Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Ferry Pilot (1941)

Courtesy of Imperial War Museum

Main image of Ferry Pilot (1941)
35mm, 31 minutes, black & white
DirectorPat Jackson
Production CompanyColonial Film Unit
 Crown Film Unit
Camera OperatorH.E. Fowle
MusicBrian Easdale

An account of the Air Transport Auxiliary which provides personnel to fly newly completed aircraft from factory to service airfield.

Show full synopsis

In late 1940, the GPO Film Unit relocated to the larger Denham studios. Renamed the Crown Film Unit, it simultaneously started production on two short airborne documentaries, Ferry Pilot and Bomber Command, which was eventually extended to feature length as Target for Tonight (d. Harry Watt, 1941). Ferry Pilot also grew, from five to 20 minutes, helping to establish a narrative and production model for the Unit's reconstructed narrative documentaries.

The informative narration and newsreel montage in Ferry Pilot's opening sequence gives an overview of the Air Transport Auxiliary, and a possible insight as to how the shorter film might have looked, before it diverts to follow the daily challenge facing two auxiliary airmen. A foreign national - in this case an American pilot, 'Alabama' - provides an international perspective on the war, as he reflects on England's hills and villages in an unusual internal monologue. It's a good advert for Britain, reflecting an awareness of transatlantic diplomacy long before the US joined the allied forces.

Particularly impressive is a dog fight sequence which cleverly weaves in archive GPO footage. Jackson recognises the need to excite his audience, and the suspense he builds drives the story. As propaganda, it fosters a healthy wariness of the ever-present Nazi danger, while leaving the audience optimistic and motivated.

Tom Woodcock

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (25:11)
Production stills
Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)
Easdale, Brian (1909-1995)
Jackson, Pat (1916-2011)
Krish, John (1923- )
Crown Film Unit