The 1980 movie is a parody of all things aviation-related, from the silly banter between Ted Striker (Robert Hays) and Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen)—“I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley”—to the suspiciously similar plot and dialogue of the 1957 movie Zero Hour! and spoof of the disaster film series Airport, it is considered one of the funniest comedies of all time. But while Airplane! pokes fun at stereotypes and the rules and regulations of flying, truth—as it is so often—can be strange. Why do you think pilots on commercial airliners eat different meals? Airplane! wouldn’t have a plot if they didn’t.
Here in no particular order or even relevancy are some surprising aviation tidbits that are not a joke. Happy April Fools’ Day.
- The world’s heaviest aircraft is the Antonov An–225, which has a maximum takeoff weight of more than 1.4 million pounds. The lightest jet is the Bede BD-5 microjet, which weighs 360 pounds empty.
- The black box is orange.
- The Boeing 737 is the most sold commercial aircraft at 10,580 deliveries (as of July 2020) and the Cessna 172 the most sold general aviation aircraft (44,000 since 1955).
- French aviator Jean-Marie Le Bris achieved flight in 1856 with a glider pulled by a horse.
- Windspeed Technologies is currently developing the technology to allow passengers to sit in a plastic bubble outside the main fuselage on the top of an airliner—it’s called SkyDeck.
- Between 1978 and 1980, Michel Lotito—who had an eating disorder called pica—consumed an entire Cessna 150, from upholstery to engine, propeller, and even the tires.
- The wings of Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose are wider than a football field (320 feet) wing tip to wing tip and the airplane is eight stories tall (80 feet). The largest aircraft of its time was designed with eight 3,000-horsepower engines.
- Flight 19 consisted of five Grumman-designed TBM Avengers. With 14 crewmembers it vanished in 1945 over the so-called Bermuda Triangle on a flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Martin PBM Mariner flying boat sent to search for the Avengers also disappeared.
- The last lightning strike of a commercial airliner that resulted in a crash in the United States was in 1967. Commercial aircraft now have static discharge wicks installed as part of FAA safety measures.
- Asteroid 2021 UA1 came close to Earth on October 25, 2021 (within 1,800 miles). It was the size of a refrigerator.
- The first aviation insurance policy written by Lloyd’s of London was in 1911, but in 1921 the British Aviation Insurance Association wrote: “…there seems to be no immediate future in aviation insurance and there is no business to be had.” However, Charles Lindbergh was insured by Lloyd’s for $18,000 for his nonstop flight to Paris in 1927. By the way, a Lloyd’s Householder’s Comprehensive insurance policy in 1914 covered “damage cause by aeroplanes, airships, riots, strikes—and suffragists.”
- If convicted for aiming a laser at an aircraft, you could face up to five years in prison.
- A flight that is empty or almost empty is called a ghost flight. Airlines continue to fly planned routes even though there are few or no passengers on board.
- During December 1958 and January and February 1959, Bob Timm and John Cook flew a modified Cessna 172 over the desert Southwest for 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes. Their world endurance record in a propeller-driven airplane still stands.
- The Dornier Do X was the largest, heaviest, and most powerful flying boat in the world when it was produced by the Dornier company of Germany in 1929. It carried up to 100 passengers and was nearly 34 feet tall. The Flugschiff, first conceived by Claude Dornier in 1924, offered luxurious passenger accommodations similar to transatlantic ocean liners.
- 95 percent of the world’s population has never been on an airplane flight, and one in three U.S. residents report being afraid or anxious of flying. The condition is called aerophobia or aviophobia. Here’s looking at you Sandra Bullock.
What surprising aviation stories did we miss? Send your stories to [email protected] (subject line: Not a joke).