You're too young to remember Laika, a stray dog from the Moscow streets, who became famous for becoming the first animal to orbit the earth. That was way back in 1957, when space exploration was taking off, and Russia was ahead of the game.
Laika wasn’t the first animal to fly—when the first free-flying hot-air balloon ever to carry living creatures was launched at Louis XVI’s magnificent chateau in Versailles in 1783, its passengers were a sheep, a duck, and a rooster.
Some 130,000 people watched as the multicolored balloon filled with hot air, stirred and rose, carrying a basket with the animals. The king was there, watching through field glasses. When the balloon came down a couple of miles away, he turned to one of its inventors, Etienne Montgolfier, and said, ”Magnifique! But now we must find out if the animals survived.”
They had. And proved to be in excellent condition. In a letter to his wife that evening, a triumphant Etienne playfully quoted the three as saying, “We feel fine. We’ve landed safely despite the wind. It’s given us an appetite.”
“That is all we could gather from the talk of the three animals,” Etienne continued, “seeing that we had neglected to teach them French, one could say only “Quack, Quack’; the other, ‘Cocka-a-doodle-do’; and the third, no doubt a member of the Lamb family, replied only ‘Baa’ to all our questions.”
Earlier, when the choice of animals was discussed, Joseph-Michel, his brother and co-inventor, had wanted a cow, as “that would create an extraordinary effect, far greater than that of a panicky sheep.”
A year before the brothers had experimented with a balloon made of fabric layered with paper. As hot air from a small fire filled the limp bag, it swelled into a bulging globe, thirty-five feet wide, and shot straight into the air, to a height of a thousand feet, and rode the currents for over a mile.
Thus was born the hot-air balloon.
After the successful flight of the sheep, the duck and the rooster, it was time for the first manned flight in a Montgolfier balloon. It took place in Paris. One of the spectators was Benjamin Franklin, America’s ambassador. When someone turned to him and said, “Oh what use is a balloon?” Franklin replied, “Sir, of what use is a newborn baby?”
Text and art copyright © by Roxie Munro 2014
Roxie has published a series of nine cool desktop fold-out KIWiStorybooks Jr., complete with a stand-up "play" figure and a free interactive app, loaded with great content, games, and activities, based upon the giant KIWi walk-in picture books.
Roxie Munro is a member of Authors on Call. You can learn more about her programs here.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "Animals in Space." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 3 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/animals-in-space.
Two weeks before Halloween in 1944, a small jet fighter plane was parked on an Ohio airfield. The plane was wearing a kind of costume. It had fake propellers attached to the front of its wings. Was this jet getting dressed up so it could zoom off trick-or-treating at airports around the country?
Not exactly. Those fake propellers weren’t a Halloween prank. They were serious business, a disguise that the Army hoped would fool enemy spies.
Jet planes don’t use propellers, the spinning blades that give other aircraft the power to fly. A jet’s power comes from jet engines attached to the under side of its wings. A jet engine sucks in air and spins the air very fast inside the engine. The air is then mixed with gas fuel in the engine and an electric spark sets the gas-air mixture on fire. This burning mixture blasts out of the back of the engine with so much force that the plane can move forward and zoom up and away.
In 1944, World War II was still raging. For most of the war, military planes had been propeller planes, both for the United States and Britain, as well as for their enemies, Nazi Germany and Japan. Jet engines had only been invented a few years before the war began but weren’t used in military planes until early 1944, when Germany became the first country to use a jet fighter in battle.
The U.S. had built a jet plane—the XP-59A—but it was still being tested. In the fall of 1944, a version of this new jet, called the YP-59A, was shipped for testing to Wright Field, an Army aviation test center in Dayton, Ohio. To keep spies from finding out about the plane, it not only had fake propellers but also an armed soldier standing guard.
On October 14, 1944, test pilots took turns test-flying this jet at Wright Field, after the fake propellers were removed! They noted problems, so none of these U.S. jets were ever used in the war. But although the plane never made history winning any battles, one of the pilots testing it did make history that October day: 26-year-old Ann Baumgartner Carl. That day she became the first American woman to pilot a jet aircraft. She was one of the WASP pilots--Women Airforce Service Pilots—the first women’s unit to fly for the U.S military.
If you are interested in finding out more about the WASPS, Amy Nathan has written a book on the subject. Click here for more information.
MLA 8 Citation
Nathan, Amy. "When a Jet Wore a Costume." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/when-a-jet-wore-a-costume.
Horse-drawn carriages stopped dead in their tracks. People pointed at the sky. “Look!” they shouted. “There’s Santos in one of his flying machines!” Above, along the Champs–Elysées, sailed a strange-looking contraption: a cigar-shaped balloon under which was mounted a gasoline engine, a large propeller, and, in a wicker basket, a dapper little man with a neatly trimmed moustache, starched collar, and a Panama hat. Spotting an agreeable sidewalk café, he landed his airship and hitched it to a lamppost. Then he calmly ordered his morning cup of coffee
He was Alberto Santos-Dumont, a very short twenty-nine-year-old Brazilian aviator who loved everything high. (His dining table had nine-foot legs with chairs to match. To reach it, his manservant climbed a step stool.)
A year earlier, in 1901, Santos had astounded Parisians with one of the most spectacular feats in early aviation history. A prize of one-hundred thousand francs had been offered to the first pilot who took off from the Paris Aero Club, circled the Eiffel Tower, and returned to the club within thirty minutes.
Though the money meant little to Alberto—his father had left him with a fortune— it presented a challenge.
His first attempt failed when his 16-horsepower engine conked out, causing his dirigible to fall into a tree. On his second try, the airship crashed into a roof, and the brave Brazilian was left suspended in his basket fifty feet above the ground.
His third attempt was a success. “Did I make it?” he shouted as he passed the finish line. “Oui! Oui!” spectators roared back at him, throwing handkerchiefs into the air and whirling their hats on top of their walking sticks.
Flight was Alberto’s great passion. Arriving in Paris at 18, he had a balloon made— so tiny it could be packed into a travel bag, but big enough to carry his pint-size figure. Then came dirigibles —fourteen altogether.
In 1906, after the Wright brother’s historic flight, he built his own airplane. Named 14 bis, it looked like a bunch of boxes haphazardly thrown together. But it flew, making him the first man in Europe to fly a heavier-than-air machine.
His final aircraft was made of bamboo, aluminum, and silk. Seeing him buzz around in it, people shouted, “Our Santos is riding a dragonfly!” And that became its name: Demoiselle (dragonfly).
Le Petit Santos— a remarkable little man indeed.
What is the smallest rodent in the world? What is the biggest? How long can rodents live? How do they find mates? In this wonderfully detailed new book from Roxie Munro, life-sized illustrations of rodent species from around the world accompany simple, thorough text describing their life cycles, sizes, habitats, and ranges. From ground hogs to guinea pigs and pygmy jerboas to capybaras, kids will learn all about the rascally rodents who share our world!
Roxie's Rodent Rascals has earned starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "Alberto Santos-Dumont." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 16 May
As any paper airplane pilot knows, getting into the air and staying up in the air are two different things. An out-of-control, unstable paper airplane quickly ends up on the floor—no matter how powerfully you threw it. Controlling an airplane was the problem yet to be solved in the late 1890s. Many of the inventors racing to be the first to build a powered flying machine didn’t understand that controlling an airplane is different from controlling other vehicles of the time. But the Wright Brothers did.
Unlike a car or boat, an airplane moves in three directions: pitch, yaw, and roll. Stable flight takes correctly controlling all three.
When you steer a boat, you move a rudder to go left or right. This is yaw. Turn a rudder on its side and you get an elevator, which controls a submarine as it dives and surfaces. This is pitch. Airplanes also have elevators and rudders. But flying takes more than up-down and right-left control. An airplane also tilts side to side, in a motion called roll. Think of a jet tilting its wings as it changes direction. Or a little kid zooming around with tilted arms spread wide.
Controlling the roll of an airplane was the secret to stable, sustained flight. And this is where the Wright Brothers had an edge. They built bicycles. A bicycle is an unstable vehicle when it isn’t moving. In fact, it falls over. A moving bicycle is much easier to balance than a stopped one. And steering a moving bicycle is more than just turning the handlebars right or left. The rider must lean into turns, tilting his body to keep balanced. Sound familiar? It’s the same kind of motion as roll.
Orville and Wilbur Wright knew about roll and worked on a way to control it even while experimenting with gliders. They controlled roll through wing-warping, a system of cables attached to the wings that twisted their shape, like twisting an empty aluminum foil box. The pilot controlled which way the wings warped by moving his hips as he lay on the airplane in a kind of cradle. Soon ailerons, those flaps on the backside of airplane wings, became the controller of roll. But the brothers of the Wright Cycle Company figured it out—and flew—first.
If you look at pitch, roll and yaw together you can see that each type of motion helps control the direction and level of the plane when it is flying. The ailerons raise and lower the wings. The pilot controls the roll of the plane by raising one aileron or the other with a control wheel. The rudder works to control the yaw of the plane. Pressing the right rudder pedal moves the rudder to the right. This yaws the aircraft to the right. Used together, the rudder and the ailerons are used to turn the plane. The elevators which are on the tail section are used to control the pitch of the plane. Lowering the elevators makes the plane nose go down and allows the plane to go down. By raising the elevators the pilot can make the plane go up.
First successful flight of the Wright Flyer, by the Wright brothers. The machine traveled 120 ft (36.6 m) in 12 seconds. Orville Wright was at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with his hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright ran alongside to balance the machine. Library of Congress
Mary Kay Carson's The Wright Brothers for Kids: How They Invented the Airplane, 21 Activities Exploring the Science and History of Flight tells the amazing true story of how two bicycle-making brothers from Ohio, with no more than high-school educations, accomplished a feat on the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, that forever changed the world.
MLA 8 Citation
Carson, Mary Kay. "How Did Building Bikes Help the Wright Brothers Invent the
Airplane?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Mar. 2018,
Stories About Regular Folks Doing Remarkable Things
I learned about the Caterpillar Club when I interviewed some flying WASPs—not the kind that buzz around on tiny wings. These WASPs were airplane pilots, the first women to fly for the United States military. They served during World War II: the Women Airforce Service Pilots (or WASP, for short).
The Caterpillar Club they told me about was named for silkworm caterpillars that helped save pilots’ lives. If a plane developed engine trouble in midair, pilots could float to safety by using a parachute made from silk, a lightweight cloth that silkworm caterpillars help create. These caterpillars use a spit-like substance in their mouths to spin a long silk thread that they wrap around themselves, forming a cocoon that they live in for several weeks until they become moths. Those long silk threads can then be unwound from the cocoons and woven together to make silk cloth.
About twenty years before World War II, a parachute company started the Caterpillar Club for people whose lives were saved by using a parachute to escape from a disabled plane. People could write to the company about their parachute rescue, pay a membership fee, and the company would send them a little caterpillar pin.
However, the WASP pilots I spoke with said that some pilots liked to feel they were part of the Caterpillar Club even if it wasn’t an aircraft’s fault that led them to use a parachute. During World War II, pilots—both men and women—trained to fly military aircraft for the Army in small open planes. The planes didn’t have a roof. If a nervous pilot-in-training forgot to buckle the seat belt and the plane tipped over, the pilot could fall out! Fortunately, they always wore a parachute. Landing safely—thanks to the parachute—not only let them feel part of the Caterpillar Club, but also helped the students remember to never, ever forget to buckle up again.
However, by World War II, many parachutes used by U.S. pilots weren’t made of silk. The silk-producing areas of the world were controlled then by Japan, which the U.S. was fighting in this war. Because U.S. companies could no longer get silk cloth, they began making parachutes from a new material scientists had just invented—nylon. Most parachutes are made of nylon today. Even so, the Caterpillar Club lives on.
Click here for source notes on this article.
If you are interested in finding out more about the WASPs, Amy Nathan has written a book on the subject. Through firsthand accounts, she tells how these early pilots they test-flew newly repaired aircraft, dragged banners behind their planes so male trainees could practice shooting moving targets with live ammunition (!), and ferried all kinds of aircraft from factories to military bases.
Yankee Doodle Gals will give you a new look at World War II and show you just how dramatically society has changed since then. Click here for more information.
MLA 8 Citation
Nathan, Amy. "Caterpillars to the Rescue." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20
Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/