Trivia Testers : The Pause That Refreshes

Question: When was the first mid-air refueling accomplished?

  • Howard Hughes, millionaire industrialist and playboy pilot, had a specially equipped Lockheed Super-Electra with a refueling hose of his own design, which in 1936 enabled him to complete an around-the-world flight in three days, 19 hours, and 17 minutes.
  • In 1931, Wiley Post and Harold Gatty flew their Lockheed Vega 5B, Winnie Mae, over the Atlantic ocean to break the around-the-world record and used a specially constructed hose for the first experimental aerial refueling off the Labrador coast.
  • Charles Lindbergh’s NYP Ryan Monoplane carried 425 gallons of fuel but also had, in addition to a periscope, a telescoping pipe for aerial refueling. This was in May of 1927.
  • Stuntman and speed racer Frank Hawks and fellow daredevil pilot Earl Daugherty teamed up with wing-walker Wesley May on November 12, 1921 to complete the first aerial refueling using a five gallon can strapped to May’s back as he climbed from one plane to another in midair. This inspired the US Army to develop its own air-to-air refueling program, which was later to become a critical component of military air power.

Answer: It was D, the earliest (and compared to the others, most unknown) of them. Though their other accomplishments are well known, any parts involving midair refueling were total fabrication, and none of the others made any pioneering efforts in this area.

Subject: Air Bowling in the Faulklands

Question: True or False: The Audubon Society reported that Royal Air Force pilots stationed on the Falkland Islands search out a beach where the penguins are gathered and fly slowly along it at the water’s edge. Perhaps ten thousand penguins turn their heads in unison watching the planes go by, and when the pilots turn around and fly back, the birds turn their heads in the opposite direction, like spectators at a slow-motion tennis match. Then, the pilots fly out to sea and directly to the penguin colony and overfly it. Heads go up, up, up, and ten thousand penguins fall over gently onto their backs.

Answer: False. The attribution is urban legend. This phenomenon was first reported by Royal Air Force pilots who flew over the Falklands during the 1982 war with Argentina. Although it’s easy to anthropomorphize penguins, they actually hate the sound made by airplanes and are known to scatter whenever one approaches. Late in 2000, British Antarctic Survey researcher Dr. Richard Stone spent one month aboard HMS Endurance studying the ‘falling penguin’ phenomenon. The Associated Press reported Dr. Stone’s findings: When an aircraft flies overhead, they do not topple over like dominoes, as some Royal Air Force pilots have reported. ‘Not one king penguin fell over when the helicopters came over Antarctic Bay,’ said Dr. Stone. ‘As the aircraft approached, the birds went quiet and stopped calling to each other, and adolescent birds that were not associated with nests began walking away from the noise.’

Subject: That Final Sunset

Question: How did the expression ‘going West’ come to signify the death of an airman?

  • Airmail pilot Jack ‘Skinny’ Knight flew all night through snowstorms between Chicago and Salt Lake City in a desperate attempt to secure a public relations coup in time to prevent the Air Mail Service from being cut off by the incoming Harding administration in March of 1921. Before departing, he told the airport manager to telegraph every town along the way that he was ‘heading west’.
  • Airmail pilot Leonard Brooke Hyde-Pearson left a letter to his fellow pilots to be opened only after his death (not an unexpected event in that line of work) in which he said ‘I go West, but with a cheerful heart… stick to it, boys. I’m still very much with you all. See you all again.’
  • Horace Greeley, ca. 1859.
  • Will Rogers, in 1935, in a remark shortly before departing on his final flight with Wiley Post.

Answer: B. The pilots who flew the early airmail routes had a seriousness and a sense of commitment in an era of trial-and-error technology which set them completely apart from the itinerant barnstormers, and their character and philosophy reflected the period in which they lived — and died. The high regard held by pilots flying for the early Air Mail Service was poignantly revealed in the early 1920s by the contents of a letter addressed to the Service by one of its pilots, Capt. Leonard Brooke Hyde-Pearson. His mother released this letter to the Post Office Department shortly after being notified that her son had crashed and died in a Pennsylvania forest, during a blinding snowstorm. It read as follows: ‘To My Beloved Brother Pilots and Pals: I go west, but with cheerful heart. I hope whatever small sacrifice I have made may be of some use to the cause. When we fly we are fools, they say. When we are dead, we weren’t half-bad fellows. But everyone in this wonderful aviation service is doing the world far more good than the public can appreciate. We risk our necks; we give our lives; we perfect a service for the benefit of the world at large. They, mind you, are the ones who call us fools. But stick to it, boys. I’m still very much with you all. See you all again.’ The circumstances before and during Jack Knight’s flight (choice A) were real, and in fact it had a happy outcome. But it was actually between Omaha and Chicago, and his telegraph request was actually for lights and bonfires to help guide him through the foul weather.