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America’s first warbird

New movie celebrates the ‘Liberty Plane’

Legends of the Sky: The Liberty Plane profiles the development of the United States’ first war aircraft, the de Havilland DH–4 Liberty, and the enormous contributions the aircraft made to aviation history.

Filmmaker and pilot Dorian Walker produced the film with the organization Friends of Jenny, which was established several years ago to restore a Curtiss Jenny (see “Flying Miss Jenny,” AOPA Pilot July 2016).

“We have finished our film on America’s first warbird. Inspired by both the timeframe, our own DH–4 (which is filmed in it before its hard landing), and Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, we have attempted to take audiences back in time,” said Walker. “I’m a filmmaker and lifelong aviator. In the past decade I’ve been focusing on bringing the old birds back to life, both in film and on the flight line. We still fly the 1917 replica Curtiss Jenny, which was featured in our first film, Legends of the Sky: The Jenny in 2014.” 

The story of America’s first warbird, the DH–4 Liberty Plane, was largely unknown, Walker said, yet so many innovations evolved from it. “The development and history of America’s first warbird is innovative, exciting, and heroic. Legends of the Sky: The Liberty Plane, brings this story to the screen.” It will air on PBS stations beginning October 15.

The DH–4 Liberty was the only American-built airplane to be flown into combat in World War I by American crews. Designed by British engineer Geoffrey de Havilland, the bomber first flew into combat with the British Royal Flying Corps in early 1917. When the United States joined the war in April, an example was sent to the U.S. to determine if it was suitable for American production. In less than a year, the U.S. adopted the airframe, and automakers designed and produced a massive V-12 engine to power the aircraft.

The American Aircraft Production Board approved the design for construction in July 1917, pairing it with the American-designed V-12 “Liberty” engine. Because of this, American DH–4 airplanes were known as “Liberty planes.” The first Liberty plane rolled out of a U.S. factory on October 29, 1917.

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Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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