The Interviews

My goal was to tell the story of the RAF Ferry Command with interviews with those who were actually there. Here in alphabetical order is a list of the interviews used in the documentary:

John Affleck
John Affleck Flight Engineer
Len Barrett
Len Barrett Navigator
Ted Biss
Ted Biss Radio Operator / Navigator
Carl Christie
Carl Christie Military Historian
Dave Clarke
Dave Clarke Radio Operator
Don Douglas
Don Douglas Pilot
Sandy Forbes
Sandy Forbes Pilot
Sir Martin Gilbert
Sir Martin Gilbert Churchill’s Biographer
Nora Irwin
Nora Irwin Wife of Ferry Command Pilot
Walter Jones
Walter Jones Pilot
Kirk Kerkorian
Kirk Kerkorian Pilot
Al Lilly
Al Lilly Pilot
John Lukacs
John Lukacs Historian
Geoffrey Mangham
Geoffrey Mangham Radio Operator
Bill MacLaren
Bill MacLaren Return Ferry Operations
Mervin McLeod
Mervin McLeod Radio Operator
Al McCrae
Al McCrae Pilot
Taffy Powell
Taffy Powell Chief Air Officer, Ferry Command
Lawrence Sellick
Lawrence Sellick Instrument Shop Technician
Robert Short
Robert Short Radio Operator
Richard Stanley
Richard Stanley Navigator
Bill Vanderkloot
Bill Vanderkloot Pilot

Production Bios

Marie Tobin, John Lukacs, William VanDerKloot

William VanDerKloot, Producer/Director

Bill VanDerKloot’s career as a Director and Producer, spans four decades and includes short films, broadcast commercials, television documentaries and theatrical features. Over the years he has traveled the world creating films on a environmental science. He has won over one hundred international awards, including Emmy Awards and the George Foster Peabody Award.

He produced the Atlanta Olympic Film, TIME AND DREAMS, which helped win the bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. VanDerKloot’s productions include special video installations for the Carter Presidential Museum and Library, the Columbus Museum, and the Special Collections Library at the University of Georgia.

Bill has directed hundreds of commercial and branded content projects for such clients as CNN, Delta Air Lines, Cox Enterprises, Coca-Cola, McKesson, Invesco, US Marine Corps, and Porsche, to name just a few. His work has been shown on such venues as PBS, National Geographic, Turner Broadcasting, CNN, HBO, Showtime, as well as iTunes, amazon, and Netflix.

VanDerKloot created the award-winning Little Mammoth children’s programs, The BIG Adventure Series®, which are licensed in over 30 countries worldwide. The latest episode, The NEW BIG Plane Trip, was released in 2018.

Based in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, VanDerKloot founded Magick Lantern in 1990, a video post-production house and digital production studio serving the advertising, broadcast and film production industries. He sold the studio in 2013 to focus on content production.

He and his company have supported the local community with pro bono work for dozens of organizations, including Trees Atlanta, Literacy Action, Homeless Taskforce, The Carter Center, The Georgia Conservancy, Habitat for Humanity, and the Girl Scouts, to name just a few. He donated his company’s services to then-City Council President Cathy Woolard and Ryan Gravel, to create a video that introduced audiences to a concept called, The Atlanta BeltLine.

VanDerKloot was the founding director of the Atlanta Film Festival and has written about filmmaking for such publications as American Cinematographer. He has served over 20 years on the Georgia Governor’s Film Advisory Board under numerous administrations. He was a long-time board member and past president of the Georgia Production Partnership (GPP), an industry association responsible for creating Georgia’s wildly successful film tax incentives. 

He is a board member and past-Chair of the University of Georgia Libraries Board of Visitors. He currently serves on the Morningside Neighborhood Association Zoning Review Committee, and has done so for over a decade.

VanDerKloot has screened his films and lectured around the country at such institutions as University of Florida, Georgia State University,New York ChurchilliansCoalition for Quality Children’s Programming, and the National WWII Museum.


Monique Tobin – Head Researcher and Field Producer

Monique Tobin is a writer and journalist based in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and has worked in documentary production for over a decade. In 2001 Monique began researching the ferrying of US-built bomber aircraft to the UK during WWII: her comprehensive research on the subject of RAF Ferry Command has included Canadian, British and American public and private archives and extensive field research. Since 1991 Monique has worked on countless CBC Radio and TV history and current affairs productions as a writer, broadcaster, associate producer and researcher, in addition to work on independent film projects. Monique has written for The Financial Post and numerous other print publications.


Carlo Rota – Narrator

Carlo Rota was born in London, raised in Italy, Hong Kong, the Bahamas and Canada and now lives in Los Angeles. He is best known to American audiences as Morris O’Brian on “24,” where he has filmed 27 episodes. He is also known for his five seasons as Mick Schtoppel on the USA Network’s smash hit “La Femme Nikita” (1997). Carlo also appeared on Showtime’s “Queer as Folk” (2000), “The Boondock Saints” (1999) and in numerous other television shows and movies. Carlo also stars in the Canadian hit, “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” as Yasir Hamoudi. He also co-created, hosted and directed the popular series, ”The Great Canadian Food Show” – a program where he travels across Canada in search of the country’s best culinary delights. Carlo was recently nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award for excellence in culinary journalism. 


James Oliverio – Composer

American composer James Oliverio has created hundreds of original soundtracks and orchestral scores for film, television and the stage. In addition to numerous national grants, commissions and world premieres, he holds five Emmy Awards for music composition from the Atlanta Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS). In addition to performances of his orchestral scores by ensembles including the Cleveland Orchestra and the symphonies of Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Oliverio has produced for and collaborated with Jazz @ Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. He served as Artistic Consultant on a number of projects with Wynton Marsalis, including the Millennial commission of “All Rise”, which premiered with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Kurt Masur and enjoyed subsequent performances at the Concertgebouw and with major international ensembles including the London and Los Angeles Philharmonics and the Boston and Chicago Symphonies. Additional special recognition includes the Inaugural “Peoria Prize for Creativity” (2005) for producing the globally-distributed performing arts collaboration entitled “Hands Across the Ocean” and the “Most Courageous and Creative” Award in the High Bandwidth Challenge at the 2001 Global SuperComputing Conference. Oliverio’s work in real-time globally-distributed arts has been featured on CNN International and the BBC. He currently serves as Professor of Music & Digital Media and as Director of the Digital Worlds Institute at the University of Florida.

The Research

Living in the frozen wilds of Newfoundland — as my island home in the middle of the North Atlantic is aptly referred to in Flying the Secret Sky —I am constantly reminded of the challenge that is North Atlantic weather. Planes are frequently grounded in winter storms and, even more so, flights to the island from mainland Canada — big jets with radar, powerful engines and automatic pilot — refuse to even attempt the flight here when even potential weather is forecast. Our storms are indeed notorious: hurricane-like winds, fluctuating temperatures, a swirling mix of the “dark and dirty” conditions that the Ferry Command flyers know all too well.

Research

In 2001 I began researching this incredible story of what I refer to as “a war without war” — a story of danger, romance, adventure and young men who must have felt all the while that the world was their oyster, flying to far-flung locations in the latest aircraft of the day. What moved me most, in all of the interviews that I did with these flyers over the years, was the way they articulated the camaraderie they felt as young men. They really did hold each others’ lives in the balance with every flight: these were experimental flights in often atrocious conditions.

So much of what we can now take for granted in flying the North Atlantic is indebted to the flyers of Ferry Command, who pioneered the air routes, developed North Atlantic weather forecasting and contributed to an understanding of altitudes and air currents. How could their extraordinary story have been lost to the war?

At the 2000 Reunion of the Ferry Command in Gander, Canadian Military Historian Carl Christie launched what was essentially a first “official account” of this wartime operation, entitled Ocean Bridge: the History of RAF Ferry Command. In consultation with Carl Christie, I returned to the original records held at Canada’s Department of National Defense Directorate of History and Heritage, where he had first come across a collection of interview transcripts of the original team that bravely launched the civilian ferry service. What was immediately apparent was that this amazing logistical network that grew from a spirited team of civilians — because of its international scope and ad-hoc beginnings — now had its history held in albums, in scrapbooks, in logbooks and in documents scattered in public and private archival collections throughout the world. This was a wartime operation with, as Carl Christie said, a “military veneer” and its fragmented records are a testament to that, even though many military airmen flew with Ferry Command from the RCAF, the RAF, the USAAF and RAAF, among others.

Field research became indispensable to making this film, as first-hand accounts of what the experience was like flying these missions and living the life of the Ferry Command during the war was the story that Flying the Secret Sky would tell.

It was an honor to meet all of the airmen we interviewed for the film and it was sincerely exciting to hear their stories. We traveled to Saskatoon in Saskatchewan to interview the last surviving member of Captain VanDerKloot’s Commando crew, Flight Engineer John Affleck — who was able to provide amazing detail about Prime Minister Churchill’s missions to Cairo and to Moscow to meet with Roosevelt and with Stalin. Not many people alive today can recount anecdotes involving an array of historic figures including Lord Louis Mount Batten and Sir Anthony Eden. When we interviewed John Affleck he was a spry 91 years of age. 

So many film and photographic collections were mined for content related to Ferry Command: from the Imperial War Museum in London, to the San Diego Air and Space Museum; to the holdings of NARA, the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, Library and Archives Canada, the New England Air Museum, the National Film Board of Canada, the RAF Museum and Archives; the corporate collections of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.,Shell Canada, Canadian Pacific and Aeroports de Montreal; the Washington State University Archives and many others all held precious fragments of the story.

My favorite part of conducting research is always the adventure it brings – in those moments when you are not only sitting with someone who is telling you something that matters very much to them, but you are able to hold a piece of that story in the palm of your hand. In pouring over the logbooks of these men, in unraveling their ‘short snorters’ and trying to make out the signatures of airmen you’ve been lucky enough to meet on each of the bills — in leafing through photo albums and linking together different pieces of the same story told from another perspective — those are the moments that make history and historical research come alive.

Working on Flying the Secret Sky: The Story of RAF Ferry Command was like uncovering an expedition log from another century and watching that far away landscape come to life.

By Monique Tobin, Head Researcher
St. John’s, Newfoundland

“Because this was a civilian operation at the core, when the war was over, they just closed the filing cabinets and walked away.”
— Military Historian Carl Christie, author of Ocean Bridge: the History of RAF Ferry Command

Flying the Secret Sky; The Story of RAF Ferry Command is, above all, a romance.

“It’s the romance of the air.“ says Writer, Director and Producer Bill VanDerKloot. “That romance was part of that time, because it was so rare to be able to go up in the clouds and the pilots who did it were the celebrities of their day. The fact that these airmen were flying where no one had dared to fly – helping to defeat Hitler while they were at it – and, having a great time doing it -– these were young guys flying across the Atlantic! — it’s just a great combination.”

Plane in the sky

Reflecting on the start of his own romance with the story, filmmaker Bill VanDerKloot says he grew up in the presence of his father’s deep passion for flying. Making the documentary was “one of those things I had to do: like an internal force that says – you need to do this.”

In 1990, when the former RAF Senior Air Officer for Ferry Command paid a visit to the American civilian pilot he’d selected to fly Winston Churchill, the filming began.

“I had mentioned to my Dad that I wanted to do a film about the Ferry Command, and one day he called and said, Taffy Powell is coming to town next week, do you want to film him? So I interviewed them both. My Dad was 77. That was 1990: I knew very few details about Ferry Command back then. I knew my father flew the Prime Minister and that he flew the Atlantic.”

Personal interviews became the method of finding the story – and remained a stronghold throughout the project. Ten years after Bill interviewed the late Air Commodore Powell and his father, Captain William VanDerKloot – perhaps the most famous Ferry Command pilot of them all – a final reunion of the Ferry Command was held at Gander, Newfoundland, where the civilian ferry service began.

Captain VanDerKloot passed away three months before the July, 2000 Gander reunion. Bill attended in honor of his father. He brought with him a camera – and it was there he began to film interviews with the airmen who, like his father, put their lives at risk to deliver urgently needed aircraft across the Atlantic. 

“The Gander Reunion was a very moving experience. I began to unravel this fascinating story. What I loved about it was these were guys who really made a difference in the war and never fired a shot. The Ferry Command airmen really put their lives on the line – and as my father said, in an interview during the war, it was not to take life but to preserve it.”

Unprompted, many of the airmen Bill interviewed wanted to talk about his father. While Captain VanDerKloot was celebrated as the pilot picked from their outfit to fly the Prime Minister, as Chief Test Pilot at Ferry Command Headquarters, he had also checked out many of the pilots.

“Talking to all the people who were involved, actually meeting the men who were my father’s comrades, the guys who did the same things he did and took the same risks and flew the same planes, hearing the way they talked about how it was back then: it really gave me an appreciation for the kind of war they experienced.”

While every crossing was a question of survival – there was a whole other element to every story.  “When you talk to aviators it’s…there’s a magic… a love of flying.  I think there was a palpable joy every time those guys got in behind the controls.”

From his first walk along the Gander air field, past now-overgrown buildings to the gravesite where Ferry Command crash victims lay buried, to filming outside London’s Savoy Hotel at dusk, where his father first got the call to report to 10 Downing Street; filming the streets of London at night, the Whitehall offices of the former Air Ministry; filming in the streets of old Montreal, the city that was the hive of Ferry Command; filming in Moncton, New Brunswick and in Hamilton, Ontario, at Canada’s Warplane Heritage Museum with its impressive collection of WWII bombers that still fly – filming the Lancaster, the Mitchell, the C-47 – the very planes these airmen delivered, so shockingly primitive for the conditions faced  by those aircrews almost 70 years previous — in all of these explorations Bill was able, as a filmmaker, to literally retrace his father’s journeys and flight paths.

“At the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, when those planes started up, suddenly you could feel and hear and smell the era.  It was explosive, oil-fired and noisy.  But like the planes when they are airborne, it was an era of powerful style and romantic aspirations.”

Bill VanDerKloot says pulling together a team with enthusiasm to match his passion for the story seemed easy.

“Everyone fell in love with the story.  The researchers, the narrator, the animator who had to make these planes fly again…  We were all drawn back in time — because in some ways aviators are the quintessential icons for that era: the big planes, the propellers, the leather jackets and going up, into danger.  You put that all together and you’ve defined an era.”

Production Notes by Monique Tobin
Flying the Secret Sky: The Story of RAF Ferry Command