An Aviation History Quiz

Air Line Pilot, November/December 2003, p. 26 
By Capt. Barry Schiff (TWA, Ret.)


1.  True or False? The first powered flight of an aircraft occurred in 1903.

2.  True or False? On April 3, 1844, a prestigious newspaper, the New York Sun, carried the astounding news that the Atlantic Ocean had been crossed by air in 3 days. This hoax was perpetrated by Edgar Allan Poe.

3.  Why is it said when a pilot has a fatal accident that he has “bought the farm”?

4.  Why did pilots refer to a life jacket as a Mae West?

5.  John Magee wrote the famous poem, High Flight

A. in a notebook while riding on a train.

B. on an envelope while flying a British fighter.

C. on a napkin at an airport restaurant.

D. in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

6.  The record for endurance flights (the longest time in the air without landing) was flown in

A. a Boeing 747.

B. the Rutan Voyager.

C. a helium-filled balloon.

D. a single-engine Cessna 172.

7.  The first person to fly an airplane across the Atlantic Ocean was

A. Albert C. Read.

B. Charles A. Lindbergh.

C. John W. Alcock.

D. Charles Nungesser.

8.  True or False? The first nonstop flight across the United States occurred before the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

9.  True or False? The first horseless carriage was powered by kites.

10.  The world endurance record for a model glider in free flight is

A. 1 hour 2 minutes.

B. 2 hours 47 minutes.

C. 3 hours 39 minutes.

D. 4 hours 58 minutes.

11.  Why is such a joyous-sounding word as mayday used to declare an emergency?

12.  Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean from west to east. Who was the first woman to do so in the opposite direction?

13.  Who was the first man and who was the first woman to officially “break the sound barrier” (fly faster than the speed of sound)?

14.  True or False? Most of those aboard the last flight of the German airship, Hindenburg, survived.

15.  What is a Cooper switch?

16.  In what year did a Goodyear blimp first fly over a sporting event?

A. 1925

B. 1930

C. 1935

D. 1940

17.  Lindbergh’s historic flight from New York to Paris originated at Roosevelt Field on Long Island. Today this parcel of land is

A. still an airport.

B. a housing tract.

C. an industrial complex.

D. a shopping mall.

18.  Who were the three astronauts aboard Apollo 11, the first mission to place men on the moon?

19.  True or False? America’s first lady pilot, Harriet Quimby, was killed when she fell out of her airplane.

20.  What very famous American entertainer was the first person to fly an airplane in Australia?

A. William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd

B. Oliver Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy)

C. Tom Mix

D. Erich Weiss

21.  Where did the world’s worst aviation disaster (in total lives lost) occur and what type(s) of aircraft was (were) involved?

22.  On what date is National Aviation Day observed?

23.  Some researchers contend that Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd and his pilot, Floyd Bennett, did not reach the North Pole on their famous flight of May 9, 1926. If this contention is correct, who was the first to fly over the Pole and in what aircraft?

24.  Who was first to fly a heavier-than-air aircraft?

25.  Why did all transatlantic air service terminate in May 1937?

26.  If Howard Hughes had asked his mechanic to change all the spark plugs in his Hughes-Kaiser K-1 Spruce Goose, how many plugs would the mechanic had to have changed?

27.  In 1935, the famous humorist, _______, and noted around-the-world pilot, _______, were killed while departing Pt. Barrow, Alaska, in a Lockheed seaplane.

28.  True or False? The Wright Brothers never flew together in the same airplane.

29.  How did rain make it possible for Louis Blériot to complete his historic first flight across the English Channel in 1909?

30.  Why is the pilot’s compartment of an airplane called a cockpit?

31.  What pair of famous brothers, who were machinists, built the first successful man-carrying aircraft?

32.  After witnessing a successful balloon flight in France, this well-known individual was asked, “What good is it?” The now-famous response was, “What good is a newborn baby?” Who was this person?

33.  True or False? The world’s first scheduled airline flight was operated using a hot-air balloon.

34.  An airport that is closed because of low clouds or poor visibility is said to be “socked in.” How did this expression originate?

35.  In what year did the first nonstop flight around the world occur?

36.  Because of his nerve, what pilot was inducted as a life member of the Wisconsin Liar’s Club?

37.  Who was the first woman to fly solo around the world?

38.  True or False? In June 1943, an Englishman departed Montreal in a glider—it did not have an engine—and flew it across the Atlantic Ocean to southern England.

39.  Why is it customary for the captain of an airplane to sit on the left instead of on the right?

40.  Why is seizing control of an aircraft by force referred to as hijacking?

41.  Orville Wright was the first man to solo an airplane. Who was the first woman?

42.  In 1921, she overcame the disadvantage of gender and race to become the first black woman pilot in the United States (and probably the world). What was her name?

43.  Who was the only head of state to become a pilot while holding office?

44.  “Balls to the wall” means to exert maximum effort. How did this expression originate?

45.  Who was an elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives?

A. Orville Wright

B. Glenn Curtiss

C. James “ Jimmy” H. Doolittle

D. Charles A. Lindbergh

46True or False? No American president has ever been a certificated pilot.

47. Why is the structure used to house an airplane called a hangar?

48.  How did the helicopter get its name?

49.  Nobel laureate Dr. Alexis Carrel was one of the two co-inventors of the artificial (mechanical) heart. The other was famed pilot

A. Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan.

B. James “Jimmy” H. Doolittle.

C. Howard Hughes.

D. Charles A. Lindbergh.

50For once you have tasted flight,  You will walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward;  For there you have been, And there you long to return.

This well-known and beautiful piece of prose was written by

A. Richard Bach.

B. Leonardo da Vinci.

C. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

D. Ernest K. Gann.

51.  What aviation movie won an academy award for best picture of the year?

A. The High and the Mighty

B. The Spirit of St. Louis

C. Twelve O’ Clock High

D. Wings

52.  What 1904 ground vehicle was the direct result of the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903?

53.  Westinghouse developed the chicken gun (later called a “rooster booster”) for aviation in 1943. What is it, and for what is it used?

54.  What is the largest number of people ever to fly together on one flight?

A. 984

B. 1,084

C. 1,087

D. 1,187

55True or False? Thirteen flights carrying 91 people crossed the Atlantic Ocean before Charles A. Lindbergh crossed it in Spirit of St. Louis in 1927.

56.  What is the origin of the word aviation?

57True or False? A woman, Hanna Reitsch, was first to fly a jet-powered airplane.

58True or False? Louis Blériot made the first flight across the English Channel.

59.  Who was the first active U.S. president to fly in an airplane, and what was the type of aircraft in which he flew?

60.  Why is that lifesaving device called a parachute?

61.  Orville and Wilbur Wright are among history’s most famous brothers, but how many Wright brothers were there?

A. two

B. three

C. four

D. five

62.  For what aeronautical purpose was the tower atop the Empire State Building originally intended?

63.  German airship designers obviously knew that hydrogen is flammable and that helium is not. So why was hydrogen used on the ill-fated Hindenburg and other German airships?

64.  What is the Goldfish Club?

65.  What current manufacturer of popular automobiles was the world’s first manufacturer of production turbojet engines?

66.  In what year were the greatest number of aircraft manufactured in the United States?

67.  Which of the following does not belong (aeronautically speaking)?

A. chicken

B. goat

C. duck

D. sheep



1False. The first powered flight occurred in 1852 when Henri Giffard flew a dirigible equipped with a 3-hp steam engine.

2True. Arriving in New York nearly penniless and with a sick wife, Poe concocted the story and sold it to the Sun to raise needed funds.

3.  Early pilots often made emergency landings on farms and often had to pay for damaged crops. Such a pilot was said to have “bought” part of the farm. From this, pilots who fail to survive are said to have bought the whole farm.

4.  When inflated, the vests reminded early pilots of the buxom Hollywood actress.

5B. Magee began the poem while flying a fighter (a Supermarine Spitfire) and finished it on the ground.

6D. In 1958 and 1959, Robert Timm of Las Vegas and John Cook of Los Angeles flew a Cessna 172 for 64 days 22 hours 19 minutes. Re-fueling was accomplished by handing a fuel hose to one of the pilots as they flew low and slow over a pickup truck.

7A. In 1919, Albert Read flew a 97-mph Curtiss NC-4 flying boat from Newfoundland, Canada, to Lisbon, Portugal, via the Azores.

8False. John Alcock and Arthur Brown made the first nonstop crossing of the Atlantic in 1919. Oakley Kelly and John Macready made the first nonstop flight across the United States in 1923.

9True. In 1827, George Pocock, an English schoolmaster, hitched a carriage to two large kites flown in tandem. By steering the lower kite with two cords, he navigated the carriage for considerable distances.

10D. This incredible record was set by M. Milutinovic of Yugoslavia in 1960.

11.  Mayday has nothing to do with the first day of May. It is the Anglicized spelling and pronunciation of the French m’aidez, which means help me, or the latter part of the phrase, (venez) m’aider, which means (come) help me.

12.  Pioneer bush pilot Beryl Mark-ham, whose story was told in her popular book, West with
the Night

13.  Charles “Chuck” Yeager and Jacqueline Cochran.

14True—62 of the 97 people aboard escaped from the blazing dirigible.

15.  Named after the infamous hijacker, D.B. Cooper, it was an air switch that automatically operated during flight to prevent opening the aft airstair door of a Boeing 727.

16A. The aircraft used was Goodyear’s first civilian blimp, the diminutive Pilgrim.

17D. Roosevelt Field Mall is in Garden City, N.Y.

18.  Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins. (How quickly we forget.)

19True. Neither she nor her passenger was wearing a safety belt when they were jostled from their seats by turbulence.

20D. The world-renowned magician and escape artist (also known as Harry Houdini) made the flight on March 18, 1910.

21.  This tragedy occurred in Tenerife in the Canary Islands on March 27, 1977. 582 people perished when two Boeing 747s (one taxiing and one taking off) collided on the runway.

22.  April 16 (Wilbur Wright’s birthday).

23.  The “second” flight to the North Pole followed the Byrd flight by 3 days. Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, and Umberto Nobile flew there in the Italian-built dirigible, Norge.

24.  Sir George Cayley, considered the “father of aerial navigation,” coaxed his reluctant coachman in 1853 into making a trial flight in a glider that carried him across a shallow valley and set him down in a cloud of dust.

25.  This is when Hindenburg erupted in flame at Lakehurst, N.J, which abruptly ended the use of hydrogen-filled airships. Boeing 314 flying boats enabled the resumption of service in 1939.

26Spruce Goose had eight Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major engines. Each had 28 cylinders and required 56 spark plugs. The 3,000-hp engines, therefore, required a total of 448 spark plugs.

27.  Will Rogers, Wiley Post.

28False. The Wright Brothers made it a firm rule never to fly together to ensure that one of them would be available to continue their work. On May 25, 1910, however, Orville took Wilbur for their only flight together, a tacit concession that most of their work had been completed.

29.  Blériot’s overheating, 25-hp Anzani engine probably would have failed had it not been for the cooling effect of a rain shower.

30.  A cockpit was the pit in which fighting cocks battled and came to mean any small place where many battles were waged, as in the adage, “Belgium is the cock-pit of Europe.” By analogy, World War I pilots in Europe referred to their cramped quarters as cock-pits, which came to mean any place on an airplane or boat used by the steerman.

31.  The Montgolfier brothers, Jacques and Joseph, built and launched a man-carrying balloon in 1783.

32.  Benjamin Franklin, who was the U.S. diplomatic representative to France at the time.

33False. The St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line used a Benoist flying boat (Jan. 1, 1914) that carried one passenger on a 23-minute flight.

34.  “Socked in” was originally “sock in” and was first used in early French aviation. During inclement weather, the windsock was dismasted and taken indoors. Also, the colloquial French meaning of “sock” was “close in” or “conceal.”

35.  A Boeing B-50A completed the first nonstop flight around the world on March 2, 1949. Lucky Lady II was refueled in flight four times by KB-29 aerial tankers, taking off and landing at Carswell AFB, and flew 23,453 miles in 94 hours 1 minute.

36.  Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan took off from New York in his dilapidated Curtiss Robin in 1938, landed in Ireland instead of California, and claimed that his “compass must have been wrong.”

37.  In 1964, Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock, a housewife from Columbus, Ohio, used a Cessna 180 to complete the 23,103-mile circum-navigation in less than 30 days.

38True. The glider was towed across the Atlantic by a Douglas C-47 and piloted by Squadron Leader R.G. Seys of the Royal Air Force for delivery to Russia.

39.  The custom seems to have evolved from a maritime rule of the road. It states that vessels approaching each other head-on must pass port to port (left side to left side). Sitting on the left afforded the best view of such a passing vessel.

40.  The most widely accepted origin of hijack stems from “High, Jack,” a command given to drivers of trucks loaded with illicit liquor in the 1920s to raise their arms during highway robberies. It is, of course, unwise to say “Hi” to a pilot named Jack.

41.  Blanche Stuart Scott, “The Flying Tomboy,” soloed a Curtiss airplane on Sept. 2, 1910, and became a professional stunt pilot only 2 months later.

42.  Bessie Coleman (a.k.a. Brave Bessie) could not find a school in the United States that would teach her to fly. She found more liberal attitudes in France, learned to fly there, and returned home to become a successful exhibition pilot.

43.  King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan (1935–1999).

44.  The knobs atop the engine-control levers of several older, multiengine airplanes (such as the Douglas DC-3) consisted of a cluster of small, marked balls that were pushed fully forward (to the firewall) to produce maximum power. This is similar to the automobile-related expression, “pedal to the metal.”

45D. Charles A. Lindbergh, the father of famed pilot, Charles A. Lindbergh, was a Republican congressman (Minnesota) from 1907 to 1917. Lindbergh’s kidnapped baby was Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.

46False. President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was a certificated pilot.

47.  The word, hangar, comes from the French word, hangar, which means outhouse or shed.

48.  Helicopter comes from the Greek words, helikos, which means spiral, and pteron, which means wing (a spiraling wing).

49D. In 1935, Lindbergh and Carrel developed an external pump that could be used to sustain blood circulation during heart surgery. Lindbergh also developed a centrifuge to separate blood plasma without damaging it.

50B. This Italian master (1452–1519) of the Renaissance era was writing about the flight of birds.

51D. This 1927 World War I classic and Oscar winner starred Richard Arlen, Clara Bow, and Buddy Rogers.

52.  The Macduff Aeropinion was a propeller-driven automobile that generated prodigious clouds of dust and pebbles on dirt streets. It was dangerous because of its exposed propeller and went out of production in 1905.

53.  This compressed-air cannon is used to fire deceased chicken carcasses at the windshields and the wings of high-speed aircraft to test their ability to endure bird strikes.

54C. In 1991, a Boeing 747 operated by El Al Israel airlines took off during an evacuation from Ethiopia with 1,084 people on board. Three births occurred during the flight, which landed in Tel Aviv with 1,087 people on board.

55True. Lindbergh was the first to fly nonstop between New York and Paris, and he did it alone.

56Aviation is a French word derived from the Latin, avis, which means bird.

57False. The first turbine-powered airplane was the Heinkel He-178, which was first flown by Erich Warsitz on Aug. 27, 1939. Although not the first, Hanna Reitsch did fly the world’s first rocket-powered airplane, the Messerschmitt 163, and she also flight-tested a mammoth glider capable of carrying 200 soldiers and a tank.

58.  False. On Jan. 7, 1785, Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries took 2½ hours to cross the Channel in a balloon.

59.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) flew to Casablanca during World War II in a Boeing 314 flying boat (a “Pan Am Clipper”).

60.  Literally translated from French, parachute means to guard against a fall.

61.  C. Orville (born 1871) and Wilbur (1867) had two older brothers, Reuchlin (1861) and Lorin (1863), and a younger sister, Katharine (1874). The family also had twins, who died in infancy.

62.  The original tower (now at the base of the TV tower) was designed as a mooring mast for transatlantic airships. Gusty winds at the top of the building resulted in several unsuccessful mooring attempts, and the idea was abandoned.

63.  The United States had a monopoly on the world production of helium and would not sell this inert gas to the German government.

64.  It is an organization of flight crews whose lives have been saved after ditching by the use of emergency dinghies or rafts.

65.  BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) also was a major manufacturer of German reciprocating engines during both World Wars.

66.  In 1944, the last full year of World War II, 96,369 aircraft were built.

67.  B. The first successful aerial voyage with a live payload occurred in France on Sept. 19, 1783. The Montgolfier brothers placed a cock, a duck, and a sheep aboard their aerostat (a hot-air balloon) to determine if the upper air could sustain life and wished them bon voyage. The animals landed safely after an 8-minute flight. An alternate answer is C, because of the four animals, only the duck can fly.