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Trivia Testers

Lightning bolts, the worst airship tragedy in history and the first female airline pilot...

THE SIZE OF THOR'S QUIVER
How wide is a lightning bolt?

  1. two inches
  2. one foot
  3. two feet
  4. six feet

Answer: A. While the average lightning bolt is about two or three miles long, it is usually only somewhere between the thickness of a finger and about two inches in width. Although lightning can take other forms with much larger horizontal dimensions, lightning bolts are basically pretty skinny (but deadly, just the same).

DIRIGIBLE DISASTERS
True or false: The Hindenburg disaster was the worst airship tragedy in history.

Answer: False. On October 5, 1930, while the British airship R101 was en route to India, it encountered a heavy rainstorm and crashed into a hill at Allone near Beauvais, France. At the time it was the world's largest airship, 777 feet in length. It was destroyed by fire, and at least 46 passengers lost their lives. Its sister ship the R100 was scrapped after the destruction of the R101, and the British government abandoned construction of all dirigibles.

On April 3, 1933, the USS Akron cast off from the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst NJ for a routine training flight. The ship was overtaken by a severe cold front. The Akron turned eastward to ride out the storm at sea and just after midnight, the Akron was caught in turbulent downdrafts. With the altimeter reading eight hundred feet, the ship lurched suddenly. The crew assumed it was a gust, but it was actually the lower fin hitting the water; no one realized the severity of the low pressure system through which the Akron was flying. The Akron had literally flown into the sea. The Akron carried no life jackets and only one raft. Most of the men never got out of the foundering ship, and of those who did, only three survived the chilly North Atlantic waters. Seventy-three men perished. (The tragedy was compounded the next day when another blimp crashed while looking for survivors, losing two of its crewmembers.)

Over four years later, on May 3rd, 1937, the Hindenburg departed Frankfurt Germany for Lakehurst, on the first of many planned flights to the US. Aboard ship were 36 pampered passengers and a crew of 61. Delayed by persistent head winds, it didn't reach Lakehurst until late afternoon on the sixth. At 7:25 PM, hundreds of people were there to watch it land, and a radio announcer was describing how beautiful it looked against the night sky. Suddenly a tongue of flame appeared and the ship was consumed in a huge ball of fire, crashing into the ground only half a minute later. Thirty-six people died: 13 passengers, 22 crewmen, and one civilian member of the ground crew. Whether it was sabotage to discredit the Nazi regime, or the highly flammable hydrogen was ignited by a spark, or possibly an electrostatic discharge from the substance used to "dope" the cotton skin, it was a terrible tragedy. Nonetheless, that of the R101 was greater, and the USS Akron was, by pure numbers, twice as unfortunate.

"YES, CAPTAIN MA'AM!"
Who was the first female airline pilot, and in what year was she first employed?

  1. Turi Wideroe, 1961
  2. Jackie Cochran, 1953
  3. Helen Richey, 1934
  4. Ethyl Mertz, 1951

Answer: C. Yes, that far back. Central Airlines hired her, and she flew her first trip in 1934 (though just barely, on December 31). Her route was Washington, DC to Detroit, in a Ford Tri-Motor. However, she was the unwilling recipient of the most overt and blatant discrimination, was not actually given permanent status as a regularly scheduled pilot, and quit less than a year later. Jackie Cochran (B) was the first woman to break the sound barrier. Although there are reports of a female Aeroflot pilot in the 1950's, Turi Wideroe (A) was reportedly the first female pilot to fly an airliner on a regular schedule (i.e., not on some provisional or probationary status). She flew for Scandinavian Airlines. Ethyl Mertz (D) was a regular in the popular 1950's sitcom "I Love Lucy". (Actually, there was another early female airline pilot, Prem Mathur, who joined the Indian airline Deccan Airways in Hyderabad India, also in 1951. She flew DC-3s on regularly scheduled flights.)

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