IL CAPO DI TUTTI I PILOTI DI CACCIA
The highest-scoring, most deadly, boss-of-all-bosses, and root’n-toot’n-est Top Gun fighter pilot ace of all time was
- Roland Garros
- Erich Hartmann
- Manfred von Richthofen
- Richard Bong
Answer: B. I know: never heard of the guy, right? The first of these choices, the French WWI pilot Roland Garros, was actually the very first fighter pilot to be called an “ace”. He was the first man to shoot down an enemy using a gun which fired through the arc of the propeller. (When he was shot down, the Germans captured his aircraft and discovered the secret of the plane that spat bullets through its propeller.) Garros escaped in 1918, only to be shot down later that year. At the time, France, Belgium, Italy, Russia, and the US used the term “ace” to mean five or more kills (although it is likely that Garros had only three). The German term ‘kanone’ signified a similar honor, but their minimum was 10.
The Red Baron was credited with 80 kills, and he was the highest scoring ace of WWI. Richard Bong was the highest-scoring US ace of WWII (or any other war, for that matter) with 40 kills. (Coincidentally, 40 was also the number credited to both the Red Baron’s daring younger brother Lothar von Richthofen, as well as the more infamous elder brother’s teacher, Oswald Boelcke.) However regarding lethality, the Germans seem to have had a corner on it in WWII. The German ace Werner Molders was the first to reach 100 kills (101, before he himself died in a crash). Many German pilots later reached 100, 15 reached 200 or more, and 2 scored 300 or more. Of these two, only one pilot in history reached the lofty total of 352: Erich Hartmann. (The other was Gerhard Barkhorn, with 301.) Hartmann, a German Luftwaffe Bf 109 pilot, reportedly shot down most of his opponents over the Russian Front, as well as other locations, such as Rumania. In about two and a half years beginning in October of 1942, he flew 1,425 combat missions and was shot down sixteen times, but he was never once wounded. When the war was over, Hartmann turned himself in to the Allies. They, in turn, turned him over to the Soviets, who tried him as a war criminal, and he spent over 10 years in the Gulag. Afterwards, he returned to West Germany. He died in 1995. He was devilishly handsome, and devilishly deadly.
Greece, in the fourth century B.C.: The philosopher Aristotle developed it in about 335 BC in order to describe the concentric spheres in which the apparent motion of planets was said to occur.
OF LINES GOING THIS WAY AND THAT
Where and when did the present day system of latitude and longitude originate?
- Greece; Alexandria to be exact, and sometime in the second century, between 127 and 148 A.D. The astronomer, mathematician and geographer Claudius Ptolemy (Ptolemaeus) originated the use of lines of latitude and longitude to better identify the location of other places on the face of the Earth. His projections were of course incomplete, being that the known world at that time was hardly truly global in extent (and increasingly innacurate outside the Roman empire). Rather than a complete sphere, they were more in the form of a frustum, or truncated cone, extending not much further north (about 63 degrees) than the vicinity of Thule, and not very far in easterly and westerly directions.
- from the Polish astronomer Nicholas (Nicolaus) Copernicus, ca. 1513 A.D.
- The Portuguese map-maker Pedro Reinel was the first to draw lines of latitude, intersecting the prime meridian, back in 1506. (Lines of longitude had to await sufficiently accurate clocks!) At that time, and for the next approximately 300 years, that meridian was located in the vicinity of Madeira. The Portugese prime meridian remained until the nineteenth century, when greater numbers of nautical charts were of English origin. In 1884, a European conference “moved” the prime meridian to its present location in Greenwich, England.
Answer: B. Ptolemy published his Geography, consisting of several volumes, which became the standard textbook on the subject until the 15th century. (Copernicus first wrote on his heliocentric theory in 1513.) Such lines were more conceptual than practical, of course, so a case could be partially made for choice D!
A “glory” is the common name for what visual phenomenon?
- a rare triple rainbow, seen only in very moist tropical air.
- the rare halo seen at one edge of the sun’s disc during the start of a total solar eclipse, if there is enough moisture.
- a circular rainbow surrounding an airplane’s shadow often seen by pilots on an undercast
- crepuscular rays (shafts of light shining through breaks in clouds) formed by suspended atmospheric particles, when seen at daybreak (as opposed to other times of day)
Answer: C. Originally known by those ascending certain peaks in the Harz Mountains of Germany as the “Specter of the Brocken”, it was first considered to be quite mysterious. A climber would ascend above the tops of clouds into the sunlight, turn around, and see a giant on the clouds below with multi-colored rings around his head. The giant was just the climber’s shadow, and the rings were nothing more than circular rainbows, formed from the scattering and refraction of light inside small droplets of water, as is any rainbow, centered at the climbers “antisolar” point (which is of course where his shadow was). Today of course, pilots are the climbers, and their airplane’s shadows are the giants (though if the airplane is high enough above the clouds, only the “glory” is seen). In theory, the glory’s rings are radially polarized, contrary to a regular rainbow. In this picture, the viewer was obviously sitting towards the front of the airliner. The same phenomenon can also occur when looking down on dewy grass towards one’s antisolar point, when the sun is low on the horizon, and there is not enough atmospheric moisture to form a proper rainbow. This is called heiligenschein, and it is a bright spot of light around the shadow of the observer’s head. The dew droplets on the grass act as lenses, focusing sunlight on the grass leaves, strongly illuminating them, and working again as a lens for the backscattered light. And on a much vaster scale, a similar thing happens in astronomy when the glow of the sun is seen in an opposite direction. The German word for this one is gegenschein (“counter-glow”).