Celebrating Aviation with Magee’s “High Flight”
Today’s post is by Heidi Holmstrom. Heidi works in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, which is responsible for performing conservation and preservation work on motion picture records held across the National Archives.
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth . . . .
Put out my hand and touched the Face of God.”
You may be familiar with these lines—the first and last of John Gillespie Magee, Jr.’s 1941 sonnet “High Flight”. Many of us likely recognize them from President Ronald Reagan’s speech on the day of the Challenger disaster, but “High Flight” has a much longer history with aviators and astronauts.
In 1966, astronaut Michael Collins took the text of the poem with him into space during the Gemini 10 mission. Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy must learn to recite it from memory. In addition, “High Flight” is showcased in a number of films produced by the United States Air Force, like the one below.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was an American who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940, before the United States entered World War II. He wrote “High Flight” shortly before he was killed in a midair collision on December 11, 1941. In his honor, we present you with a short 1972 Air Force film celebrating the joy of flight.
Images of aircraft soaring over a recitation of “High Flight” were popular with Air Force filmmakers. This film features a T-38, but the National Archives also holds similar films featuring the F-86F and the F-15.
The film featured in this post was received as part of the DVIC accession and is preserved in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration.