The test pilot of the USAF's first jet fighter dressed as a gorilla to mess with other pilots

Edwards Air Force Base in California certainly has its fair share of oddball aircraft and eccentric pilots.

But a dude flying a top-secret airplane in a monkey suit?

In 1942, Bell aircraft was developing its P-59 Airacomet, the first jet engine fighter designed by the United States. And although it never saw action, it was an important step in the development of U.S. air power.

It was also a top-secret project at the time. The British had a jet fighter airframe in development since 1941 as did the Nazis.

It was so secret, in fact, that when the P-59 was taxiing, airmen put a fake wooden propeller on her nose so onlookers wouldn’t notice anything odd about the aircraft.

In the air, however, it was a different story. Pilots flying the usual piston-driven aviation engine would report back to base with sightings of a fast-moving plane without a propeller. They also said the plane was flown by a “gorilla, wearing a derby hat, waving a stogie at them.”

first fighter jet

 

The Chief test pilot for Bell Aircraft was Jack Woolams. By the time Bell was testing its P-59 design, Woolams had already served 18 months in the Army Air Corps. He was the man behind the gorilla mask.

Other pilots who were exposed to Woolams’ prank were convinced by Air Force psychologists that they hadn’t really seen the gorilla flying the plane, “because everyone knows you can’t fly without a propeller.”

First jet fighter

Bell P-59 Airacomet side view. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Woolams was also the first person to fly a fighter aircraft coast-to-coast nonstop and set an altitude record in 1943. Woolams died preparing for an air show in 1946, but he was a man ahead of his time — a harbinger of the nonstop, record-breaking, years of air power development to come for test pilots in the 1950s and 1960s.

Fast-Forward to 13:00 in the video below.

SEE ALSO: This video of a dropping mortar round is the best prank footage you’ll see all week >

TOP ARTICLES
How dead civilians were listed as 'ISIS fighters' in Iraq

A year and a half long investigation by the New York Times revealed that the US had reported civilian casualties in combat as enemy combatant casualties.

The Marines are training an F-35 squadron to fight in nuclear war

The Marines are training on how to fight through a nuclear war and under the strains of nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological hazards.

Why a drunk traffic fatality was the last straw for US troops in Japan

Early in the morning, a Marine drove while impaired, ran a red light, and drove into oncoming traffic. He struck another truck, killing its driver.

History's 7 outstanding military leaders, according to Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte, considered one of the most memorable military leaders of all time, held these 7 military predecessors in great esteem.

6 ways Austin Powers is way more operator than you

In 1997, Britain's biggest playboy and best special agent Austin Powers rocked movie-goers with his bad teeth, groovy personality, and judo chop.

The best qualities about veteran entrepreneurs that investors love

Due to our unique military experiences, veterans have so much more to offer the world, and those traits are closely examined by potential investors.

SpaceX launching a third top-secret satellite

SpaceX is launching a secretive mission this month. The mission, shrouded in secrecy, has some considering it may be for the CIA or the NSA.

This is how the Air Force will use prop planes on high-tech battlefields

The Air Force is looking toward a light-attack aircraft program, known as OA-X, to produce a plane that meets its needs and gets the job done.

A retired SEAL commander on how to stop thinking and 'get after it' every day

This former Navy commander has some excellent advice on how to jump start your day, and "get some" in order to make it as productive as possible.

Marines return to battle in 'old stomping grounds'

The Marines recall their "old stomping grounds" as they return to Fallujah and the surround areas of Al Anbar Province to battle a new enemy.