Why Does Your Seat Need to Be In an Upright Position During Takeoff and Landing?

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Landing is no one’s favorite part of a plane ride. Aside from the bumps and jolts, you have to interrupt your nap and put your seat-back into its rigid, straight-up position, which is comfortable for exactly no one. Like many quirks of air travel, the requirement has its roots in safety regulations. There are multiple reasons that flight attendants are insistent about your seat-back position during takeoff and landing, according to Condé Nast Traveler.

Airplane seats are the main source of protection for passengers during a crash, and the upright position is their locked position. In the event of a crash, the whiplash movement of a reclined seat poses a threat to both the passenger sitting in it and the passenger behind it. Plane seats are required to be able to withstand impacts 16 times the force of gravity in a crash, and safety standards like these are widely credited with making plane crashes far more survivable than they used to be. Given that your seat is the one padded thing between your butt and the ground you’re crashing into, you want it to be in its sturdiest position. When the seat isn’t secured in its upright position, you also can’t get into a proper brace position, which the FAA says is three times safer than staying sitting up during a crash.

Plus, putting seats in the upright position makes it significantly easier for the window and middle-seat passengers to exit the row in an emergency. New airplane models have to undergo a mock emergency evacuation before they're cleared to fly to prove that all passengers can get out in 90 seconds or less. It’s much harder to slither out into the aisle if the seats in front of you are reclined and blocking the path. This 90-second requirement has prompted some to question whether planes can still be evacuated quickly enough as legroom shrinks—in 2016, a Tennessee senator unsuccessfully proposed a law to establish a minimum seat pitch on planes (meaning the distance between a seat and the one behind it) on the grounds that there haven’t been safety tests on seats with a pitch of less than 29 inches. Most U.S. planes have a 31-inch pitch, but some, like those used by Spirit Airlines, are even more cramped.

Keeping seats upright during takeoff also makes the plane windows more visible to flight attendants, so that in the event of a crash, they can see out the window to assess whether there’s a fire or another hazard outside the plane. They need to be able to see quickly whether one wing is on fire, say, so that they can direct passengers to exit elsewhere.

Sure, the upright plane seat isn’t terribly comfortable, but those few inches really could save your life.

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What's the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves?

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To the layman, the difference between pigeons and doves has something to with color, maybe. Or location. Or general appeal (doves usually get much better press than pigeons do). But what’s the actual, scientific difference between doves and pigeons?

As it turns out, there isn’t one. Paul Sweet, the collection manager for the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the difference is more linguistic than taxonomic.

“The word dove is a word that came into English from the more Nordic languages, whereas pigeon came into English from French,” Sweet tells Mental Floss.

Both dove and pigeon refer to the 308 species of birds from the Columbidae family, Sweet says. There’s no difference between a pigeon and a dove in scientific nomenclature, but colloquial English tends to categorize them by size. Something called a dove is generally smaller than something called a pigeon, but that’s not always the case. A common pigeon, for example, is called both a rock dove and a rock pigeon.

“People just have their own classification for what makes them different,” Sweet says. “So in the Pacific, for example, the big ones might get called pigeons and the smaller ones might be called doves, but they’re actually more closely related to each other than they are to other things in, say, South America, that are called pigeons and doves.”

The difference boils down to linguistic traditions, so feel free to tell people you’re releasing pigeons at your wedding or that you’re feeding doves in the park. Scientifically speaking, you’ll be correct either way.

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What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

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What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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