Test Pilot

September 1, 2008


  1. From reader Jeff Pardo: When the decal of an American flag is placed on the starboard side of an airplane (usually on the vertical stabilizer), why is it displayed backward? (In other words, the field of stars is on the right instead of the left.)
  2. From reader Douglas Dobbin: What airplane had three decks, a dance floor, a dining salon, a smoking room, and tunnels that allowed mechanics to work on the engines in flight?
  3. Who made popular the expression, “I feel the need for speed”?
  4. During World War II, three American B-29 Superfortresses were unable to return to their home bases because of battle damage. They landed instead on separate occasions at Vladivostok on the east coast of Russia. The Russians were not officially at war with Japan and kept the aircraft and allowed their crews to “escape.” How were these bombers utilized by the Russians?
  5. Reader Barry Hart asks us to participate in a spelling bee. How do you spell the name of (a) the rotating thing on the nose of the airplane; (b) the small building in which an airplane is stored; (c) the Swiss gentleman who unwittingly explained the principle of lift; and (d) rain that evaporates before reaching the ground?
  6. From reader Charles Baumann: Of what significance to aviation is the date, December 32, 1980?
  7. Mercury 7 was the group of seven astronauts selected by NASA on April 9, 1959, for the Mercury flights. How many of them can you name?
  8. Who or what was the Mercury 13?


  1. Which one of the following materials can withstand the highest temperatures (such as are found in turbine-engine combustion chambers)?
    1. ceramic composite
    2. nickel alloy
    3. polymer composite
    4. titanium alloy
  2. The cesium or rubidium atomic clocks used aboard Navstar/GPS satellites are guaranteed not to lose more than 1 second every
    1. 300 years.
    2. 3,000 years.
    3. 30,000 years.
    4. 300,000 years.
  3. From reader Stephen Rosenbaum: The first U.S. airline flight took place on January 1, 1914, when a Benoist XIV open-cockpit biplane carried a passenger on the 20-minute flight between Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida. How much was the one-way fare?
    1. $1
    2. $5
    3. $15
    4. $25


  1. Howard Hughes was the pilot of the Lockheed Constellation that inaugurated TWA’s daily nonstop service between Los Angeles and New York City on February 14, 1946.
  2. A servo tab moves opposite to its associated control surface and reduces the control force required to move that primary control surface.
  3. From reader John Tiller: A pilot is about to land at a small, isolated airport lacking a wind indicator. He can use the cows grazing in a nearby field to determine wind direction because it is known that cows usually face into the wind.


  1. National policy states that the canton or flag field (the stars) must always “fly forward” as it would if blowing in the wind. The flags on the right sides of some light airplanes are displayed incorrectly (canton aft instead of forward).
  2. The German Dornier Do X was a 12-engine (six pusher and six tractor) flying boat that first flew in 1929. It was the largest airplane of its time and demonstrated the potential for international passenger airline service.
  3. Tom Cruise when playing Maverick in the box-office hit, Top Gun.
  4. Joseph Stalin ordered the Tupolev Design Bureau to reverse-engineer (copy) the B-29s. This resulted in the Tupolev TU-4 (NATO code, Bull), which was the spitting image of the B-29. Some of the 1,200 Bulls built were supplied to China, which used them until the late 1960s.
  5. Propeller, hangar, Bernoulli, and virga.
  6. When Bill Lear was developing the LearFan 2100, the British government promised funding only if the maiden flight was made before the end of 1980. The first flight occurred on New Year’s Day 1981, a day late. Recognizing LearAvia’s great effort, British officials declared that the flight took place on December 32, 1980.
  7. Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, Walter Shirra, Alan Shepherd, and Donald Slayton.
  8. NASA trained 13 women astronauts in secrecy at the same time as the Mercury 7. This was in response to rumors that the USSR was preparing to send a woman into space.
  9. (a) Ceramic can withstand up to 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
  10. (d) I still plan to keep my Mickey Mouse watch.
  11. (b) The fare was increased for the single passenger if he weighed more than 200 pounds.
  12. True. The flight carried 35 movie stars, studio executives, and reporters.
  13. True. An anti-servo tab moves in the same direction as the primary control surface thus increasing the control force required to move that control surface. It is used to compensate for control forces that would otherwise be too light.
  14. False. As a rule, cows do not face into the wind. Horses, however, more often than not, face away from the wind.