"The Last Flight" is the 18th episode of The Twilight Zone.
"Witness Flight Lieutenant William Terrance Decker, Royal Flying Corps, returning from a patrol somewhere over France. The year is 1917. The problem is that the Lieutenant is hopelessly lost. Lieutenant Decker will soon discover that a man can be lost not only in terms of maps and miles, but also in time - and time in this case can be measured in eternities."
Flight Lieutenant Terry Decker, of the British Royal Flying Corps, lands his World War I-era Nieuport biplane on an American airbase in France after flying through a strange cloud. He is immediately taken into custody and questioned by the American base commander General Harper and his provost marshal, Major Wilson. The two men ask Decker if he was trying to make a film or was part of an air show. Decker identifies himself and his squadron and informs the American officers that the day is March 5, 1917. He is then informed that the day is not actually March 5, 1917, but March 5, 1959, and Decker realizes that he traveled 42 years into the future.
Decker tells the officers that he and his comrade Alexander Mackaye were fighting seven German aircraft and that Mackaye died. He refuses to believe that Mackaye is alive and has become an Air Vice Marshal in the Royal Air Force, as the American officers inform him. Mackaye had been a hero during World War II, saving thousands of lives from German bombing. The Americans also ask Decker if he knew that Mackaye was actually coming to inspect the base that day. Major Wilson tries to help Decker remember what happened.
Decker does eventually recall, confessing that throughout his service, he had acted as a coward, only pretending to do his duty and managing to go off on his own during patrols. Only now that he and Mackaye were confronted by a large number of German aircraft, Decker had chosen to escape rather than support Mackaye. He refuses to believe that Mackaye somehow escaped with his life.
An off-hand suggestion made by Wilson (that perhaps someone else helped him) makes Decker realize that he has been given a second chance. He tells the American officer that there was no one within 50 miles who could have come to help Mackaye, so if Mackaye survived, it had to be because he went back himself. Decker pleads with Wilson to release him from custody, but when he is refused, he escapes after assaulting Wilson and a guard. Decker manages to locate and start his plane, but is approached by a mechanic whilst climbing aboard but manages to punch him to the ground. Decker is about to take off when Wilson catches up and puts a gun to his head.
Decker begs to be allowed to go, as saving Mackaye would also mean saving thousands of lives that Mackaye had saved during World War II. Decker also tells Wilson to shoot if he wants to, but this was an opportunity for him to redeem himself from his previous cowardice. Wilson thus allows him to escape, and Decker flies his plane into the white clouds.
Major Wilson is rebuked for letting Decker go, but when Air Vice Marshal Mackaye arrives, they immediately discuss what must have happened. Mackaye says that Decker had saved his life by helping him fight the German planes that day. Although initially he feared Decker had deserted him, Mackaye says Decker returned from out of nowhere to shoot down three German planes, before he was shot down himself. General Harper now shows Mackaye the badge and personal effects of Decker which had been confiscated, upon which Mackaye informed them that these had never been returned by the Germans. When Mackaye demands to know what is going on, Major Wilson suggests that he sit down, calling him "Old Leadbottom" which was Decker's nickname for his old friend. "What did you call me?" Mackaye asks incredulously (no one outside his squadron knew that nickname), as we see the clouds outside the General's window.
"Dialog from a play, Hamlet to Horatio: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Dialog from a play written long before men took to the sky: There are more things in heaven and earth and in the sky than perhaps can be dreamt of. And somewhere in between heaven, the sky, and the earth, lies The Twilight Zone."
Preview for Next Week's Story
- Rod Serling as Narrator (voice only); uncredited
- Kenneth Haigh as Lieutenant William Terrance Decker
- Alexander Scourby as Major General George Harper
- Simon Scott as Major Wilson
- Robert Warwick as A.V.M. Alexander 'Leadbottom' Mackaye, R.A.F.
- Harry Raybould as Corporal
- Jerry Catron as Guard
- Paul Baxley as Driver; uncredited
- Jack Perkins as Ground Crewman; uncredited
- Rod Serling (executive producer: Cayuga Productions)
- Buck Houghton (producer)
- George T. Clemens (director of photography)
- Joseph Gluck (film editor)
- Millie Gusse (casting; credited: Mildred Gusse)
- George W. Davis (art director)
- William Ferrari (art director)
- Rudy Butler (set decorator)
- Henry Grace (set decorator)
- Ralph W. Nelson (production manager)
- Edward O. Denault (assistant director; credited: Edward Denault)
- Franklin Milton (sound; credited: Frank Milton)
- Jean G. Valentino (sound; credited: Jean Valentino)
- Van Allen James (sound effects editor; uncredited)
- Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (1960) (USA) (TV) (original airing)
- Department of Defense, The (grateful acknowledgment)
- Department of the Air Force (grateful acknowledgment)
- United Productions of America (UPA) (animated title)
- This was the first episode of The Twilight Zone scripted by Richard Matheson. Rod Serling had previously adapted the episode "And When the Sky Was Opened" from a short story of Matheson's.
- This episode is similar to the Torchwood episode "Out of Time" and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Yesterday's Enterprise."
- Writer Richard Matheson explained that the title of this episode and its short story referred to both the protagonist's physical journey as well as his departure from cowardice.
- Filmed at Norton AFB, San Bernardino, CA--playing the role of Lafayette Air Base, Reims, France. There was a Reims Air Base in France in 1959 (the year this episode was set), now known as Aerodrome de Reims-Champagne.
- This episode takes place in Reims, France on March 5, 1959.
- The vintage 1918 Nieuport biplane was both owned and flown by Frank Gifford Tallman and had previously appeared in many World War I motion pictures.
- The USAF Major General repeatedly refers to Mackaye as "sir," and suggests that he is a superior officer, inspecting the air base. However, Mackaye is ranked as an Air Vice Marshal, which is an RAF rank equivalent to Major General, thereby making the two officers equals. Unless, perhaps, the American general was chronologically junior in rank or had a lower billet.
- The Royal Flying Corps never flew the Nieuport 28, which also did not enter service until 1918. The death of Georges Guynemer is mentioned by Decker, however, Guynemer died in September 1917, six months after Decker's last flight. Finally, Decker's squadron, No. 56 Squadron, was not deployed until April 1917, at which point they flew the SE5 aircraft.
- The rank of flight lieutenant existed in the Royal Naval Air Service and later in the RAF. It was never used in the Royal Flying Corps. However, the only reference to "Flight Lieutenant" is during Mr. Serling's introduction; during the episode itself, Decker refers to himself as "Second Lieutenant," which is the correct rank for the RFC.