Rise Like The Phoenix is a fascinating 1990s-era documentary about a mission to recover six P-51 Mustang fighter planes from a nuclear test site in the Australian desert called Emu Field. The nuclear tests were called “Operation Totem” and they chose the Emu Field site as it was over 1,000 kms from the nearest large city – Adelaide in South Australia.
This is a story that deserves to be far better known, the mission to save the aircraft seemed destined to fail from the outset – the Australian desert is one of the most brutal environments on earth, and Emu Plains had the additional issue of residual radiation from the testing of British nuclear weapons in 1953.
Six P-51 Mustangs had been flown into the test site in South Australia to determine what effect a nuclear blast would have on aircraft on the ground, and to see what various protective measures would have on limiting damage to the aircraft.
Although you’d expect all six planes to be utterly destroyed they survived the blast reasonably well – and years later a mission was launched to send a small team of aircraft engineers into the desert to get the planes back into flying condition.
This is where I’m going to stop writing, I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone, but if you have even a passing interest in military history or aircraft this film is an absolute must-watch in my view.
If you’d like to read more about Emu Field and the British nuclear weapon tests in Australia you can click here to visit the detailed Wikipedia page on Operation Totem and Emu Field.
Editor’s Note: This documentary was recorded from a television broadcast in Australia onto a VHS tape, and from there it was uploaded to YouTube. The quality is quite poor however we felt that the extraordinary nature of the story outweighed the lower quality of the video.You may need to reduce the size of your browser window (on desktop) in order to enjoy the film, if it’s too large it will appear pixelated.
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