There are good aviation movies, and great aviation movies, but very few bad ones. The opening scene in the movie “Dark Blue World” is one of the best I have ever seen, consisting simply of a young aviator showing a female friend how to fly an airplane. It is simple and sweetly suggestive. The rest of the film is pretty spectacular as well, on my personal top 10 aviation list, and that opening scene, to quote Johnny Tillotson far out of context, is poetry in motion.
There are some films which sound great on paper but just don’t work on the screen. Woody Allen’s film adaptation of the book “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex…” is an example of a film that is hilarious when you describe it, but when you see it in the theater it is almost intolerable, at least to me.
The worst aviation movie I have ever seen has a great premise. It is called “Sierra Oscar Lima,” and the film’s dialog is a verbatim enactment of the last few minutes of several doomed flights, based on recovered cockpit voice recordings. (It is actually a film of a play.) Given how much I love to study accidents, and just about anything aviation-related, I went out of my way to find and rent this film. I was so excited about it that I thought I could show it as a fundraiser for a charity. While I am a firm believer that truth is far stranger than fiction, and a whole lot more compelling, in this case the film was a sheer soporific. Think Benadryl overdose. The philosopher Hannah Arendt demonstrated the banality of evil, but it’s difficult for me to imagine the last few minutes of a doomed flight as even approaching banal. But perhaps it is so.
Here’s the trivia point. As a lover of most everything aviation, I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t get the title. Sure, I know the phonetic alphabet, and I knew that “S.O.L” was an abbreviation; I just didn’t know for what. When I discovered that it stood for “shit outta luck” it all made sense. That’s what happens right before the final lights go out.
I occasionally hang out with a bunch of pilots, a fairly friendly lot, if a bit on the conceited side. If I am in a forgiving mood, and not too conceited myself, I forgive them their conceit because it takes a bit of hubris to fly airplanes. The thing is, as much as I have hung out with pilots, I have never heard any of them say “Sierra Oscar Lima,” as in, “the poor fella’s tail fell off and was sierra oscar lima.” I have heard a lot of metaphors for, well, you know, biting the dust, going west, buying the farm, etc., but have never heard anyone say sierra oscar lima. (I understand the military have a similar phonetic abbreviation for dying– “tango uniform.” I couldn’t guess this one either, a fact of which I am proud. It reportedly stands for “tits up,” which is I guess what happens when you’re finally laid to rest.)
I probably never heard “sierra oscar lima” because these days people are generally less worried about scatological language than in the past. If you want to say someone’s shit out of luck, you would probably just say the person was shit out of luck. No need to speak Yiddish so the kids won’t understand; these days they know more than you do.
There may, however, be other uses for sierra oscar lima worth exploring. Let’s see now. Your drug-addicted, underage son asks to borrow the car. No, that’s too hackneyed. Applying for a bank loan because you really need the money? The loan officer cracks a slight grin and whispers, sierra oscar lima. Oh, and how could I have forgotten this one? Yes, you turn to your partner in bed…
I suppose there are hundreds, if not thousands, of solid uses for sierra oscar lima. I’m just not sure the cute abbreviation is necessary these days when polite company itself is a rarity. I don’t think I would know where to find polite company if I tried. If I did try, I guess I would be… you know, sierra oscar lima.