9 Lost and Found Airplanes

You might think that an airplane would be a pretty difficult object to lose, but there are still large areas of wilderness on our planet where planes can be hidden for decades. On rare occasions they are found again, against all odds. Over the weekend, I saw an article headlined Remains of Early 1900s Plane Found in Antarctica. Wow, I thought, that's a long time for a plane to be lost! In fact, it was the first plane ever taken to Antarctica, during an expedition in 1912. But the real story is not what I first thought. For one thing, the plane didn't fly to Antarctica -it was hauled there. And it wasn't lost all that time; it had last been seen in the 1970s. Still, it is a rediscovered plane, and so fits in with stories I had already collected about lost and found airplanes.

1. The Air Tractor

Australian explorer Douglas Mawson led a 1912 expedition to Antarctica and took along a 1911 Vickers single-engine plane. Their plans were not to fly the plane, which had wing damage, but to use it to tow equipment. It was used in this manner until the harsh conditions left it unusable and then the "air tractor" was abandoned. There the plane sat for decades, not worth the expense of moving it. In the 1970s, researchers took pictures of it nearly encased in ice, then it was not seen again -until New Years Day, 2010. A team from the Mawson's Huts Foundation had been looking for the plane for three years, along with other artifacts of early Antarctic exploration. A season of low ice and a very low tide at Commonwealth Bay on Friday exposed the few parts of the plane that survive, right where it was abandoned. The parts were photographed and then taken for examination still submerged in sea water while the foundation decides the best way to preserve the air tractor in the name of history.

2. Lady B. Good


A US Army Air Corps B-24D named Lady Be Good was part of a bombing raid on Italy on April 4, 1943. It was the first mission for both the plane and the crew. Lady Be Good was the only plane of the mission that did not return to its base in Libya. Officials assumed at the time that the plane went down in the Mediterranean Sea. An extensive search was carried out, but no sign of the plane or crew was found. In 1958 an oil survey exploration crew was taking aerial photographs and spotted the plane in the Libyan desert. The plane had crashed, but was preserved well in the arid conditions. The radio and a machine gun still worked! But there was no sign of the nine-man crew. In 1959, a months-long search was conducted to find their remains. A trail was found, complete with signs left behind indicating what direction the men had gone, but the trail petered out and the search was abandoned. In 1960, the remains of eight of the nine crew members were found at various places in the desert. Among the items found with the bodies was a diary of co-pilot Robert Toner that revealed the tragic story. The nine men had bailed out before the crash; eight survived. The survivors walked 85 miles before five gave up and three continued to walk until they died. The remains of gunner Vernon L. Moore were never found.

3. The Volcano


On August 15, 1976, a Vickers 785D Viscount operated by the airline SAETA took off from Quito, Ecuador en route to Cuenca. Flight 232 never made it. Searchers could find no sign of the plane, its crew of four, or any of the 55 passengers. The two most likely scenarios were that the plane crashed on the Chimborazo volcano or that it was hijacked by Colombian guerrilla fighters. Twenty-six years later, wreckage of the plane was finally found scattered across hundreds of meters on the mountainside of Chimborazo. Some think that melting glaciers on the mountain caused the wreckage to become visible by 2002.

4. Helldiver


On May 28, 1945, a US Navy SB2C-4 Helldiver went down in Lower Otay Reservior near San Diego. Pilot E. D. Frazar and Army gunner Joseph Metz were on a training mission when the plane's engine failed. They swam to shore while the bomber sank. The Helldiver was left buried in mud at the bottom of the lake. In 2009, Duane Johnson and Curtis Howard were fishing on the reservoir when Johnson's fish finder found the plane. Reservoir officials enlisted a salvage company to bring up the plane, which was completely buried in sediment. The recovery will be slow, as drinking water and taxpayer money is involved.

5. Glacier Girl


On July 15, 1942 an entire squadron of planes, two B-17 bombers and six P-38s, flew out of Maine heading to England. Bitter cold and bad weather over Greenland caused the crews to lose their bearings and low fuel forced landings on the Greenland ice sheet, hours from the nearest refueling base. Supplies were dropped three days later, and eventually the crewmen were rescued. The planes left behind were buried in snow and ice over the years. Sub-surface radar found the planes in 1988, two miles from their original location and 268 feet deep in the glacier. In 1992, operations began to bring the planes out. A huge recovery effort brought a P-38 up by forcing hot water down through the ice. After four months of work the plane was taken, in pieces, to Middlesboro, Kentucky for restoration. Now known as the Glacier Girl, the P-38 flew again in 2001.

6. Yosemite


On July 19, 1962, a plane carrying four young men home from a Billy Graham crusade left from Fresno, California headed to Sacramento. The rented 1959 Piper Cherokee never made it. The wreckage was suspected to have gone down in Yosemite National Park, but the park covers over 761,000 acres and the plane was not found until 1994. A worker at the park happened upon the wreckage in an isolated area near Stubblefield Canyon. Personal effects linked the plane to the four missing men from the 1962 crash. The crash was so remote that mules were used to bring parts of the wreckage out.

7. Fairey Battle on Ice


On May 26, 1941, four RAF airmen took off in a Fairey Battle aircraft from Akureyri, Iceland headed to Reykjavik. They crashed into a mountain in bad weather and all four died. The wreckage was found two days later, and the airmen were memorialized on site a week later. Not long after, the Royal Air Force pulled out of Iceland and the plane was left behind to disappear under the snow. Hordur Geirsson of Akureyri, who was born years after the crash, spent two decades trying to find the site of the crash. In 1999, a friend relayed to him records detailing the exact location of the plane. Also, unprecedented warm temperatures melted the glacial ice to the extent that the wreckage of the Fairey Battle could be seen. In 2000, an expedition that included relatives of the deceased airmen reached the spot.

8. Steve Fossett


A single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon airplane piloted by businessman and adventurer Steve Fossett went missing over the Nevada desert on September 3, 2007. Despite a massive manhunt involving many agencies, volunteers, and even Google Earth, the plane was not found for a year. In September of 2008, evidence found by a hiker near Mammoth Lake led to the discovery of the crash site in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

9. Hellcat


Lieutenant Walter Elcock crashed a Navy F6F-3 Hellcat fighter plane into Lake Michigan during a training exercise in 1945. Many planes suffered the same fate during World War II, but this one was brought back up in November of 2009. Andy Taylor, CEO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car arranged for his company to finance the recovery of the plane to honor his father, who was a Hellcat pilot in World War II. Elcock's grandson Hunter Browley explained how his grandfather caught the fourth wire of the carrier as he attempted to land the Hellcat and the plane's wing broke before plunging into the lake. Elcock was rescued by the Coast Guard, but the plane stayed at the bottom for 64 years. (Thanks, Steven!)

? Amelia Earhart


The most famous lost plane of all is the Lockheed L-10E Electra that pilot Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan flew out of Lae, New Guinea on July 3, 1937 and was never seen again. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes that Earhart and Noonan made it to uninhabited Gardner Island (now named Nikumaroro Island). The group found some personal effects dating from the correct time period on the island in 2007, and plan an expedition to recover possible DNA evidence in 2010.

Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Would You Be Able to Pass a World War I Military Literacy Test?
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain

Though reading and writing might not come to mind as the first requirement for trench warfare, during the early 20th century, the U.S. Army became increasingly concerned with whether or not its soldiers were literate. Thousands of World War I soldiers couldn't read printed directions on basic military tasks. The Army didn't implement its first major literacy program until the 1940s, but literacy tests were included in a battery of psychological evaluations World War I recruits went through to determine their mental fitness and intelligence, as the blog Futility Closet recently highlighted.

These unconventional literacy tests largely took the form of a yes or no questions with obvious answers, according to the 1921 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, Psychological Examining in the United States Army. Edited by pioneering intelligence-testing psychologist Robert Yerkes, who developed the military's first psychology exams for new recruits (and was also famous for his support for eugenics), the volume is a lengthy compilation of all of the methods the U.S. Army used to test the intelligence of its future soldiers. Many of these tests are now considered racist and culturally biased—some of the "intelligence" testing questions required recruits to know things like what products Velvet Joe (a figure used in tobacco campaigns) advertised—but some of the literacy questions, in particular, simply come off as weird in the modern era. Some are downright existential, in fact, while others—"Is a guitar a disease?"—come off as almost poetic.

A long questionnaire to test literacy, including questions like 'Is coal white?'
Psychological Examining in the United States Army, Google Books // Public Domain

One test, the Devens Literarcy Test, asked recruits questions like "Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?" and "Does success tend to bring pleasure?" Another section of the test asked "Do boys like to play?" and "Do clerks enjoy a vacation?"

Other questions seem like they're up for debate, like "Are painters ever artless individuals?" and "Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?" Surely the answers to questions like "Should criminals forfeit liberty?" and "Is misuse of money an evil?" depend on the opinions of the reader. The answer to "Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?" might be different depending on how the person feels about their Congressional representative, and could surely be the spark for an hour-long argument at most dinner parties.

Still others are tests of cultural knowledge, not reading skill—a major modern criticism of Yerkes's work. Despite being arguably a pretty literate person, I certainly don't know the answer to the question "Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?" A question like "Are 'diminutive' and 'Lilliputian' nearly identical?" isn't exactly a test of literacy, but a test of whether or not you've read Gulliver's Travels, which doesn't exactly seem like a necessity for military success.

Luckily, some of the questions are pretty obvious, like "Is coal white?" That one I can answer. The full list of questions used in the various versions of the Devens test is below for you to test your own Army-level literacy.

  • Do dogs bark?
  • Is coal white?
  • Can you see?
  • Do men eat stones?
  • Do boys like to play?
  • Can a bed run?
  • Do books have hands?
  • Is ice hot?
  • Do winds blow?
  • Have all girls the same name?
  • Is warm clothing good for winter?
  • Is this page of paper white?
  • Are railroad tickets free?
  • Is every young woman a teacher?
  • Is it always perfect weather?
  • Is the heart within the body?
  • Do clerks enjoy a vacation?
  • Is the President a public official?
  • Would you enjoy losing a fortune?
  • Does an auto sometimes need repair?
  • Is it important to remember commands?
  • Are avenues usually paved with oxygen?
  • Do we desire serious trouble?
  • Is practical judgment valuable?
  • Ought a man's career to be ruined by accidents?
  • Do you cordially recommend forgery?
  • Does an emergency require immediate decision?
  • Should honesty bring misfortune to its possessor?
  • Are gradual improvements worth while?
  • Is a punctual person continually tardy?
  • Are instantaneous effects invariably rapid?
  • Should preliminary disappointment discourage you?
  • Is hearsay testimony trustworthy evidence?
  • Is wisdom characteristic of the best authorities?
  • Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?
  • Is incessant discussion usually boresome?
  • Are algebraic symbols ever found in manuals?
  • Are tentative regulations ever advantageous?
  • Are "diminutive" and "Lilliputian" nearly identical?
  • Is an infinitesimal titanic bulk possible?
  • Do all connubial unions eventuate felicitously?
  • Is a "gelatinous exaltation" ridiculous?
  • Are "sedate" and "hilarious" similar in meaning?
  • Is avarice sometimes exhibited by cameos?
  • Can a dog run?
  • Is water dry?
  • Can you read?
  • Do stones talk?
  • Do books eat?
  • Do cats go to school?
  • Are six more than two?
  • Is John a girl's name?
  • Are there letters in a word?
  • Is your nose on your face?
  • Can you carry water in a sieve?
  • Do soldiers wear uniforms?
  • Does it rain every morning?
  • Are newspapers made of iron?
  • Are "forward" and "backward" directions?
  • Do many people attend motion-picture theatres?
  • Do handkerchiefs frequently injure human beings?
  • Do magazines contain advertisements?
  • Are political questions often the subject of debates?
  • Are empires inclosed in envelopes?
  • Are members of the family usually regarded as guests?
  • Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?
  • Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?
  • May chimneys be snipped off with scissors?
  • Is moderation a desirable virtue?
  • Are apish manners desired by a hostess?
  • Do conscientious brunettes exist?
  • Do serpents make oblong echoes?
  • Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?
  • Is hypocrisy approved by honest men?
  • Is virile behavior effeminate?
  • Do alleged facts often require verification?
  • Do pestilences ordinarily bestow great benefit?
  • Are painters ever artless individuals?
  • Do the defenders of citadels sometimes capitulate?
  • Do physicians ameliorate pathological conditions?
  • Is embezzlement a serious misdemeanor?
  • Do vagrants commonly possess immaculate cravats?
  • Are "loquacious" and "voluble" opposite in meaning?
  • May heresies arise among the laity?
  • Are piscatorial activities necessarily lucrative?
  • Do tendrils terminate in cerebral hemorrhages?
  • Does a baby cry?
  • Can a hat speak?
  • Do hens lay eggs?
  • Is a stone soft?
  • Is one more than seven?
  • Do the land and sea look just alike?
  • Are some books black?
  • Does water run up hill?
  • Are stamps used on letters?
  • Do 100 cents make a dollar?
  • Are we sure what events will happen next year?
  • Do ships sail on railroads?
  • Do stones float in the air?
  • May meat be cut with a knife?
  • Are ledges common in mountain districts?
  • Does success tend to bring pleasure?
  • Are diamonds mined in mid-ocean?
  • Is misuse of money an evil?
  • Should criminals forfeit liberty?
  • Is special information usually a disadvantage?
  • Are attempted suicides always fatal?
  • Are exalted positions held by distinguished men?
  • Does confusion favor the establishment of order?
  • Is a civil answer contrary to law?
  • Is a dilapidated garment nevertheless clothing?
  • Are textile manufacturers valueless?
  • Do thieves commit depredations?
  • Does close inspection handicap accurate report?
  • Do transparent goggles transmit light?
  • Do illiterate men read romances?
  • Is irony connected with blast furnaces?
  • Do avalanches ever descend mountains?
  • Are scythes always swung by swarthy men?
  • Do pirates accumulate booty?
  • Are intervals of repose appreciated?
  • Are intermittent sounds discontinuous?
  • Is an avocational activity ordinarily pleasurable?
  • Are pernicious pedestrians translucent?
  • Are amicable relationships disrupted by increased congeniality?
  • Are many nocturnal raids surreptitiously planned
  • Are milksops likely to perpetrate violent offenses?
  • Are "precipitancy" and "procrastination" synonymous?
  • Is snow cold?
  • Can a dog read?
  • Do houses have doors?
  • Has a horse five legs?
  • Are three more than ten?
  • Do mice love cats?
  • Does a hat belong to you?
  • Do animals have glass eyes?
  • Should fathers provide clothing for children?
  • Is it true that lead is heavy
  • Do poor men have much money?
  • Is summer colder than winter?
  • Can a horse tell time by a watch?
  • Is a city larger than a country town?
  • Does Christmas ever fall on Tuesday?
  • Do Christians often overlook faults?
  • Are difficult problems easily solved?
  • Do convicts sometimes escape from prison?
  • Should the courts secure justice for everybody?
  • Are scoundrels always intoxicated?
  • Is a guitar a kind of disease?
  • Do jugglers furnish entertainment?
  • Should we build on insecure foundations?
  • Do annual conventions take place biweekly?
  • Does persistent effort favor ultimate success?
  • Is a shrewd man necessarily admired?
  • Is manual skill advantageous?
  • Are elaborate bonnets inexpensive?
  • Are petty annoyances irritating?
  • Are false arguments valid?
  • Do you approve of ruthless massacres?
  • Do blemishes occur in complexions?
  • Is air found in a complete vacuum?
  • Do robins migrate periodically?
  • Are weird tales sometimes gruesome?
  • Do felines possess locomotor appendages?
  • Do demented individuals frequently have hallucinations?
  • Are laconic messages sometimes verbose?
  • Are perfunctory endeavors usually efficacious?
  • Would a deluge extinguish a smouldering trellis?
  • Are devastated suburbs exhilarating vistas?
  • Are "contingent" and "independent" alike in meaning?

[h/t Futility Closet]

10 Not-So-Small Facts About the Volkswagen Beetle

While Volkswagen has announced—for a second time—that it's going to cease production on the Beetle, people are still singing the praises of the quirky little car. Here are 10 not-so-small things you need to know about the German car that was once named one of the top four cars of the century.


Adolf Hitler checks out a VW Beetle
Getty Images

It’s long been said that Adolf Hitler was the man behind the Beetle, and that’s sort of true. The dictator wanted German families to be able to afford a car, so he enlisted automaker Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to make “the people’s car.” But the basis for the Beetle had been around since long before Hitler’s demand; the Bug was heavily influenced by Porsche's V series. Rumors that Hitler directly designed the car are probably false; though he was the one who reportedly said that the car should look like a beetle, because “You only have to observe nature to learn how best to achieve streamlining,” it’s likely that he was regurgitating something he had read in an automotive magazine. Still, one thing is for certain: Hitler himself placed the cornerstone for the Porsche factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.


Perhaps still wary of anything imported from Germany, Americans shunned the Beetle when it was introduced in the States in 1949: Only two were sold in the first year. But after that, sales grew quickly. By the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Bugs were sold every year, topping out at 570,000 in 1970.


A pink VW Beetle

We have the public to thank for the car’s distinctive nickname. Originally known as the Volkswagen Type 1, the car’s curves and rounded top led to its later, insect-like moniker. Volkswagen must have realized they had a good thing on their hands, because they started referring to the car as the VW Beetle in the late 1960s.


The UK and the U.S. aren’t the only countries that bestowed a new name on the Volkswagen Type 1. In France, it's called Coccinellewhich means ladybug. It's Maggiolino and Fusca in Italy and Brazil, respectively, both of which mean "beetle." Mexico calls it Vocho; it's Peta (turtle) in Bolivia; and Kodok (frog) in Indonesia. 


In 1999, Advertising Age declared the car's not-so-small ad campaign to be the best campaign of the last 100 years, besting Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Nike, and McDonald’s. The quirky concept and copy—which, according to Advertising Age, “Gave advertising permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him about the face and body”—was a game-changer for the entire industry.

The "Think Small" line and accompanying self-deprecating copy was written by Julian Koenig, who was also responsible for naming Earth Day and coming up with Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” tagline. He’s also half-responsible for daughter Sarah Koenig, whom you may know from NPR’s This American Life and Serial.


Herbie the Love Bug

Because of their distinctive aesthetic, VW Bugs have been associated with everything from the Beatles to Transformers. A few highlights:

  • The Beetle with the license plate “LMW 28IF” on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album was sold at an auction for $23,000 in 1986. It is now on display at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
  • The Fremont Troll sculpture in Seattle, a huge statue lurking under the Aurora Bridge, clutches an actual VW Beetle. An in-progress picture shows that the car was once red. It also once contained a time capsule of Elvis memorabilia, which was stolen.
  • The Herbie the Love Bug series was a big hit for Disney in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the original Herbies sold for $126,500 at an auction in 2015.
  • In the original Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee transformed from a VW Bug. The car was changed to a Camaro for the live-action movies.


The so-called “blumenvasen,” a small vase that could be clipped to the dashboard, speaker grille, or windshield, was porcelain when it was originally offered. The nod to flower power became such a symbol of the car that it was incorporated into the 1998 redesign. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut for the most recent overhaul: The vase was eliminated in 2011 by marketing execs apparently seeking to make the car more male-friendly.


When the millionth VW Beetle rolled off the line in 1955, the company capped the achievement by plating the car in gold and giving it diamante accents. They also created a Bug with a wicker body in collaboration with master basket-maker Thomas Heinrich.


After WWII, the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, was supposed to be handed over to the British. No British car manufacturer wanted to take responsibility for the company, though, saying that "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car," "it is quite unattractive to the average buyer," and that "To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Whoops.


The last VW Bug
Getty Images

Beetle #21,529,464—the one celebrated by the mariachi band—is now at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum.


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