Amazing But True Stories | HistoryNet
Illustrations by Mike Caplanis

Amazing But True Stories

By Stephan Wilkinson
2/28/2014 • Aviation History Magazine

These 10 aviation tales prove that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

Spitfire Ride

On February 14, 1945, Leading Aircraftwoman Margaret Horton, an RAF WAAF, was assigned a familiar job: sit on the horizontal stabilizer of a Spitfire to help hold the tail down while it taxied on a windy day. Unfortunately, nobody thought to tell the pilot, Flight Lt. Neill Cox, that she’d be jumping aboard. (Horton later admitted that “the squadron was run in a slap-happy way.”) The normal drill was for the tail-sitter to grab the aircraft’s elevator and waggle it before the pilot turned onto the runway, so he’d know she was hopping off. But this time Cox made a casual gesture out of the cockpit that Margaret took to mean “Hang on, don’t go yet.” Big mistake. As the Spitfire accelerated down the runway, Horton had the good sense to quickly flop across the tail cone, where she was held in place by the vertical fin, her legs to the right and her torso to the left. Another WAAF who’d seen what was happening dashed off to tell a flight sergeant, who ran to the control tower. Cox was ordered to make a quick circuit and land, but wasn’t told why. Between Horton’s death grip on the elevator with her left hand plus the Spitfire’s tail-heaviness, Cox had already figured that something was amiss, but he couldn’t see as far aft as his airplane’s empennage. Relieved to be back on the ground, Horton announced that after a change of panties and a cigarette, she’d be good to go back to work. She was later fined for losing her uniform beret during the short trip around the pattern.

Crusader Fail

On June 21, 1963, Marine Lieutenant Cliff Judkins was tanking from an Air Force Boeing KC-97 over the Pacific, on his way from California to Hawaii, when the automatic shut-off valve of his F-8 Crusader failed and the internal fuel bladder burst from the pressure of the still-flowing fuel

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