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One Six Right and One Six Left: The Romance of Flying

by Brian J. Terwilliger, Terwilliger Productions, 73 minutes, $19.95.

One Six Right and One Six Left star an airport rather than a person. Their producers describe this as a documentary that aims to celebrate the unsung hero of aviation, the local airport, by focusing on the life of a prominent general aviation facility: Van Nuys Airport, in Southern California.

At first blush, the cover’s sales pitch was something of a stretch to me—a little exaggerated and flowery, extolling “the romance of flying” and a few other lavish phrases. But the aerial photography lead-in, with its accompanying soundtrack, immediately got my attention. Suddenly there I was, back in the cockpit, “slipping the surly bonds of earth” and “dancing the skies on laughter-silvered wings” (with a nod to John Gillespie McGee Jr.’s poem “High Flight”).

The flying scenes are great. Even the J-3 Cub came off as graceful and fun. Views from the cockpit, especially the ones shot while skimming along the tops of clouds, really took me back to my own flying days. I expect they will whet the appetite of anyone who has yet to experience that pleasure. There is plenty of straight history here, too, intertwining coverage of the pragmatic as well as the poetic sides of civil aviation.

My favorite scene is a recent interview with a pilot who soloed in a biplane in the 1930s, when he was 16. Footage from a family movie shows him grinning from the cockpit, decked out in leather jacket, helmet and goggles—trying not to look too proud after his first flight. That’s followed by another view of the same pilot reenacting his biplane flight, again equipped with goggles and jacket—this time smiling unreservedly. For me, it’s a great way to show that the romance of flying never really dies for pilots. As Leonardo da Vinci put it, “When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”


Originally published in the March 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.