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11 Things You Might Not Know About the Air Force

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1. If you’re a weatherman in the Air Force, you’re probably a battle-hardened commando.

Before the Air Force sends squadrons of $150 million aircraft into areas, it likes to know what kind of environmental conditions are waiting for them. But the kinds of places where it sends such aircraft aren’t exactly friendly or hospitable to U.S. military operations. To gather meteorological and geological intelligence, the Air Force sends in Special Operations Weather Teams—commando forces with special training to read the environment and report back. To join such an elite fighting force, these men endure a punishing training pipeline that tests their mental and physical limits. The airmen who make it through earn the coveted gray beret and crest, and are trained to jump out of airplanes, climb mountains, snake through jungles, blow things up, and use small unit tactics in hostile territory.

2. For a while there, North Dakota could have annihilated all human life.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the vast majority of nuclear weapons in the United States were located in North Dakota. Minot Air Force Base was a major Strategic Air Command facility, hosting intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers, and refueling planes. (In other words, everything you need to start the apocalypse.) Accordingly, had North Dakota seceded from the United States it would have become the third-largest nuclear power in the world.

3. George Bailey was a one-star general.

When the Army drafted Jimmy Stewart, he failed to meet the height and weight requirements and was turned away. Undaunted, he later tried enlisting in the Army Air Corps, but again missed the weight mark. He had to persuade his recruiter to run more agreeable tests, which he somehow passed. Once in uniform, the Army wanted to use him to make promotional films, but he balked and worked to get an assignment to a combat unit. (Indeed, he spent his entire career shunning publicity, preferring to serve as an Air Force officer and not as a celebrity recruitment tool.) By 1943, he was flying bombing runs over Germany, and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. (The first of two.) By the end of the war, he was a full-bird colonel, and joined the Air Force Reserve, eventually retiring as a Brigadier General.

4. Air Force One isn’t the name of the plane.

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When the president isn’t on board one of the planes we think of as Air Force One—yes, there are two of them—the Boeing VC-25s are simply known as 28000 or 29000. “Air Force One” is the air traffic control designation for any plane on which the president is a passenger. (To wit, when President Nixon resigned, his plane took off as Air Force One, and by the time it landed, was called SAM 27000.) Air Force One is considered a “protection level one” asset—the security equivalent of a nuclear weapon—and airmen are permitted to use deadly force on unauthorized personnel. So don’t try to charge it.

5. The Air Force shares a birthday with the CIA.

The National Security Act of 1947 completely reorganized the national security apparatus of the United States. It separated the Army Air Forces from the Army, and made it an equal branch of the military—the U.S. Air Force. The bill also created the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Notably, Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 into law on what would become the first plane to be designated as Air Force One.

6. You’ve heard of a few former airmen.

• Super-stud pilot and octogenarian brawler Buzz Aldrin flew 86 combat missions (including the shooting down of two enemy aircraft) while serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He earned a Doctor of Science—considered a “higher doctorate”—in 1963. He was not only the second man on the moon, but the first to perform a sacred rite on a heavenly body—he took communion in the lunar module. • George Carlin was an Air Force radar technician. He was thus possessed of the same training as Morgan Freeman, who actually turned down a drama scholarship from Jackson State University to serve as an Air Force radar tech. • In 1932, Ray Cash and Carrie Cloveree couldn’t think of a name for their son, so they named him “J.R.” When J.R. tried to enlist in the Air Force, the recruiters wouldn’t allow initials to be used as a proper name. J.R. thus adopted a new name—John R. Cash—but would become better known in the music industry as Johnny Cash. • Star Trek is largely informed by Air Force culture. Gene Roddenberry, its creator and the “Great Bird of the Galaxy,” flew combat missions in the Pacific during World War II. By the time he left the Air Force, he’d flown eighty-nine missions and had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. He would also have outranked Airman DeForest Kelley, who served in the Air Force before later serving in Starfleet. • Airman First Class Hunter S. Thompson’s superiors recommended him for an early, honorable discharge. “Airman Thompson possesses outstanding talent in writing. He has imagination, good use of English, and can express his thoughts in a manner that makes interesting reading.” That said, “This Airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy or personal advice and guidance. Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members. He has little consideration for military bearing or dress and seems to dislike the service and want out as soon as possible... Consequently, it is requested that Airman Thompson be assigned to other duties immediately, and it is recommended that he be earnestly considered under the early release program.”

7. The Air Force will buy cyber weapons from you.

The present mission of the U.S. Air Force is to “fly, fight, and win” in “air, space, and cyberspace.” It has plenty of planes and plenty of rockets and missiles; what it needs are a few good cyber weapons. In 2012, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center put out a request for “Cyberspace Warfare Operations” technology designed for the “employment of cyberspace capabilities to destroy, deny, degrade, disrupt, deceive, corrupt, or usurp the adversaries ability to use the cyberspace domain for his advantage.” The likely model for such weapons is Operation OLYMPIC GAMES, the joint U.S.-Israel cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

8. The top fighter jet ace in the U.S. Air Force is Joseph C. McConnell.

An “ace” is a pilot who has shot down five or more enemy aircraft. The top jet ace in U.S. Air Force history is Joseph C. McConnell, a “triple ace” who shot down sixteen MiG fighters during the Korean War. He did this over a four-month period in 1953—including downing three MiGs on his last mission before returning to the United States. For his actions in combat, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star. In 1954, he was killed while test piloting an F-86H fighter-bomber. His record as top jet ace still stands.

9. Chuck Norris didn’t join the Air Force. The Air Force joined Chuck Norris.

Carlos Ray Norris enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1958 and served in South Korea as an Air Policeman. There, he developed an interest in martial arts, and earned the nickname Chuck. Today, the Air Police career field of which he was a part is known as Security Forces, and qualified airmen are trained in both military policing and airbase ground defense. Their pipeline is held at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and the U.S. Army’s Camp Bullis in Bexar County, Texas. 22% of Air Force casualties in Iraq were Security Forces airmen.

10. The U.S. Air Force has two presidents to its credit.

In 1937, Ronald Reagan enlisted as a reservist in the Army, and soon earned a commission as a second lieutenant. In 1942, he transferred to the 18th Army Air Force Base Unit of the Army Air Forces. (This unit is better known as the First Motion Picture Unit.) He left active duty at the rank of captain on December 9, 1945. In 1968, George W. Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard of the U.S. Air Force and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He trained as a fighter pilot, and flew Convair F-102 Delta Daggers with the 147th Reconnaissance Wing. In 1973 he transferred to the Air Force Reserve, and was honorably discharged at the rank of first lieutenant the following year.

11. The future of the Air Force will involve “counterspace operations,” which is just what it sounds like: X-Wing fighters and Death Stars.

According to Air Force Doctrine Document 3-14.1, we must “be prepared to deprive an adversary of the benefits of space capabilities when American interests and lives are at stake. Space superiority ensures the freedom to operate in the space medium while denying the same to an adversary and, like air superiority, cannot be taken for granted... Counterspace operations have defensive and offensive elements, both of which depend on robust space situation awareness.” Phrases like “space control” and “space force projection” sound a lot like something Wedge Antilles would be familiar with. Here’s hoping.
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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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