reinspire

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yourself to get out there every day.

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And the superstition that kind of comes with it.

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So there's, there's aircraft names that are famous.

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Ola Gay and Memphis Bell.

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Right?

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And the Memphis Bell was the girlfriend of the pilot and she was from

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Memphis, so he painted her on board.

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Their names are like, lady Luck.

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You saw Alice from Dallas in the episode.

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Uh, boss Lady Denver Doll, Liberty Bell.

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Pickle puss, which I love.

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But there's one really famous one and I, I want Scott to put the

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picture on here, Mason and Dixon.

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And it is full on.

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Yeah.

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And it's named after the pilot, Floyd, Floyd Mason, and the

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navigator, William Dixon.

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And it's a ranches semi nude, painted by Sergeant Frank Stevens of the three 51st.

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And.

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I just love that this is what it took them to really get behind each other.

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Sure.

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And believe in their, believe in themselves, believe in their aircraft,

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and it's also an o to the air crew.

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Well, and and one of the things I think you said in, in the no art video,

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that's, if you're watching this, then that video has already been released.

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But you said that the, the no ark gets more risque the further away that these

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squadrons are basically from the wherever the DC main DC the DC is, or the further

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they are away, the more risque they get and the closer you are to death, I think.

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And like I said, the commanding officer kind of encourages drinking.

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Yeah.

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And I think he probably encouraged whatever it takes to make you

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laugh, to bring a smile on your face to make you believe.

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I think he probably really encouraged in them.

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So it's just really something that I, I love nos art because of

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what it means and what it means to these men and the history of it.

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So I just wanted to talk about that as well.

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Yeah, it, it's a ton of fun.

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We're enjoying the show, and again, we wanna hear from you guys.

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So if you guys have anything else that you kind of wanna contribute or, or, or talk

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about in the comments, please let us know.

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Uh, we, we wanna hear from you.

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Oh, one last thing.

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Jude Law's son is at air crewman.

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Oh, is he the, that's the head air crewman, like the crew chief.

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Yeah.

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Oh, that's why he's so cute.

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Yeah.

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Yeah.

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And good looking.

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That's chief law's son, so I love an air crewman.

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The, the crew chief who's in charge of the aircraft.

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That's his aircraft.

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Yeah.

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And they, they actually talk very specifically about crew chiefs.

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Yes.

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And kind of give him a lot of props on the show.

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I, as a pilot, that's not your aircraft, it's his aircraft

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or her aircraft, and they.

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Treat that like their baby.

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They take care of it.

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They make sure everything is great before you go up, and it's just a real

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team spirit when you're, you're taking care of an aircraft in the military.

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So I, I really appreciate that.

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Yeah, that's cool.

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Good for him.

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Well, folks, we've just landed back on Terra firma.

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After a throwing tour through the skies of World War II with Masters of the Air.

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I hope you enjoyed exploring the shows.

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Portrayal of B 17 missions with us separating the Hollywood dog fights

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from the bone chilling reality of those young American bomber crews.

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Remember, this wasn't just about historical accuracy.

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It was about getting inside the heads of these guys, understanding

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the why behind their actions in the face of unimaginable danger.

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We explored their moral quandaries, the pilot's lightning fast decisions,

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and the navigator's unwavering focus.

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Amidst flack bursts in fighter attacks.

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And what did we learned that these masters of the air weren't just

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daredevils in flying machines.

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They were strategists, psychologists, and sometimes reluctance warriors

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all bound together by a shared mission and a brotherhood forged

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in the crucible of combat.

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We also remember the comradery, the humor.

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That kept them sane and the sheer awe of soaring through the

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clouds towards a distant target.

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We explored the bond between crew mates, the trust they placed in each

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other's skills and courage, knowing that one misstep could doune them all.

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Masters of the air may not be a.

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Perfect historical document, but it captured the essence of what

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it meant to be a B 17 crewman.

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It reminded us of the extraordinary sacrifices made by these ordinary

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men, their bravery, etched in the skies over Nazi Germany.

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So as the engines cool down and the landing gear for tracks,

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let's carry that memory with us.

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Let's remember the roar of the engines, the sting of the cold,

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and the unyielding courage of those who dared to be masters of the air.

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Thank you for listening to Talk with History podcast and please

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reach out to us@talkwithhistory.com.

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More importantly, if you know someone else that may enjoy this episode or

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that loves Masters of the Year as much as we do, please share it with them.

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We rely on you, our community to grow, and we appreciate you all every day.

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We'll talk to you next time.

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Thank you.

About the Podcast

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Talk With History
A Historian and Navy Veteran talk about traveling to historic locations

About your hosts

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Scott B

Host of the Talk With History podcast, Producer over at Walk with History on YouTube, Editor of HistoryNewsletter.com
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Jennifer B

Former Naval Aviator turned Historian and a loyal Penn Stater. (WE ARE!) I earned my Masters in American History and graduate certificate in Museum Studies, from the University of Memphis.

The Talk with History podcast gives Scott and me a chance to go deeper into the details of our Walk with History YouTube videos and gives you a behind-the-scenes look at our history-inspired adventures.

Join us as we talk about these real-world historic locations and learn about the events that continue to impact you today!

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Thank you to everyone who supports the show and keeps us up and running. Doing this with your support means that we can continue to share history and historic locations for years to come!
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Thank you for the great podcasts and for sharing your passion! Love hearing about the locations you visit.