Cone of Silence is a 1960 British drama film directed by Charles Frend and starring Michael Craig, Peter Cushing and Bernard Lee. The film is about the investigation into a series of crashes involving the fictional "Atlas Aviation Phoenix" jetliner. Cone of Silence is loosely based on the 1952 crash in Rome and investigations into the structural integrity of the de Havilland Comet.The film was based on David Beatys novel, Cone of Silence (1959), later renamed Trouble in the Sky, the title of the film, as released in the United States.
A seasoned pilot is condemned for an error which causes a crash. The pilot later dies in a crash with similar circumstances and an examiner looks for scientific reasons for the crashes.
Captain George Gort (Bernard Lee) is a pilot for British Empire Airways, flying their route London - Rome - Cairo - Ranjibad - Calcutta - Singapore. He has been found to be at fault after crashing his Phoenix 1 jetliner on takeoff from Ranjibad airport, killing his co-pilot. He is accused of rotating too early, increasing drag to such an extent that the aircraft cannot achieve flying speed.
Gort is reprimanded but is allowed to return to flying the Phoenix after a check Flight under Captain Hugh Dallas (Michael Craig). Meanwhile, Gorts daughter Charlotte (Elizabeth Seal) refuses to believe he is at fault. Gorts flying skills are again called into question when an approach to Calcutta is apparently made dangerously low, causing the aircraft to hit a hedge just before the runway threshold. It is later discovered that there was no hedge at the threshold of the Calcutta runway, and that the piece of hedge wrapped round the undercarriage leg had actually come from Ranjibad, where the aircraft had been taken off by Captain Clive Judd (Peter Cushing) - this shows that Gort is not the only pilot to have problems taking off.
Gort is later involved in a second crash, this time killing all on board. The crash is remarkably similar to the first - both involve a fully loaded aircraft on a hot night, taking off under Captain Gort from the same runway at Ranjibad airport. Dallas eventually discovers that the aircrafts designer had deliberately withheld information on potential take-off difficulties in hot conditions. A third crash is avoided by seconds when a crew about to take off are contacted by Air Traffic Control, and told to add eight knots to all unstick speed and keep the nosewheel on the ground until just before unstick speed is reached.
As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified):
The film was based on David Beatys novel, Cone of Silence (1959), also known as Trouble in the Sky. Beaty was an ex-military and commercial pilot with BOAC who became an expert on human error in aviation incidents and accidents. After beginning a writing career with his first novels revolving around aviation themes, Beaty went back to college to get his degree in psychology and became a civil servant in 1967. He wrote his first non-fiction work, The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents in 1969, followed by other works, before he returned to the subject of his first non-fiction book in The Naked Pilot: The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents (1991). The film Cone of Silence represented his concern that human factors were being ignored in the aviation industry.
Budgetary restraints led to the production using miniatures to depict airfields and aircraft, although principal photography took place at Filton Airport in North Bristol with the cooperation of the Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd. (BSEL). The majority of the film was shot on the sound stages at Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, United Kingdom.Captain John C. Crewdson of Film Aviation Services was the technical coordinator for the production.
The "Phoenix" is represented by the Avro Ashton WB493, then in use as a testbed from 1955 by the engine manufacturer Bristol Siddeley (now part of Rolls-Royce plc). The aircraft, named the "Olympus-Ashton," included two Olympus turbojet podded underwing engines in addition to the four Nenes mounted in the standard wing root location. The aircraft was painted in Atlas Aviation livery for its starring role as the "Phoenix" airliner, the only full-scale aircraft seen in the film.
After its premiere in London, reviews of the Cone of Silence were generally positive. Gerard Schurmanns film score was notable "...film music which divorces it from the routine and the prosaic ... the scores are infused with a dynamism, an energy, which is not only compelling but impelling, the music always a cogent force on the soundtrack, driving all before it." The authoritative Flight magazine concentrated on the aviation elements, stating, "Coming at a time when jet runway lengths, ground stall effects and unstick manual speeds are again under close review, this is a timely and exciting film; no pilot could see it without mentally following through every action of each take-off and landing sequence."
Other reviews noted, "Somewhat talky with a lot of technical jargon thrown into the screenplay (based on actual events), ... a fairly straightforward drama aided by a top notch cast of familiar Brit character actors."T.V. Guide, however, was not impressed. "This average drama has simplistic characterizations and poorly written dialogue."