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USAF Major Lincoln Bond is captured, tortured and released from a POW camp in Korea. After the war he returns to the US where he is re-assigned as a test pilot at the Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base. The Air Force is testing the new experimental aircraft Gilbert XF-120 fighter. The acceptance of the new aircraft by the Air Force is dependent on successful tests designed to prove the aircraft's reliability and safety. However, when Major Bond flies the prototype he encounters a problem that points out a dangerous structural flaw. This could threaten the aircraft's acceptance by the Air Force and derail the whole project. Major Bond's commanding officer and some of his colleagues start to suspect that Major Bond is imagining things because of his mental condition dating back to his imprisonment and torture in the Korean POW camp.Written by
In long-distance shots, the parachute streaming out of the rear of General Banner's (Lloyd Nolan) F-94 is shown barely open in the rush of the air stream. Yet, in the closeups of the parachute, it is just fluttering as if in a relatively mind breeze. See more »
I think this is one of the best films on the gritty business of flight testing--back in the days before a bad airplane could be tested inside a computer program.
In several respects, it is a film of its time, with a young L.Q. Jones as a bumbling staff officer, a "love interest" and a sub-plot showing the protagonist, played by Bill Holden, as an agonized alumni of a Korean POW camp. In one of several galling items, he has made an attempt on his own life before the action began, but he is accepted as a test pilot anyway--which is absolutely bogus. Aircraft manufacturers are portrayed badly--which, in the main, the relevant history doesn't support. Disregard of orders is treated with unrealistic indulgence by a commander.
Read Scott Crossfield's autobiography for some corrects on this.
On the other hand, some of the action is simply great. A mythical bomber develops a metal fatigue problem in the air, which another pilot cannot duplicate. Several weeks later, the plane's wing once again fails and this time it costs a third pilot his life. (My personal take on this--there's a big difference between "fixing" the blame and fixing the problem.)
At this point and at several others, the film is a worthy complement to the Edwards AFB scenes of "The Right Stuff". The photography is simply stunning.
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