Masters of the Air

June 10, 2024

 If you know me personally, then you know I’m obsessed with airplanes––specifically, WWII aircrafts. 

And more specifically, the WWII B-17 Flying Fortress––a machine that the Japanese deemed the “four-engine fighter” for its stealth above war skies. Scraped and bruised as the aircraft became during battles, the B-17 frequently returned home. I wish more people knew about it.

I recently started watching a television mini-series called “Masters of the Air.” It follows some of the airmen who flew their B-17 bombers over enemy territory and is all based on true stories.

Before we know it, WWII will have been a century ago. I realized that as I was watching Episode 2. One day, the stories will die out, all the veterans will be gone, and we’ll only have the planes parked and housed in a museum. 

Today––if my memory serves me right––there are only three or four B-17s still flying.

Last October, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the inside of a B-17. Though she never saw combat, The Yankee Lady looked like she encompassed all the experience and charm of one that did. 

In the show I’m watching, it offers a rather vivid glimpse into what life was like for an airman in WWII. One moment, they’re eating breakfast with a crew member, and the next they’re watching that crew member’s plane burst into flames, take a nosedive, and fall to its tragic fate. 

I literally cannot close my eyes and fathom the depth of that moment. Watching a plane––a plane as beautiful and majestic as a B-17––falling from the sky. Watching the men you ate breakfast with fall with it. There must have been some emotional guard those men put up against relationships. It must have been complicated to be part of the camaraderie of the US Army in the 1940s, staying close enough to help keep your men alive but far enough so when you watched them die, you can still get the plane home safely. 

(I know this is harsh, but this is real life. This really happened. Can you imagine?)

I really wondered, after watching “Masters of the Air,” how those guys just…went on living. I guess it was hope? Hope that they’d get to go home and finally see their families again? Because when it comes down to it and death is staring  you in the face at 30,000 feet, hope is really the last thing you’ve got to hold on to. 

At the end of Episode 3, a group of airmen land the B-17, and the metal is peeling off the wings, the tail, the fuselage. The pilot slides open his window, peers outside, blood on his face, and breathes.

I’m writing this because I want people to picture that image in their mind and remember that those moments were real. This happened. 18-year-old boys pulled on a chute, jumped from a flaming B-17, and landed wherever they may. Those in the bombers that held up were never promised another successful mission. 

As Memorial Day comes and goes, I hope people remember. 

I hope people remember the second World War and honor the ones that lived and the ones that died. 

M.M. Cochran is the author of YA novel Between the Ocean and the Stars and has an educational background in English and creative writing. She has worked in the journalism industry, as well as the agenting and publishing industry, and she is currently a news reporter for The Greer Citizen. M.M. can be found collecting coffee mugs, slipping into an oversized sweater, and hanging out with her standard poodle. Her debut novel, Between the Ocean and the Stars, can be found online at or To keep up with her writing journey, follow her on Instagram @m.m.cochran_writer.


Featured image by Daniel Eledut.