November 19, 2012
It’s one of those days—probably a Monday—where everything goes wrong. The alarm clock doesn’t go off. You oversleep. You have to crash land into enemy territory. It’s a good thing you remembered your U.S. Air Force Pocket Survival Handbook.
The handbook (republished this month) outlines the mission: As soon as you eject, bailout, or crash, your new assignment is to “return to friendly control without giving aid or comfort to the enemy, to return early and in good physical and mental condition.”
Let’s get down to the business of survival: Got a sucking chest wound? See page 60. You might need a stitch or two, although sometimes an airtight dressing will suffice. Perhaps you bailed out over a snow- or icebound area; page 92 explains how to make a suitable pair of shoes from moose hocks. (Skip ahead to chapter 14 for tips on how to kill animals both large and small. “Be sure the animal is dead, not just wounded [or] unconscious…. Poke all ‘dead’ animals in the eye with a long sharp stick before approaching them.”)
Now that you’ve survived that simple task, you can set to work building a para-snowhouse out of ice, your parachute, and urine (page 119).
The handbook explains how to build a variety of shelters, how to find and cook edible plants, and how to hunt, dress, and cook animals—everything from “fish tickling” to dressing a rabbit by flinging it between your legs.
We say this is $12.95 well spent.
October 5, 2012
The odds of you being killed in an airplane crash, dear reader, are a million to one. But that didn’t stop the Discovery Channel from loading a 727 with a dazzling array of sensors and crashing it into the Mexican desert, all in the name of science. The results of the experiment will be aired this Sunday, October 7, as the season premiere of “Curiosity.”
Among other things, the filmmakers wanted to determine if there was anything a passenger could do to improve his or her odds of surviving. Where should you sit? Does bracing help, or is that an old wives’ tale? Crash-test dummies (which cost $150,000 each and provide 32 different types of data) were placed throughout the aircraft. Some were set in the brace position, while others were seated upright. “Low-tech dummies” were also used, either buckled into their seats, or seated without restraints.
An experiment on this scale, notes the film, has been tried only once before. In 1984, NASA spent millions crashing a Boeing 720 into Rogers Dry Lake in the California desert. But the aircraft lost control on the final approach and burst into flames after crashing—not good for collecting data. (The experiment was part of a joint research project between NASA and the FAA to test the effectiveness of a fire-suppressing fuel additive.)
Watch a clip from the show, below:
September 14, 2012
After recovering from wounds he received as an ambulance corps volunteer during World War I, Ernest Hemingway married Hadley Richardson in 1921. The following year the couple moved to Paris, where Ernest was the foreign correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star. The newspaper ran the following piece on September 9, 1922. (Reprinted in Into the Blue: American Writing on Aviation and Spaceflight, edited by Joseph J. Corn, 2011).
Strasburg, France, Aug. 23. — We were sitting in the cheapest of all the cheap restaurants that cheapen that very cheap and noisy street, the Rue des Petits Champs in Paris.
We were Mrs. Hemingway, William E. Nash, Mr. Nash’s little brother, and myself. Mr. Nash announced, somewhere between the lobster and the fried sole, that he was going to Munich the next day and was planning to fly from Paris to Strasburg. Mrs. Hemingway pondered this until the appearance of the rognons sautés aux champignons, when she asked, “Why don’t we ever fly anywhere? Why is everybody else always flying and we always staying home?”
That being one of those questions that cannot be answered by words, I went with Mr. Nash to the office of the Franco-Rumanian Aero Company and bought two tickets, half price for journalists, for 120 francs, good for one flight from Paris to Strasburg. The trip is ten hours and a half by best express train, and takes two hours and a half by plane.
My natural gloom at the prospect of flying, having flown once, was deepened when I learned that we flew over the Vosges mountains and would have to be at the offices of the company, just off the Avenue de l’Opera, at five o’clock in the morning….
The Nashes were waiting at the office for us…. The four of us rode out to Le Bourget, the ugliest ride in Paris, in a big limousine and had some more coffee in a shed there outside the flying field. A Frenchman in an oily jumper took our tickets, tore them in two and told us we were going in two different planes. Out of the window of the shed we could see them standing, small, silver-painted, taut and shining in the early morning sun in front of the airdrome. We were the only passengers.
Our suitcase was stowed aboard under a seat beside the pilot’s place. We climbed up a couple of steps into a stuffy little cabin and the mechanic handed us some cotton for our ears and locked the door. The pilot climbed into his seat back of the enclosed cock-pit where we sat, a mechanic pulled down on the propeller and the engine began to roar. I looked around at the pilot. He was a short little man, his cap backwards on his head, wearing an oil stained sheep-skin coat and big gloves. Then the plane began to move along the ground, bumping like a motorcycle, and then slowly rose into the air.
We headed almost straight east of Paris, rising in the air as though we were sitting inside a boat that was being lifted slowly by some giant, and the ground began to flatten out beneath us. It looked cut into brown squares, yellow squares, green squares and big flat blotches of green where there was a forest. I began to understand cubist painting.
Sometimes we came down quite low and could see bicyclists on the road looking like pennies rolling along a narrow, white strip…. We went over great forests that looked as soft as velvet, passed over Bar le Duc and Nancy, gray red-roofed towns, over St. Mihiel and the front and in an open field I could see the old trenches zig-zagging through a field pocked with shell holes. I shouted to Mrs. Hemingway to look but she didn’t hear me. Her chin was sunk forward into the collar of her new fur coat that she had wanted to christen with a plane trip. She was sound asleep.
You can read more about Hemingway’s aviation adventures in “Who Was Fatty Pearson?” in our October/November issue (on newsstands and posted to this site next week).
September 6, 2012
In the new book, George Orwell: Diaries (Liveright Publishing), editor Peter Davison writes that following Germany’s invasion of Poland in September, 1939, Orwell offered his services to aid the war effort. (Orwell had fought in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and 1937, where he was wounded by a sniper. He returned to England in July 1937.) Orwell was refused a position in the Home Service Battalions due to his health, which dismayed him. “What is appalling is the unimaginativeness of a system which can find no use for a man who is below the average level of fitness but at least is not an invalid,” Orwell wrote in June 1940. “Any army needs an immense amount of clerical work, most of which is done by people who are perfectly healthy and only half-literate.” Case in point: When Orwell went to the recruiting station, his information was taken by “an old soldier with medals of the last war, who could barely write. In writing capital letters he more than once actually wrote them upside down.”
During the war, Orwell kept a detailed journal; in this excerpt he describes what air raid warnings were like for Londoners in the summer of 1940, before the worst days of the Blitz:
Last night an air raid warning about 1 a.m. It was a false alarm as regards London, but evidently there was a real raid somewhere. We got up and dressed, but did not go into the shelter. This is what everyone did, i.e. got up and then simply stood about talking, which seems very foolish. But it seems natural to get up when one hears the siren, and then in the absence of gunfire or other excitement one is ashamed to go to the shelter.
It appears that the night before last, during the air-raid alarm, many people all over London were woken by the All Clear signal, took that for the warning and went to the shelters and stayed there till morning, waiting for the All Clear. This after ten months of war and God knows how many explanations of air-raid precautions.
For the first 15 seconds [after an air-raid alarm] there is great alarm, blowing of whistles and shouts to children to go indoors, then people begin to congregate on the streets and gaze expectantly at the sky.
This morning an air-raid warning about 3 a.m. Got up, looked at the time, then felt unable to do anything and promptly went to sleep again…. The fact that at present the alarm sounds all over a wide area when the German planes are only operating in one part of it, means not only that people are unnecessarily woken up or taken away from work, but that an impression is spread that an air-raid alarm will always be false, which is obviously dangerous.
This morning, for the first time, saw an aeroplane shot down. It fell slowly out of the clouds, nose foremost, just like a snipe that has been shot high overhead. Terrific jubilation among the people watching, punctuated every now and then by the question, “Are you sure it’s a German?” So puzzling are the directions given, and so many the types of aeroplane, that no one even knows which are German planes and which are our own. My only test is that if a bomber is seen over London it must be a German, whereas a fighter is likelier to be ours.
August 20, 2012
Comedian Phyllis Diller died today, at age 95. In the 1960s, she was one of the entertainers who joined Bob Hope on his USO tours, complex operations that required a significant amount of support from various parts of the U.S. military flying services. In a feature we published about that support a few years ago, we included a story about Diller’s 1966 visit to the USS Bennington, and we’d like to share the story about that occasion, as told by the carrier’s commanding officer, Captain Richard Graffy:
[After the show,] Phyllis Diller was invited to the bridge of the ship to view nighttime aircraft catapult and recovery operations. She asked about the array of telephone handsets surrounding the captain’s chair on the bridge that connected directly to some of the more important stations on the ship. She singled out the one that connected to the captain’s plot where the surface navigation was maintained, and was manned 24/7. It was suggested that she call and ask for the correct time, which she did. She was told it was 22:45:52, to which she replied, “Dammit son, I asked for the time, not my physical measurements!,” followed by her signature cackling laugh.
In our 1992 story about B-24s manufactured at Henry Ford’s Willow Run plant, Diller cleared up some confusion about her work during World War II. An excerpt from that feature:
It has long been rumored that a young Phyllis Diller was a riveter at Willow Run. When queried about her involvement, she wrote to correct the record: “I never worked at the Willow Run Bomber plant. It was my husband Sherwood Diller who worked as an inspector of all systems, electrical, hydraulic, etc. He started out there working on the cowling. We lived in Yipsilanti from 1940-42 and then transferred to the Alameda Naval Air Station in California.”
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