The Animals of Aeronautics

Monkeys and woodchucks and cats, oh my!
Discover all the critters great and small who made their contribution to the history of aeronautics.

A gray tabby named Kiddo was the first cat to attempt to cross the Atlantic in 1910. The cat stowed away in a lifeboat on the airship America before takeoff, leading to the historic first radio communication from an aircraft: “Roy, come and get this goddamn cat.”

“Thrilling Rescue at Sea of the Crew of the Airship America,” New York Times, October 30, 1910, Picture Section , Part 1

British pilot John Moore-Brabazon made the first official flight in Great Britain in 1909. Several months later, he took a flight with a piglet in a wicker basket strapped to the wing, proving to the world that “pigs can fly.”

“PIG FLIES IN AEROPLANE,” Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), Nov. 21, 1909, Sec. 4, p. 2

Leading airship designer and pilot Umberto Nobile took his fox terrier Titina along for not one, but two flights to the North Pole! Both dog and master survived a harrowing crash after the second flight on the airship Italia left them stranded on ice in 1928.

“One of the last photographs made of Gen. Umberto Nobile (wearing sweater), with members of his party and his fox terrier mascot…” Evening Star (Washington, DC), May 28, 1928

In 1928, the cat of German automobile industrialist Fritz von Opel took a ride in his Rak 3 rocket car, which reached over 180 miles per hour. The cat was not pleased. 

“Rocket Car Is Wrecked in Speed Trial; Cat, Lone Passenger, Still at Large,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), June 24, 1928

One of the most flamboyant and successful pilots of the 1930s, Roscoe Turner, was famous for breaking aviation records and flying with a lion cub named Gilmore on his lap. The popular pair even inspired the comic stip “Col. Roscoe Turner’s Flying Adventures,” featured in the Evening Star.

“A bracer after that transcontinental flight. Col. Roscoe Turner giving a drink of milk to his lion cub…,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), June 1, 1930

In 1932, Dr. Leon Pisculli, parachute jumper Edna Newcomer, and a woodchuck named Tailwind took off in the Bellanca Skyrocket The American Nurse, attempting a non-stop flight from New York to Rome. Shortly thereafter, the plane went missing and Tailwind and the others were never seen again.

“DOCTOR, NURSE, PILOT TAKE OFF ON NON-STOP FLIGHT TO ROME,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), September 13, 1932

Canines Belka and Strelka orbited the Earth over a dozen times on board Sputnik 5 on August 19, 1960, becoming the first animals to survive orbital flight. Three years later, Strelka gave birth to puppies, one of which was given to President John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline.

“RED DOGS IN SPACE,” New York Herald Tribune, August 20, 1960, p. 2

A squirrel monkey named Baker and a rhesus monkey named Able became space pioneers when NASA launched them in a capsule in 1959. After a fifteen minute flight, including nine minutes of weightlessness, Baker and Able successfully landed in the South Pacific, earning them the title of the first living creatures to return to Earth alive from space.

“Space Monkeys Flown to Capital To See Doctors and the Press,” New York Times, May 30, 1959, p. 2

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