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The real Black Sheep were not, in fact, “a collection of misfits and screwballs.” The TV show’s portrayal of them as rowdy and on the verge of being courtmartialed offended many of the VMF-214 squadron veterans. The Black Sheep Squadron formed around qualified Corsair pilots who happened to be scattered throughout the Pacific; it had nothing to do with their behavior.
The true stars were the planes. The show gathered up eight Corsairs consisting of four FG-1D, two F4U-7, one F4U-1A, and one F4U-4. Of these eight, five were combat veterans. Two later became Oshkosh grand champions.
One of the Corsairs, the Vought F4U-1A Corsair Bu.No. 17799, is possibly one of the most well known of the “Baa Baa Black Sheep” series’ Corsairs. But like many others, this Corsair had some gaps in its history. Some of this mystery was uncovered by none other than a children’s author. Historian Cory O’Bryan believed that this plane had flown with the VF-17 Jolly Rogers in 1943, but it wasn’t until Michelle Spry looked through a logbook while researching for her book that she found a Bu.No. 17799 reference. It was indeed a true veteran and had flown with the VMF-411 Blackjacks.
Blue Max, another of the show’s Corsairs, was destined for a tragic fate. While performing low-level acrobatics at an airshow near San Diego, California on May 10th, 1987, pilot Marshall Moss and his passenger were killed when the Corsair crashed.
The show gathered up a slew of skilled pilots to perform all the action. One pilot, Steve Rosenberg, made quite the impression. Not knowing that there were power lines on the runway at Indian Dunes in California, Steve drug the wires along with him in a dramatic landing. He and the plane miraculously escaped any damage. The best part is that the cameras had been rolling and the footage was used in “Divine Wind,” a later episode.
If you search for Baa Baa Black Sheep online, you will probably stumble onto cartoons and nursery rhymes. Oops! This is why NBC’s network executives changed the name of the show to “Black Sheep Squadron” for the second season. But the show was lucky to even get a second season- it was cancelled after season one. Amazingly, NBC had a problem with its lineup and the show got another thirteen episodes!
“Black Sheep Squadron” competed against the popular show “Charlie’s Angels” for views. NBC’s answer to that was the introduction of “Pappy’s lambs,” the attractive nurses who would share the screen with the black sheep and add sex appeal. The tactic didn’t work, and a second season was all the show would get.
Though the story takes place in the tropical Pacific, most of the aerial shots unmistakably lack anything that resembles tropical. Much of the filming kept it close to home in Southern California. The island seen in the closing credits is Santa Cruz Island, just off the coast of California.
There were no Zeroes available at the time of filming. Instead, the show used modified American AT- Texans to fill in for the enemy role. These exact planes were also used in “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
Pappy Boyington served as a consultant for “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” He appears twice: as General Harrison Kenlay and as the officer who pins a medal on Boyington in newsreel footage. He also became very good friends with Robert Conrad, the actor who played him.
Check out the interview below with Pappy Boyington and Robert Conrad in a promotion for “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”