In the silent-film era flick “The Flying Fleet”, aspiring naval aviators Tommy and Steve are comrades. They are part of a tight group of six cadets at the US Naval Academy.
The night before graduation Tommy is stuck with duty as “officer of the day” while his friends are out celebrating. When they return to the barracks inebriated, Tommy risks his own career by knocking Steve out so his noisy talk doesn’t get the attention of the commanding officer.
One midshipman colleague Tommy can’t save. His friend “Dizzy” is dismissed from the service when his drunken state is discovered.
As the five remaining men enter the Naval service, some see their hopes of becoming pilots end in training. One actually loses his life when his plane crashes.
Two of the other four, “Ensign Specs” and Ensign “Kewpie”, wash out of flight training. The former becomes a navigator while the latter accepts a post as radio officer on the aircraft carrier Langley.
This leaves Tommy and Steve to pursue their dreams of becoming naval aviators. As they do, the relationship between the two men becomes complicated.
Even thought they are clearly still friends, Tommy and Steve become professional rivals.In a harbinger of what is to come 50 years later in the film “Top Gun”, the pals compete for the honor of being the fleet’s best pilot.
Tommy is probably the more talented airman, but Steve is a confident leader. Indeed, he is probably too cocky.
At first Tommy appears to get the upper hand. He is chosen by the admiral to pilot a large plane from San Diego to Hawaii, a distance of 2,500 miles. The assignment is quite an honor for a Navy pilot of that era.
Even so, Steve is still the leader of their squadron so they are somewhat “even” in their competition. Their friendship, while competitive, appears to remain intact.
But in the repeat of an age-old story, Tommy and Steve have a falling out due to their affections for the same young woman. In a scene containing youthful hijinks, Steve hides Tommy’s uniform pants as the three are preparing to leave a beach together.
Tommy has to take the time to frantically search his locker area for his pants. Steve has thrown them in a trash bin, so he never finds them.
This leaves Steve alone with the girl, a young lady named Anita. The two leave the beach by car without Tommy.
In the meantime, Tommy has to return to base in his boxer shorts. He is spotted by the admiral and is directed to the commander’s office to be called on the carpet. By this time Steve is present to see this takedown, but Tommy doesn’t turn Steve in to their boss.
Tommy does rebukes Steve, however, telling him that there are some things that put a strain on a friendship. This incident also causes doubt about Tommy in the admiral’s mind.
Then the two pilots have a dogfight in the skies. A common training technique, Tommy wins the competition by forcing his friend to the ground. He then buzzes Steve from the air after his friend lands in a bit of a victory ‘dance’.
Had Tommy left his celebration at that, all would have been well. However, he returns a second time and flies so close to Steve that the squadron leader is forced to fall on the tarmac.
This overkill does not set well with Anita. Furthermore, their commander does not like it either. He relieves Tommy of the duty of flying the big plane to Hawaii. Steve is assigned in his place.
Soon thereafter Steve flies the big ship towards Hawaii as the fleet follows. However, he and his crew run into a storm and are forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean.
The men are stranded on an unsubmerged wing of the plane for days. Among the airmen floating on the Pacific is Steve and Tommy’s old pal “Specs”, who is badly injured.Knowing that his fellows are giving him all of the water and have to suffer in the Pacific heat, Specs slips into the ocean and sacrifices himself.
Meanwhile, the fleet searches for their lost comrades. Tommy leads the hunt for the men. When the admiral is ordered to end the seemingly hopeless search, Tommy asks for one more attempt to save his friends and the rest of the crew. Admiring Tommy’s commitment, the otherwise curmudgeonly commander bends the rules and gives his permission.
Tommy finds the downed men but he himself becomes a prisoner of the waves. He is forced to ditch his own plane in the ocean because he runs out of fuel. Tommy swims to the other men consigned to the big plane’s wing.
However, before he hit the water Tommy was able to signal the fleet with a flare. As a result the survivors are found and taken to a hospital ship.
Anita comes to see Steve and especially Tommy, who is her preferred beau. The movie ends with the two as revealed as friends again and the announcement that Tommy would receive a medal for his heroism.
I realized after watching the failures of Tommy and Steve in “The Flying Fleet” that I need to cut some of my own friends some slack. Sometimes I have been tested in my relationships, and failed mightily.
What I haven’t seemed to absorb is that on this side of heaven, none of us is perfect (except me of course. We all tend to overlook our own faults!) We all lose our tempers, act selfishly, and pursue our own interests over those of our friends.
This should not be a surprise to me or anyone else. The only perfect human that walked the Earth was Jesus. It also needs to be said that He was the Incarnate Christ, God become flesh.
J. Vernon McGee spoke of the nothingness of what he called “little man”. Loosely quoting and then commenting on a Bible passage, McGee said, “Beloved, it does not appear what we shall be but we know when He (Jesus) shall appear we shall be like Him. Now don’t you be discouraged with me. God is not finished with me yet. He’s not through with me. And I won’t be discouraged with you because God is not through with you.”
In fact, I now see that the conflicts I have had with friends were tests from God, some that I did not pass. I never thought of these fights as coming from the Lord but McGee’s teaching has shown me they may very well have been.
McGee notes that God tests us to show us how proud we are and to humble us. He said that he sometimes does this in the area of friendship.
The true test of friendship is that we love our friends to the end. “Specs” did that in “The Flying Fleet.” Jesus did that, too. He like “Specs” died to save us.
At the heart of Tommy and Steve’s reconciliation and that offered by Jesus is the concept of forgiveness. God has forgiven us, so why not forgive our brothers and sisters.
Jesus dies so he could offer that forgiveness, but He did not stay in the grave. He rose from the dead and wants to have a friendship with His people based on love.
Like Tommy did in “The Flying Fleet”, Jesus is coming back to finish His work of salvation. He one day will appear in the air and take us to be with Him.
In the interim, we should love our friends down here.
James Dobson says that this is what is really important in our journey on this globe.
“When you come to the end of your life what will matter most? Have you thought about that? The buildings that have your name on them? The books that you wrote? Will it be the money that you made? Will it be great accomplishments professionally? Will it be a business that you built? What is going to matter? When you look back and think “THAT’S on the top of the list, what’s it going to be?
Those things I mentioned don’t matter to me at all. They’re not significant. What matters to me is who I loved and who loved me and what we did together in the service of the Lord. Nothing else makes much sense.”
If we do develop this kind of mindset, we should pass the test of friendship.