‘Masters of the Air’ is ‘Band of Brothers’ With Planes and Everyone is In It

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg produce Apple’s upcoming follow-up to the epic WWII series, with Austin Butler and Barry Keoghan leading an up-and-coming cast

Masters of the Air star Austin Butler takes flight

Robert Viglasky

Huge news for anyone who has a favorite plane (which, if a recent Twitter meme is any indication, includes every man on the planet): Masters of the Air is here. The over-a-decade-in-the-making spiritual sequel to 2001’s award-winning World War II series Band of Brothers will finally take flight on AppleTV+ early next year.

While 2010’s The Pacific, similarly helmed by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, followed three U.S. Marines from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima, Masters of the Air will bring us the stories of the brave airmen who fought in the skies.

Details are thin on the ground at present, with the production yet to drop a trailer, though we do have first look stills and a synopsis. Then there’s that exciting cast: Austin Butler, basically unknown before he did Elvis, takes a leading role among the series’ tantalizingly talented young ensemble. And Cary Fukunaga, director of Daniel Craig’s Bond swansong No Time to Die, takes up directing duties for the first three episodes.

What’s more? Along with an air drop of first-look images (see below), Apple TV+ announced that Masters of the Air is set to land on January 26 next year.

Here’s everything else we know.

Austin Butler’s looking fly, boy, in the first images released for Masters of the Air

The first images from Masters of the Air make for a compelling tease of the show, showing off the key cast in their handsome flyboy uniforms. None look quite so dashing as series lead Austin Butler; the Elvis star and leather-jacket afficionado’s layered look includes a sheepskin-lined bomber, a life jacket, and an M1911 pistol.

Robert Viglasky

There was more to be found as we rummaged through the supply crate. Apple TV+ were kind enough to offer a longer synopsis for the show:

Based on Donald L. Miller’s book of the same name, and scripted by John Orloff, Masters of the Air follows the men of the 100th Bomb Group (the “Bloody Hundredth”) as they conduct perilous bombing raids over Nazi Germany and grapple with the frigid conditions, lack of oxygen, and sheer terror of combat conducted at 25,000 feet in the air.

Portraying the psychological and emotional price paid by these young men as they helped destroy the horror of Hitler’s Third Reich, is at the heart of Masters of the Air. Some were shot down and captured; some were wounded or killed. And some were lucky enough to make it home. Regardless of individual fate, a toll was exacted on them all.

Ranging in location from the bucolic fields and villages of southeast England, to the harsh deprivations of a German Prisoner of War Camp, and depicting a unique and crucial time in world history, Masters of the Air is enormous in both scale and scope, and a genuine cinematic achievement.

More images below.
Robert Viglasky
Robert Viglasky
Courtesy of Apple

What is Masters of the Air about?

As the above synopsis suggests, it’s adapted from Donald L. Miller’s 2007 tome on the Allied bombings of Nazi Germany, titled — yeah, you guessed it — Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany. (You can get a copy here.)

“Historian and World War II expert Donald Miller brings us the story of the bomber boys who brought the war to Hitler’s doorstep,” reads the official blurb. “Unlike ground soldiers they slept on clean beds, drank beer in local pubs, and danced to the swing music of the travelling Air Force bands. But they were also an elite group of fighters who put their lives on the line in the most dangerous role of all.”

So it’ll be largely set in England, between the pastoral landing strips, barracks and country taverns. This was corroborated by some set photos shared by the Daily Mail, which show a stretch of land in Buckinghamshire turned into a $6 million WWII-style U.S. airbase. But more on that below…

Who is in the cast for Masters of the Air?

“Who isn’t in Masters of the Air?” is probably a better question. Much like Band of Brothers, which bolstered the careers of then-up-and-comers like Damian Lewis, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy and James McAvoy, this thing is stacked with young talent.

Butler heads up the cast as Major Gale Cleven, one of the real-world subjects in Masters of the Air, whose life in the Air Force is summarized on the American Air Museum’s website. By 1943, Cleven was stationed at Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk, carrying out bombing raids on the likes of Bremen and other targets in mainland Germany.

He was later shot down west of Osnabruck, where he was captured by the Luftwaffe and sent to Stalag Luft III, a German P.O.W. camp in what is now western Poland, where he endured terrible conditions as the war trundled to a close.

Elsewhere in the hot young crew, we’ll see Banshees of Insherin‘s Barry Keoghan in one of the 356 roles he’s got coming up that includes the Gladiator sequel and a double-hander with Jacob Elordi in Saltburn. There’s also Callum Turner, best known for his role in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Raff Law (very much the son of Jude) in a first major role, Anthony Boyle, who originated the role of Draco Malfoy in the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, soon to be Doctor Who and Barbie star Ncuti Gatwa, Nate Mann, Ben Radcliffe, and one Sawyer Avery Spielberg (we’ll let you work that one out yourselves).

Where was Masters of the Air filmed?

Back in 2021, it was revealed that the show is shooting — at least partially — on a full-scale U.S. Air Force base constructed for the show in the rolling hills of Buckinghamshire. According to the Mail, the huge production space used to be the site of a disused university and hotel.

Now, the grass is pocked with early-20th Century ‘Nissen Huts,’ the barrack structures famous for housing Allied soldiers and equipment in both World Wars.

The tech they’ve got for the B-17 bomber interiors is super-impressive, too, if not quite the Tom Cruise route of actually flying the damn thing (do they even make B-17s anymore?)

Shots shared on social media showcase sprawling warehouse sets housing B-17 components, surrounded by “the Volume”: effectively a circular screen that envelops the area outside the cockpit, which allows for the high-fidelity replication of the sky, clouds, and other atmospheric effects. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll probably recognize it from The Mandalorian, where they use a similar setup to piece together digital alien landscapes.

Other sites cited online include a replica of that German POW camp, also reported to have cost the production upwards of $6 million. Damn, Tom and Steven– you really spared no expense.

Is there a trailer for Masters of the Air?

No, but keep an eye on GQ for any and all updates.

Is there a release date for Masters of the Air?

Masters of the Air will hit AppleTV+ on January 26, 2024.

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