SENTINELS IN THE AIR (1956)
Running Time: 15 mins. Rating: xx Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Howard Winner
Cast: Robert Preston (narrator)
Howard Hughes Propaganda served raw.
One of a series of self-serving propaganda films made by RKO during the period it was owned by Howard Hughes. This was made circa 1955 (there is one 1956 Dodge seen on a dealers lot, all other cars are 1955’s or earlier). It is a peon to the Air National Guard and emphasizes its importance in defending America – from what? The implication on the minds of audiences at the time was of course that Soviet bombers would penetrate US airspace and attack places like Marietta, Georgia, even though it was a 24-hour ride from the closest point in Russia.
At the time Hughes was making a fire control system known as the MA-1. This consisted of a radar and computer interface to direct intercepting aircraft equipped with Hughes’ Falcon air-to-air missiles. It was in Hughes’ interest to present not only the idea that a Soviet threat was a universally accepted idea, but that it would be met by ordinary citizen soldiers, one’s friends and neighbors. In this case, the Air National Guard. So this is a tale of the ordinary citizens of Marietta and Cobb County, Georgia, responding to a drill as if Georgia was under attack. The fact that there was no real Soviet threat to Marietta, Georgia could be emphasized by the fact that the Air National Guard, flying out of Dobbins Air Base, were equipped principally, it seems, with F84 E’s or G’s, which were obsolete and never intended to be fighter/interceptors. They were used in the Korean War as fighter/bombers and replaced in the Air Force’s fighter inventory by the swept wing F-84F. Of course it was the Hughes idea was that even inappropriate aircraft like the F-84 could be used in an interceptor role by the adaptation of the Hughes Fire Control system. Eventually it worked out for everyone as the Air National Guard had a neat rationalization to stay in business and Hughes would get the business of keeping them in business.
Early on the F-86 K, distinctive for having a black “parrots beak” above the front air intake, is seen. This was the post-war all-weather version of the fighter, so called because it had its own airborne radar. At the end the earlier, non-radar version, is seen flying in beautifully intricate formations, sometimes forming an outline eerily predictive of the silhouette of the B-2 stealth bomber.
If there is any irony it’s that Martin Aircraft moved to Marietta from Baltimore, Maryland and became Martin Marietta and eventually a component of Lockheed Martin.
A little sidelight – the marquee on the Strand Theatre in the courthouse square has Jean Peters, Howard Hughes main squeeze at the time, billed above the film title 3 COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN, a summer 1954 release, even though she was billed third in the cast.
Another sidelight was the later use of another woefully obsolete and re-purposed aircraft, the Convair F-102, which was flown by the Texas National Guard, again to defend Texas against the ever-present threat of Soviet Bombers taking the 24 hour ride in the ‘60s. One such defender, at least for a while, was the so-called Champaign Squadron a member of which, for a while, was our own very dear fearless leader, George Bush. It was the F-106 which got the MA-1 Fire Control System.
The best thing about this little propaganda film was to see a cross section of 1955 cars, au natural for once.
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