Altitude Test

A Founder Story by J.E. Wellingham, Founder Number 207

When I became an officer in December 1917, I was given an altitude test to determine what type of aviator I would be. There were combat aviators, bombing aviators, and other types.

A combat aviator was one who could stand the highest altitude before running out of breath.

The machine on which I took this test was a very crude affair. It resembled one of these telephone operators’ tables on which there were many plugs with wires leading to them. When a red, yellow and green light would appear, the student would plug a wire into the hole to make the light go off.

At the time these lights were going on and off, there was a rheostat in front of you which was moving from zerio to a higher number. As this rheostat moved, the operator was supposed to manually turn it back to zero.

While all of this was going on, there was a foot pedal near your left foot on the floor which was used to stop a ringing bell that was continually going on. All the lights were blinking, the rheostat was moving back and forth, and the bell was ringing at the same time.

Then a big bag full of oxygen was placed over your mouth and a clothes pin affair was stuck no your nose to make you breathe through your mouth.

I started operating this mechanism as instructed. As the minutes passed, I became a better operative (so I thought). When the mistakes became more and more pronounced, the bag and clothes pin were removed and I was informed that my altitude was unlimited. So, I was rated as a fighter pilot.

However, I was kept at Kelly Field and made a permanent instructor. I never got to cross the ocean and try my luck at being an ACE. This probably saved my life since fatalities were very high on the front. My only battle was the Battle of Kelly Field.