Director George Roy Hill had been a pilot in World War II and the Korean War before going into show business. If you were tardy on his set, as Paul Newman learned during production of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hill would “take you up in his airplane. Scare the bejesus out of [you].”
Plane crashes are pivotal events in several of his movies, including Slaughterhouse-Five and The World According to Garp. So it’s no wonder that Waldo Pepper was a passion project for Hill. The story of a pilot (Robert Redford) who missed out on combat in World War I and becomes a barnstormer in the 1920s, Waldo Pepper is full of hair-raising stunts, near-crashes, and biplane disasters resulting in numerous injuries and deaths.
Fittingly, Waldo finally gets to engage in something like combat when he becomes a Hollywood stunt pilot and re-enacts a famous dogfight with an actual German ace. But the re-enactment proves so realistic that both planes are rendered incapable of landing safely. This is not really a spoiler, since Redford seldom survives until the end credits roll in his movies: indeed, Redford would die in a biplane crash again a decade later in Out of Africa.