Pierre Le Gloan: Ace for Both Sides

In one of the most unusual flying careers of the Second World War, French fighter pilot Pierre Le Gloan became an ace fighting against the Axis–and then became an ace fighting against the Allies.


French pilot Pierre Le Gloan and his Dewoitine D.520 fighter, in Vichy livery.

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The American War With Korea (No, Not THAT One)

Everyone knows that US troops, under the umbrella of the United Nations, entered Korea in June 1950 to counter the North Korean invasion. But most people don’t know that this was not the first time US troops fought in Korea. The first US-Korean war was 79 years before, almost to the day.


Korean dead.

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Wild Florida–Florida Black Bear

The Florida Black Bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) is a geographical subspecies of the American Black Bear. The common Black Bear ranges all the way from Alaska to Mexico, with populations in at least 40 states. It is the smallest of the three bear species found in North America, with males weighing around 325 pounds or so. The Florida subspecies, however, is even smaller, averaging about 250 pounds, and unlike the far-ranging common Black Bear, thefloridanus subspecies is found only in scattered portions of Florida and the southern parts of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama, wherever it can find the large undeveloped tracts of forest and swampland that it needs. (The isolated population of bears in Louisiana is considered to be another separate subspecies.) Female Florida Black Bears require at least 10 square miles of territory; males, who range over the territories of several females, need at least 30-50 square miles.


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The Pfeil Fighter: Push-Me Pull-You

By 1943, it was becoming apparent that the standard propeller-driven piston-engine aircraft was reaching the limits of its potential speed. At the same time, though, Nazi Germany was facing daily raids by American and British bombers, and needed ever-faster planes with ever-higher altitudes to fight back. In the race to increase speed and power, unconventional designs were looked at, and one of the oddest was the Dornier Do335 “Pfeil” fighter, which had two propellers–one mounted in front and one at the back.


The Dornier Do 335 A “Pfeil” fighter, on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center

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Empire State Express No. 999: First Locomotive to Reach 100 mph

By 1890, the US was expanding rapidly. The West had been conquered, thriving large cities existed along both coasts, and populations were moving in large numbers. The primary method of transportation was the railroad, and new tracks criss-crossed the country. But even at top speed, it took almost a week to travel from coast to coast. The locomotive “Empire State Express No. 999” changed that.


Empire State Express No. 999, on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

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The Airphibian: The Car That Flies

Since the 1920’s, futuristic scifi novels and films depicted humans zipping around sky cities in flying cars. Several dreamers even produced designs for cars that could be converted into airplanes and vice versa. The first of these to be certified by the FAA was the “Airphibian”, the brainchild of an amateur designer who taught himself aeronautics from a book.


The Fulton FA-3-101 Airphibian, on display at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center.

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Florida’s Invaders–Hydrilla

Florida is the land of invasive species. Because of our status as a center for the importing of exotic pets and houseplants from overseas, and our neo-tropical climate, we have been invaded by everything from kudzu plants to Burmese pythons. One of our invasive plants is Hydrilla, an aquatic plant that came to us via the aquarium trade. It is listed as one of the “100 Most Invasive Species in the World” and has been called “The Perfect Aquatic Weed”.


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Yuri Gagarin: First Human in Space

The development of human space flight was one of the pinnacles of human technological advancement and one of humanity’s greatest achievements. But the “Space Race” was not motivated by science or by the humanitarian drive to explore new worlds–it was motivated by global Cold War politics between the United States and the Soviet Union. Perhaps that is why most people in the US today do not remember that the first human in space was not an American, but was a Soviet Air Force Senior Lieutenant named Yuri Gagarin.


Gagarin’s spacesuit, on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

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Wild Florida–Lubber Grasshopper

The Lubber Grasshopper is likely to be the biggest grasshopper you will ever see–and it certainly is the largest grasshopper in the United States. At a length of over three inches and with bright splashes of orange, yellow, red and green, Lubbers are certainly eye-catching. They are also extraordinarily bold, walking around in plain sight in open areas like lawns, parks, or sidewalks.


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Oslo: The Fram Museum

By the first years of the 1900’s, most of the earth had been explored.  One exception, however, were the polar regions. In the equivalent of the Apollo moonshots, large organized expeditions raced each other to be the first at the poles, and these adventures were breathlessly reported by the press of the day to an eager public.

One of these explorers was Roald Amundsen, from Norway.


The Fram, on display in Oslo, Norway.

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Erich Hartmann: The Real Top Gun

The highest-scoring American ace in history was Richard Bong, who had 40 air victories flying P-38 Lightnings in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. The most famous of the  air aces, the “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen, had 80 air victories during the First World War. But the highest-scoring air ace of all time remains largely unknown to most Americans, perhaps because he flew for the Nazis. Erich Hartmann, flying a Messerschmitt Bf-109 on the Russian Front in the Second World War, scored an incredible 352 air victories, making him the most successful fighter pilot in history.


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