And the Oscar Goes to… the Airplane!

Some of the airplanes that loom largest in our collective memory have flown only in the movies

(Courtesy Warner Communications / Your Trailers)

Rutland Reindeer in No Highway in the Sky (1951)

(Hulton Archive)

Boeing and Douglas would have been understandably reluctant to provide an airplane for No Highway. The plot revolved around an aeronautical engineer, played by Jimmy Stewart (pictured), who insisted in the face of universal skepticism that a new state-of-the-art airliner would suffer from metal fatigue and break apart in flight. For the movie’s so-called Rutland Reindeer, the producers procured a non-flying Handley Page Halifax, a four-engine bomber that had seen action in World War II and had then flown 116 sorties during the Berlin Airlift. To camouflage its origins, designers covered the Halifax with wood, fabric, and metal so it appeared to have a pointy nose, a bubble canopy, stubby wings, and, most notably, a weirdly scalloped biplane tail. The airplane wasn’t airworthy—it was so tail-heavy that the rear end had to be supported by scaffolding—so scale models and stop-action photography were used for the flying scenes. Despite the fantastic appearance of the Rutland Reindeer, the movie, based on a novel by former aeronautical engineer Nevil Shute, is best remembered for eerily foreshadowing the inflight breakups of the de Havilland Comet airliners in the 1950s. Fittingly, after the film was completed, the Halifax was scrapped.


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