Starflight One (1982) (part 1 of 11)

With an All-Star Cast!
Starflight One (1982) (part 1 of 11) Cody Briggs (Lee Majors). Every airplane disaster movie needs an Ace Pilot, and Cody’s the guy. He hits all the clichés (from being a war hero to cheating on his wife) and even has a cap that’s supposed to be his “lucky hat”. He pilots the maiden voyage of Starflight One, the first ever hypersonic passenger jet. Unfortunately, due to no fault of Cody’s (I’m sure), the plane ends up in space. Whoops!
Starflight One (1982) (part 1 of 11) Josh Gilliam (Hal Linden). The designer of Starflight One. He doesn’t think Starflight is ready to take off, but he doesn’t do anything about it like, say, stop the flight. When the plane ends up in orbit, he’s quickly rescued by the Space Shuttle [!!] and brought back to earth. Because when a plane is in trouble, you want its designer to be as far away from the actual plane as possible.
Starflight One (1982) (part 1 of 11) Erica Hansen (Lauren Hutton). Works aboard Starflight One in an unexplained capacity. Having an affair with Cody the Pilot. Also has a daughter who hates her, for reasons that are not completely unjustified.
Starflight One (1982) (part 1 of 11) QT (Ray Milland). The millionaire businessman that financed Starflight One. Determined to have the plane take off on time despite all objections. Fortunately, there aren’t too many objections.

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Multi-Part Article: Starflight One (1982)

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  • ll-w

    I wish they had told us who played “Benny Collins”. He seemed to have quite a bit of exposure to not have a name. We saw more of him than we did shuttle captain “Boomer”.

  • OL JR :)

    Nice review… this movie was definitely low “B” grade material. The stock footage of the rocket launch from Australia was a Saturn V moon rocket, not a “Delta” (even though they referred to it as such in the movie. Not sure why they didn’t do about five minutes more searching in the stock footage library, to find footage of a REAL Delta rocket launch– not like one of those had never been filmed! A Delta would have been much more believable than a Saturn V in the role of a “satellite launcher”, since that was what it was designed for anyway). Oh well, most films ended up using Saturn V stock footage for “generic rocket #112 shot” in whatever script was being filmed in that era…
    Shuttles launching on a two hour turnaround… wow talk about fantasy! At the time, there was much ado about the space shuttle and everybody believed the fantasies NASA sold to the government and the public about what it would be able to do (once it was up and running, which when this film came out, it was still in the midst of the first four “test flights” before it was declared “operational” and the real let-down began as reality set in, and NASA’s hype over the shuttle’s capabilities ran aground and sank on the rocks of reality…) At the time, NASA and the Air Force were still snugly in bed together in the shuttle program, and the Air Force was still having wet dreams of blue-suiters in shuttles launching from Vandenberg into polar orbits to sneak up on and steal Soviet reconnaissance satellites to inspect their technology or “blind” them by covering the lenses with black spray paint (you can’t make stuff up this good!) and other goofy plans that shouldn’t have held muster in the light of day (but somehow did, and got billions of dollars of funding!) and which probably would have led to World War III had they ever actually been carried out. At the time, SLC-6 was being built at Vandenberg in California, and the Air Force was flying “secret experiments” on board the shuttles launching out of Florida, which would culminate in a series of military shuttle flights from Florida, before the first planned all-military/only military shuttle flight out of Vandenberg, which incidentally was to be the very next flight after the Challenger disaster in early 1986. The movies of the time were running high on the “promise of the shuttle” as seen probably most famously in the Bond flick “Moonraker”. Interestingly enough, after about $6 billion dollars and nearly a decade of construction, SLC-6 at Vandenberg was scrapped without having ever launched a single shuttle, and later was converted to launch Delta IV’s lobbing spysats into polar orbit. (Vandenberg’s shuttle pad figured heavily in “Moonraker” as well, along with its military-shuttle motif, despite the fact that Vandenberg can only launch satellites into polar orbit, not west-to-east equatorial orbits like KSC in Florida and presumably Drax’s rocket base in the Amazon rain forest…) Challenger caused the final split between the Air Force and NASA, and the end of all the dreams of blue-suiters in orbit on military shuttles, and proved the folly of launching time-sensitive military spy-sats on a cumbersome, expensive, risky, and limited capability MANNED vehicle instead of a cheaper, more flexible and reliable unmanned expendable rocket.
    Starflight One is preposterous in the idea that a supersonic airliner could achieve orbit. As SpaceShipOne would prove decades later, just because you rocket up above 60 miles high DOES NOT mean you’re “in orbit”… SS1 used every ounce of fuel it has to get up to that altitude, at basically ZERO velocity, and then falls back like a stone… to achieve orbit you have to be going 17,500 mph when you get up to that altitude (actually higher to get above more of the atmosphere). If Starflight One could have achieved that, NASA would have been lining up at their door and junking the shuttles, because they would have invented the Single-Stage-To-Orbit (SSTO) that NASA has been drooling over for decades, and which Reagan proposed for a shuttle replacement even as far back as the early 1980’s (Remember his “Orient Express to Space” speech, announcing the “National Aero-Space Plane” (NASP) program within NASA, which was basically a “Starflight One” like hypersonic rocket plane flying from a runway into orbit and back again without the solid rocket boosters and huge external tank of the shuttle?) Anyway, Starflight One might have shot up to 450,000 feet with its rockets, but it wouldn’t have had anywhere near the Mach 25 speed necessary to achieve orbit, not after using most of its fuel to achieve a relatively paltry Mach 4. What WOULD have happened is that SF1 would have coasted upward until it lost velocity after its rockets burned out, and then dropped back into the atmosphere like a stone, just like SpaceShipOne.
    The ending is equally preposterous. The shuttle (and any other spacecraft) gets blazingly hot during reentry because of all the kinetic energy it carries… IOW, it burned several million pounds of fuel getting accelerated from 0 to 17,500 mph (or more) and 100 miles or so high into orbit, and stays in orbit coasting at that speed, until it burns its rocket engines backwards a bit to lose enough speed to drop back into the atmosphere (actually lower the orbit until it intersects the atmosphere at some point a little later, sometimes only dropping a couple hundred miles an hour via “reentry retro-rocket burn”). When it hits the atmosphere, the air drag slows it down, which generates heat via the laws of thermodynamics that say that “energy can neither be created nor destroyed, just changed forms”. Basically all that kinetic energy built up from burning the fuel to put the vehicle in orbit is transformed into waste heat as the vehicle is decelerated by the atmosphere. There’s no escaping the fact that EVERY vehicle travelling at orbital speed has this extremely high kinetic energy that has to be gotten rid of somehow… A shuttle coming back into the atmosphere WOULD have a “bow shock” surrounding it that would create a “shadow” behind it, BUT, in creating that bow shock and heating up during reentry, the shuttle would be losing energy and SLOWING DOWN, but Starflight One (or any other spacecraft) attempt to “ride in it’s shadow” and thus be protected from heating would NOT be slowing down, since it’s not turning its kinetic energy into heat, and thus would slam into the rapidly decelerating shuttle in front of and below it like a distracted driver coming up on a traffic jam, and wipe out BOTH vehicles. Hence, their “solution” to getting StarFlight One back violates the laws of physics and thermodynamics.
    Anyway, as a “fun” movie with some cool special effects and all-star cast (if you can get past that gap in Lauren Hutton’s teeth big enough to fly a space shuttle through– seriously, did they not have cosmetic dentristry in the early 80’s??) it’s a fun diversion movie… but the physics of it simply don’t hold up– though it’s not as egregiously stupid in its portrayal of spaceflight as “The Astronaut Farmer”.