Belling the Ape

During initial flight testing of P-59 at George AFB (then Hawes Field) CA, Bell personnel could be distinguished by their trademark black derby hats. Although the airspace around George and Muroc Dry Lake was restricted, P-38 pilots from a nearby Army field would occasionally invade the area to see what was going on at the "secret" base.

On one low-speed flight, Bell test-pilot Jack Woolams spotted one of the snoopers approaching, and was ready for him. He pulled on a rubber gorilla mask he had brought along, put on his derby, and stuck a big cigar in his mouth, then let the P-38 pull alongside his jet. He glared back at the stunned pilot, who quickly broke off and headed for home.

There was no official follow-up to this episode, but it was the source of much hilarity among Bell workers who speculated about the story being told that night at some Officers Club of a propellerless plane being flown by a cigar-smoking gorilla wearing a derby hat! It might well have been the forerunner of the flying saucer tales a decade later. (— K O Eckland)