Original Air Date: February 24, 1961
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Justus Addiss
“You’re riding on a jet airliner on route from London to New York. You’re at 35,000 feet atop an overcast and roughly fifty-five minutes from Idlewild Airport. But what you’ve seen occur inside the cockpit of this plane is no reflection on the aircraft or the crew. It’s a safe, well-engineered, perfectly designed machine. And the men you’ve just met are a trained, cool, highly efficient team. The problem is simply that the plane is going too fast, and there is nothing within the realm of knowledge or at least logic to explain it. Unbeknownst to passenger and crew, this airplane is heading into an uncharted region well off the beaten track of commercial travelers—it’s moving into The Twilight Zone. What you’re about to see we call “The Odyssey of Flight 33.”
During a routine commercial flight from London to New York City, Global Airlines Flight 33 is approaching its destination of Idlewild (now Kennedy) airport. Suddenly, several people on board, including Captain Farver (played by John Anderson who previously played the Angel Gabriel in “A Passage for Trumpet”), notice a drastic change in speed though it is not reflected on any of the controls in the cockpit. They witness a flash of light and severe turbulence. As they descend the crew spots Manhattan out of the clouds -but there are no buildings or people. Instead the 1st Officer sees a dinosaur feeding on tree leaves. Flight 33 has somehow traveled back in time.
Captain Farver decides their best bet to return to their own time is to ascend again. When they come out of the cloud again they are unable to connect with Idlewild Airport they instead connect with nearby LaGuardia Airport but there is confusion. The radio attendant has never heard of jets or radar. As the Captain peers out the window below he sees the New York World’s Fair which occurred in 1939. Flight 33 has traveled forward in time but not far enough. Now dangerously low on fuel, Captain Farver informs the passengers of the situation as Flight 33 ascends one more time. “All I ask of you is that you remain calm …and pray”.
“A Global jet airliner, en route from London to New York on an uneventful afternoon in the year 1961, but now reported overdue and missing, and by now, searched for on land, sea, and air by anguished human beings, fearful of what they’ll find. But you and I know where she is. You and I know what’s happened. So if some moment, any moment, you hear the sound of jet engines flying atop the overcast—engines that sound searching and lost—engines that sound desperate—shoot up a flare or do something. That would be Global 33 trying to get home—from The Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- Rod Serling originally developed the idea for this episode when he learned that American Airlines had a mockup of a 707 interior, previously used for flight attendant training. The studio said they would make the set available to TV or film production companies.
- Rod Serling’s brother, aviation writer Robert J. Serling, helped Serling with the cockpit dialogue for the show by discussing the show’s premise with a Trans World Airlines captain; after the show aired, several pilots later wrote to say that they thought the cockpit dialogue was among the most authentic ever in a television show (albeit the situation described was impossible).
- The Brontosaurus model and miniature jungle set from the 1960 film Dinosaurus! were used for the stop motion animation in this episode. The special effects were created by the genius of Wah Chang who also famously worked on Star Trek and Outer Limits.
- Producer Buck Houghton said the scene where the plane flies past the dinosaur was by far the most expensive scene ever shot during The Twilight Zone series ($2,500).
- Error: LaGuardia Airport, although it had opened in October 1939 (and thus was open during the second half of the 1939–40 World’s Fair held in New York), was not officially named after Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia until 1947.
- Lead actor John Anderson was once recognized on a golf course by a pilot. The man said the episode really spoke to him. Sometimes while flying for hours at a time he said his minds played tricks on him and he thought back to The Twilight Zone episode about traveling back in time.
Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.
Click here to read my reflections on Rod Serling’s short story “The Odyssey of Flight 33.”
With all the sci-fi stories from Doctor Who: Time Flight to Manifest that have somehow been about time-traveling airplanes, it’s nice to look back on the most basically dramatized story in this regard that only The Twilight Zone could tell so well.
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