Thursday, February 18, 2021

Steve Canyon: Operation Zero Launch & Project Heartbeat

Aerospace technology moved so fast in the late 1950s and 1960s, sometimes even Lt. Col. Steve Canyon had trouble keeping up. Early in the Cold War, Zero-length launch experiments were a high priority, but the concept was rendered largely obsolete by the advance of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Nevertheless, Canyon will happily risk his life test-flying a plane literally strapped to a booster rocket in “Operation Zero Launch,” which airs with “Project Heartbeat” as the two episodes of Steve Canyon airing this Saturday morning on Decades.

Once again, Canyon has been dispatched by top brass to be the bearer of bad news. Instead of calling off “Operation Zero Launch,” a project to launch planes directly into the air without prior runway taxiing, he has come to speed it up (or, yes, cancel it outright). Brad Bradshaw, the civilian contractor (and ex-USAF officer) in charge of the development had decent results from the last dummy he hurled into the air, but a manned test will be a big leap. Of course, he is willing to take the risk himself. His sister Rita is not too thrilled about her brother going back into harm’s way. Yet, there is still romantic tension brewing between her and Canyon. Regardless, Canyon will inevitably end up in the cockpit when it really matters.

“Zero Launch” is one of the better early episodes, because the chemistry between star Dean Fredrickson and guest-star Marion Ross (who would eventually become the
Happy Days mom) goes a long way humanizing square-jawed Steve Canyon. There is also plenty of cool aviation stuff, involving booster rockets and ejector seats.

“Project Heartbeat” is less successful from both a dramatic and plane-geek standpoint. For his latest mission, Canyon will be flying around the world hooked up to a heart monitor, so the Air Force medical department can analyze the physical effects of long-distance flight. As we would expect, Canyon maintains a heart-rate lower than Brad Pitt’s in
Ad Astra, but Major “Pitch” Hammer? Not so much.

There is only one aviation scene in “Heartbeat” that is not particularly complex. Instead, it offers more of a brooding
Playhouse 90-ish story of a man coming to terms with his limits and making peace with himself. Most fans would rather watch Canyon shoot down Russians. Still, “Heartbeat” features notable guest star Russell Johnson (the Professor on Gilligan’s Island), who mopes and frets professionally as Mar. Hammer. Veteran character actor John Doucette is also burly and gruff, in a way that inspires confidence as Col. Dorrance, the project’s commanding medical officer.

Throughout both episodes,
Steve Canyon remains appealingly old fashioned. “Operation Zero Launch” is a particularly entertaining installment, because Ross brought out some pleasantly surprising charm from broad-shouldered Fredrickson (who happened to be a WWII Purple Heart recipient). Still recommended for fans of the newspaper strip and vintage aviation enthusiasts, both episodes of Steve Canyon air this Saturday morning (2/20) on Decades.