Sabotage in the Sky Glossary
Stories from the Golden Age reflect the words and expressions used in the 1930s and 1940s, adding unique flavor and authenticity to the tales. While a character’s speech may often reflect regional origins, it also can convey attitudes common in the day. So that readers can better grasp such cultural and historical terms, uncommon words or expressions of the era, the following glossary has been provided.
aileron: a hinged flap on the trailing edge of an aircraft wing, used to control banking movements.
altimeter: a gauge that measures altitude.
altocirrus: wispy white clouds, usually of fine ice crystals, at an altitude of 7,000 to 25,000 feet (2,100 to 7,600 meters). Also used figuratively.
altocumulus: medium-sized puffy, patchy, scattered clouds, often in linear bands.
ammeters: instruments for measuring electric current.
ASI: airspeed indicator.
banshee: (Irish legend) a female spirit whose wailing warns of a death in a house.
barograph: an instrument that continuously records changes in atmospheric pressure on a piece of paper mounted on a rotating cylinder.
blighter: a person regarded with contempt.
Bowden: Bowden wire; a type of flexible wire used to transmit a pulling force over a short distance (such as the remote shutter release cables on a film camera).
Bowie: horse racetrack built in Bowie, Maryland in 1914 (no longer active).
camera guns: aircraft-mounted motion picture cameras that record the firing of the guns and their target line as aimed by the pilot.
Chinese rat torture: torture whereby a rat was placed on the victim’s stomach with a small metallic container placed over it. The torturer would heat the container, making the rat dig its way out.
cowl: a removable metal covering for an engine, especially an aircraft engine.
crate: an airplane.
Dornier: Dornier DO 17, sometimes referred to as “the Pencil” due to its fundamental shape, was a twin-engine medium-size bomber utilized by the Germans during World War II.
drink of water: a very tall, thin person.
forty-leven: an expression used to describe a huge number.
Gates: Gates Flying Circus, founded by Major Ivan Gates in 1922, was one of the most famous barnstorming shows of the time. Some of the greatest stunt fliers worked for Gates, including Clyde “Upside-Down” Pangborn, who specialized in flying upside down and changing planes in midair.
G-men: government men; agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
greaseball: a worker who lubricates the working parts of a machine or vehicle.
ground loop: to cause an aircraft to ground loop, or make a sharp horizontal turn when taxiing, landing or taking off.
het up: upset.
“hot papas”: personnel whose duty it is to rescue people from burning aircraft. They wear protective suits, formerly made of asbestos, to safeguard them so they can work close to burning planes.
JN-9: Curtiss N-9; a seaplane used to train US Navy pilots during World War I. The N-9 was used in 1916 and 1917 for the development of ship-mounted launch catapults and flight testing the new autopilot components intended to be used in pilotless “aerial torpedoes.” They were retired by the Navy in 1927.
Lewis: a double-barreled Lewis antiaircraft machine gun based on the gas-operated machine gun designed by US Army Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis. In 1911, Lewis designed a machine gun that weighed about half as much as a typical machine gun. The lightness of the gun made it popular in the field and as an aircraft-mounted weapon, especially since the cooling effect of the high-speed air over the gun meant that the gun’s cooling mechanisms could be removed, making the weapon even lighter.
longboat: the longest boat carried by a sailing ship.
lying to: stopping with the vessel heading into the wind.
Marquis of Queensberry: referring to the official rules for the sport of boxing; originated by John Sholto Douglas (1844–1900), a British nobleman and eighth Marquis of Queensberry (a hill in lower Scotland).
Messerschmitt: a famous German aircraft manufacturer known primarily for its World War II fighter aircraft. In 1927, Willy Messerschmitt joined the company, then known as Bavarian Aircraft Works, as chief designer. He promoted a new lightweight design in which many separate parts were merged into a single reinforced firewall, thereby saving weight and improving performance. The Messerschmitt became a favorite of the German government and in 1938 the company was renamed with Willy Messerschmitt as chairman.
Messerschmitt 109F: German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt in the early 1930s. It was one of the first true modern fighters of the era with all-metal construction, a closed canopy and retractable landing gear. With its new lightweight construction and improved performance, the aircraft won the German air force fighter contest in 1935 and soon thereafter became a favorite of the German government.
monoplane: an airplane with one sustaining surface or one set of wings.
motor cannon: a type of gun that shoots through the propeller hub of a fighter plane.
NC: North Carolina; US Coast Guard Air Station located in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on the Pasquotank River near the Atlantic coast. The air station was commissioned in August 1940 and was initially equipped with three seaplanes, three amphibians and four landplanes. It was established for its potential strategic value as a seaplane base and was utilized during World War II under US Navy control for Search and Rescue (SAR), anti-submarine and training missions.
Pan Am: Pan American World Airways, the principal international airline of the United States from the 1930s until it closed its operations in 1991. Originally founded as a seaplane service out of Florida, the airline became a major company credited with many innovations that shaped the international airline industry.
plaster of Paris: a white powder that when mixed with water forms a quick-hardening paste. It is used in the arts for sculpting and making casts, and in medicine for molding casts around broken limbs.
Prussian: in the manner of a military officer from Prussia. Prussia, a former northern European nation, based much of its rule on armed might, stressing rigid military discipline and maintaining one of the most strictly drilled armies in the world.
ring mount: a rotating mount on an aircraft that allowed the gun to be turned to any direction with the gunner remaining directly behind it.
ripping: (British informal) excellent.
roadster: an open-top automobile with a single seat in front for two or three persons, a fabric top and either a luggage compartment or a rumble seat in back. A rumble seat is an upholstered exterior seat with a hinged lid that opens to form the back of the seat when in use.
rudder: a device used to steer ships or aircraft. A rudder is a flat plane or sheet of material attached with hinges to the craft’s stern or tail. In typical aircraft, pedals operate rudders via mechanical linkages.
Scheherazade: the female narrator of The Arabian Nights, who during one thousand and one adventurous nights saved her life by entertaining her husband, the king, with stories.
seat-stick: a walking stick with handles at one end that fold out to form a small seat.
slipped: sideslip; (of an aircraft when excessively banked) to slide sideways, toward the center of the curve described in turning.
slipstream: the airstream pushed back by a revolving aircraft propeller.
snap roll: a maneuver in which an aircraft makes a single quick revolution about its longitudinal axis while flying horizontally.
stall: a situation in which an aircraft suddenly dives because the airflow is obstructed and lift is lost. The loss of airflow can be caused by insufficient airspeed or by an excessive angle of an airfoil (part of an aircraft’s surface that provides lift or control) when the aircraft is climbing.
tab: a small, adjustable hinged surface, located on the trailing edge of the aileron, rudder or elevator control surface; also called trim tab. It is adjusted by the pilot to maintain balance and to help stabilize the aircraft in flight.
tach: tachometer; a device used to determine speed of rotation, typically of an engine’s crankshaft, usually measured in revolutions per minute.
tarmac: airport runway.
terminal velocity: the constant speed that a falling object reaches when the downward gravitational force equals the frictional resistance of the medium through which it is falling, usually air.
Teuton: a native of Germany or a person of German origin.
three points: three-point landing; an airplane landing in which the two main wheels and the nose wheel all touch the ground simultaneously.
turtleback: the part of the airplane behind the cockpit that is shaped like the back of a turtle.
Udet: Ernst Udet (1896–1941), the second-highest-scoring German flying ace of World War I, with sixty-two victories.
whipstall: a maneuver in a small aircraft in which it goes into a vertical climb, pauses briefly, and then drops toward the earth, nose first.
Winchell, Walter: American journalist whose newspaper column “On Broadway” (1924–1963) and radio newscasts (1932–1953) reported on entertainment and politics.
wind tee: a large weathervane shaped like an airplane, or a horizontal letter T, located on or near a landing field, to indicate wind direction to airplane pilots.
windward: facing the wind or on the side facing the wind.
wing walking: the act of moving on the wings of an airplane during flight. Wing walkers were barnstormers who were the ultimate risk takers of their day. Performing stunts on the wings of a plane during flight started in 1917 when a US Army pilot climbed out on the wing of his plane while in mid-air to resolve certain problems. This act boosted morale and confidence in his fellow pilots, and as a result, the art of wing walking took off.
wooden nickels, don’t take any: take care of yourself; goodbye and watch yourself. Used as an amiable parting salutation.