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Is ‘Masters of the Air’ based on a true story?

It's based on a book, but is that book a work of fact or fiction?

Austin Butler as Major Gale Cleven in Masters of the Air
Screengrab via Apple TV Plus

Masters of the Air has been a twinkle in the eyes of its creators for over a decade, but only ever a twinkle. The miniseries has been trudging through various stages of development since 2013, but after ten full years of trying, it is finally finding footing on Apple TV Plus. 

The eight-episode miniseries is scheduled to premiere on September 20 according to IMDb – with a budget that hovers somewhere around $250 to $300 million. Powerhouse moviemakers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks sit in the pilot seat as co-executive producers alongside Gary Goetzman and No Time to Die’s Cary Joji Fukunaga. The Apple TV Plus war drama serves as a follow-up to the Emmy Award-winning HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010) – both of which were collaborations by Spielberg, Hanks, and Goetzman.

Masters of the Air was initially slated to premiere on HBO but found new life on Apple TV Plus in 2019. In fact, Masters of the Air has been in development for so long that it was actually the streamer’s first series to follow in the footsteps of Amazon and Netflix with Apple serving as the studio for the project.

Hollywood heavyweight Austin Butler will help shepherd the war drama into the spotlight as the character Major Gale Cleven. Alongside him, the ensemble cast includes Barry Keoghan, Callum Turner, Ncuti Gatwa, Anthony Boyle, and more. 

The only question now is whether the characters they play and the storylines they act out are of fact or fiction.

Is Masters of the Air based on a true story, or is it a work of fiction?

Photo via Apple TV

Masters of the Air is based on the nonfiction book by Donald L. Miller Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany. Miller’s 2006 tome is comprised of interviews, oral histories, and archives from American, German, and British origins, all coming together to tell the story of the Eighth Air Force, a group of American bomber boys who “brought the war to Hitler’s doorstep,” according to the book’s synopsis.

While its premise may seem like something out of a movie, in reality, it is based on a true story, including Austin Butler’s character Major Gale Cleven. The Eighth Air Force wound up losing more men to the war than the U.S. Marine Corps, according to the book. This was due in large part to the extreme nature of fighting 25,000 feet in the air with intermittent but harsh periods of head-on attack.

Without the valiant efforts of the bomber boys, the war would not have been won. The supplies that powered the German war machine would have run rampant had it not been for the American and British airpower that destroyed it. As a matter of fact, the victory was a shared effort: American bombers attacked during the day while British bombers attacked at night, aided by the cover of nightfall. 

The synopsis for the Apple TV Plus series is as follows: “During World War II, airmen risk their lives with the 100th Bomb Group, a brotherhood forged by courage, loss, and triumph.” The eight-episode miniseries is scheduled to premiere on September 20 on Apple TV Plus.

Cody Raschella
About the author

Cody Raschella

Cody Raschella is a Staff Writer and occasional Editor who has been with WGTC since 2021. He is a closeted Swiftie (shh), a proud ‘Drag Race’ fan (yas), and a hopeless optimist (he still has faith in the MCU). His passion for writing has carried him across various mediums including journalism, copywriting, and creative writing, the latter of which has been recognized by Writer’s Digest. He received his bachelor's degree from California State University, Northridge.