Today, we're going to talk about some very unusual flyers... the first from the bird kingdom, and the next from the human ranks. One thing these groups have in common is determination. Determination and endurance. (Okay, two things.)
First, the bird.
|[source:Henri Weimerskirch, CNRS, France]|
|[source: Aurelian Prudor, CNRS, France]|
These amazing birds, with their lovely forked tails and wingspans of up to seven and a half feet, (2.3 meters) fly an average of 255 miles per day... and can do it for months on end.
They accomplish this by making brilliant use of the wind currents, and they can ascend to 2000 feet and then drop back down to sea level with only a single flap of their massive wings.
Another interesting fact about these birds is, even though they're classified as seabirds... they can't get in the water. Why? Their feathers aren't waterproof. If they were to dive into the water or even land on its surface, they'd get waterlogged, and wouldn't be able to fly again. So if they choose to eat during their long journeys, they have to swoop down and grab small critters from near the water's surface. According to scientist Henri Weimerskirch, of France's Center for Scientific Research, (CNRS) who tracked 80 of these birds for two years and learned about their remarkable ability to master air currents, "There is no other bird species like them." (No wonder this male's chest is all puffed out!)
The human flyers were part of a remarkable group, too, and since it's only a couple days after International Women's Day, it's rather fitting that they were also... women.
|[credit: Sovfoto/ UIG- 1944]|
Meet the Nightwitches, aviators of Russia's all-female 5880th Night Bomber Regiment. These brave women, ages 17 to 26, some of whom had never even seen an airplane before they joined the regiment, played a vital role in World War II, and struck terror in the hearts of their enemies.
These women flew in Polikarpov PO-2s, re-purposed biplanes from the 1920s, which were constructed of wood and canvas, and had been used mainly as crop-dusters prior to the war. These planes were slow, obsolete, and contained no radios or radar, so rudimentary navigation hinged on a stop watch and a map.
|[[credit: Quality Time]|
So what was so terrifying about these women, and how did they get the nickname Nightwitches? That's the English translation of the name bestowed upon them by German soldiers, who called them Nachtexen. (which, um, obviously means the same thing...) See, what these women did as they conducted their night missions was as they approached their targets, they shut off their engines. Then they'd glide down to drop the bombs, so the only sound accompanying their descent was the whoosh of their planes cutting through the air... which sounded like witches' brooms to the soldiers below.
|[credit: The Image Works]|
After dropping their bombs, the airplane engines then had to be re-started in mid-air, and if that meant a navigator had to climb out onto the wing to give the prop a spin, sobeit.
Because the planes were only capable of carrying two bombs at a time, each night's mission consisted of multiple flights ... as many as eighteen harrowing sorties in a single night. Weight limitations of these planes didn't just dictate the amount of armament they could carry, either. It also meant no parachutes.
At its largest, this battalion contained forty two-person crews, and in total, these gutsy gals carried out 30,000 missions, and dropped 23,000 bombs. At first, Russian male pilots thought these brave young women were a joke, but they soon learned to respect them for their courage, their ability, and their endurance.
|[courtesy the Image Works]|
Nadia Popova, who was sometimes referred to as Russia's Amelia Earhart, said, In winter, when you'd look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying."
After one mission, her airplane was riddled with forty-two bullet holes, and she was shot down a couple of other times. Still, she persevered and continued to serve as a Nightwitch commander. She passed away in 2013 at the age of 91, and she and her fellow witches will long be remembered as some of Russia's most intrepid flyers.
Determination is doing what needs to be done even when you don't feel like it. [author unknown]
Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough. [Og Mandino]
Determination gives you the resolve to keep going in spite of the roadblocks that lay before you. [Denis Waitley]
Endurance is the price tag of achievement. [author unknown]
Each of us, in our own way, has the ability to fly. Maybe not across an ocean like a frigate bird, and maybe not in daring night missions in antiquated airplanes... but we can fly; we can succeed. Those birds don't back down when faced with the daunting task of flying for weeks and months on end; they just do it. Those women, many of whom had never even seen an airplane before, didn't say, "We can't do it;" they just did it. Like them, with determination, we, too, can overcome obstacles, and we, too, can fly. We can achieve, and we can make our dreams come true, so never settle for less. Remember, even the grandest oak tree started out as a little acorn that refused to give up. Surely we nuts can do the same.
Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.