Some of the footage and figures are familiar. There are the aerial shootouts over World War II Europe, and there's a charming visit with Jimmy Doolittle, now 90.
But there are other scenes and heroes, more obscure and unsung, celebrated in "Top Flight," an unabashed salute to heroes of the air on the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force. The one-hour program airs Tuesday at 8.
"This is out of the entertainment division of CBS," said Arnold Shapiro, whose company produced the program with funds from USAA. "That's why we call it a salute to heroes."
Hard-hitting documentary it is not intended to be, engaging it is. Doolittle, leader of the daring World War II air raid on Japan, was interviewed at his home in Carmel. "He cried when the raid was over," said Carol L. Fleisher, the program's producer, director and writer. "He'd lost a number of men and planes. He thought he was going to be court-martialed. Instead they promoted him to general." And they gave him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
There are other heroes who are anonymous by comparison. One of them is Sr. Master Sgt. Duane Hackney, who served as a helicopter-borne rescueman during the Vietnam War, dropping into the jungle on a tether to take out wounded personnel. "You'll never know the feeling till you save someone's life," he says, getting teary-eyed at the recollection of his duty.
And there's Dolly DeLisa, a 27-year-old blonde who teaches student pilots to fly, a role reminiscent of Kelly McGinnis's in "Top Gun."
The program is narrated with enthusiasm by William Shatner of "Star Trek" fame. He's also a pilot in private life. (During filming at the Air Force Academy he was greeted by cadets as "Capt. Kirk, Sir.")
The project was already under way, headed for syndication, when CBS showed an interest. "The only thing they asked was that we include footage from some Hollywood films," said Fleisher. The chosen: "Strategic Air Command," starring real-life air hero James Stewart, "30 Seconds Over Tokyo," a treatment of the Doolittle raid, and "The Right Stuff."
It was almost an effort to get the air heroes to talk about their exploits, said Fleisher. "The real heroes," she said, "were more modest than the Hollywood stars who played them."