"Toward the Unknown," released on October 20, 1956, and FINALLY available on DVD, is, in my opinion as a lifelong airplane buff and recently retired aerospace engineer, simply one of the very best aviation films ever made, bar none.
A thrilling showcase of Cold-War-era jet and rocket aircraft and harrowing flight test operations, filmed on location at California's Edwards Air Force Base, it stars William Holden as Air Force Major Lincoln Bond and Lloyd Nolan as General William Banner. In the screenplay by Beirne Lay, Jr., Bond is an ex-fighter pilot who carries the stigma of having broken under the pressure of communist brainwashing while he was a POW after being shot down over Korea. The steps that he forces himself to take in order to prove to General Banner that he is fit enough to fly the supersonic rocket planes then being tested at Edwards is an interesting and absorbing tale, if a bit drawn-out dramatically.
But the aircraft are the real stars of the show, and "Toward the Unknown" has them in abundance, with outstanding aerial photography of planes you will not see anywhere else in filmdom. For example, this is the only place to see actual footage of the Martin XB-51 bomber in flight (disguised with fake markings as the "Gilbert XF-120"). You'll see North American F-100 "Super Sabres," Lockheed F-94 "Starfires" and many other classic, historic jets that were really flying at the time. One of the most significant aircraft featured at length in "Toward the Unknown" is the Bell X-2 rocket plane. Carried aloft by a Boeing B-50 "Superfortress," the X-2 investigated flight at speeds and altitudes far beyond those of the X-1, in which Captain Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager first exceeded the speed of sound on October 14, 1947. There's no CGI here--these airplanes are the real thing, and they are absolutely thrilling to watch!
For about 25 years or so, I've had a videotape of "Toward the Unknown" that I recorded in Denver from broadcast television in Beta format (remember that?) and then transferred to a VHS tape after Beta disappeared. You can imagine the picture and sound quality. A few years ago, I bought a DVD of the show from an "independent" source. It's okay, but not spectacular. Now, finally, with this official Warner release, I can donate all my previous versions to the library, where, hopefully, they will inspire a new generation of aviation enthusiasts.