Many aviation milestones happened in 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left footprints on the moon, the Boeing 747 flew for the first time and the U.S. Navy announced that the F-14 would join its fleet. This 1969 video shows a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life at the United Air Lines training center in Denver, Colorado.

“The Man Up Front” follows the experience of a fictitious United Air Lines trainee in the pipeline to qualify for early jet airliners such as the Boeing 720, 727 and 737. Notably, the film was produced prior to the company undergoing the rebranding that removed the space between “Air” and “Lines” in their name.

In 1969, all United pilots funneled through the company’s Denver training facility to acquire and continuously improve the skills necessary to do the previously-impossible.

A Boeing 727, registration number N7629U, delivered to United Air Lines in 1968


Denver’s Stapleton International Airport in 1966, looking west

United’s Flight Training Center in Denver seemed to have everything “the man up front” could ever need during his seven weeks of training, including then-state of the art “audio visual training aids” as well as simulators and an on-site airfield. Situated at Denver’s Stapleton International Airport (which closed in 1995 due to the opening of Denver International Airport), United’s facility provided pilots access to airliners for practice flights, an integral part of any training program.


Simulators at United’s Flight Training Center in Denver, Colorado

Early Learjets based at United’s Flight Training Center in Denver, 1969

At 21:12, we catch a very brief glimpse of a Learjet 23 (the first business jet that Learjet ever produced) wearing United markings on the tail, alongside a Learjet 24B. Both were used for United’s own aircrew training, in addition to training corporate Learjet pilots. With the addition of these special aircraft to their Denver facility, United became the earliest airline to offer a corporate jet training program.


When viewed from a modern perspective, the film is fraught with some eyeroll-inducing gender issues. Attitudes towards women in the cockpit are prevalent in pronoun use as well as portrayal of only-female flight attendants (identified as stewardesses in the clip) and only-male pilots and instructors. The people in the film seem to be pretty much all-white too. In other words, probably not something United would do today, but hey, that’s the 1960s for you.

United’s Flight Training Center in Denver has provided training for pilots since the mid-1950’s


United’s Flight Training Center in Denver continues to serve a vital role in the airline’s global operations today. With 12,000 pilots worldwide, there is a constant requirement to provide ongoing professional development for United’s winged workforce. The airline currently houses all Airbus and some Boeing training programs at the Denver facility, and more Boeing programs will be added there soon.

After merging with Continental in 2010, the new United sought ways to cut costs and found an opportunity in consolidating its two flight training centers in Houston and Denver into one. In June 2015, the company announced they would close the Houston facility in favor of expanding the Denver facility, a move that is expected to add roughly 225 jobs to the Stapleton complex. The Flight Training Center in Denver is set to be completely renovated, with work expected to be completed by 2017.

“The Man Up Front” may be nothing more than a snapshot into a bygone era, but preparing aviators to meet the challenges of their jobs is a tradition poised to continue well into the future.


Photo credit: Top shot signage screencap via embedded YouTube, United 727 taxiing - Piergiuliano Chesi/Wikicommons, Stapleton aerial - Magnus Manske/Wikicommons, Simulators screencap via embedded YouTube, United Learjets screencap via embedded YouTube, United Flight Training Center exterior - Google Street View

Follow the author on Twitter: @collinkrum