I have a hunch that there aren’t a lot of aerospace museums that could come up with an appropriate image for Groundhog Day, but it’s at moments like this that the National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Division really shows the range and depth of its holdings. The photograph shown above – the only aviation/groundhog picture that I’m aware of – shows Edna Newcomer and her groundhog Tailwind waving from the cockpit of the Bellanca Skyrocket The American Nurse, at Floyd Bennett Field, New York in September 1932. Dr. Leon Pisculli, also seen in the window, organized the non-stop New York to Rome flight to study the effects of long-distance flight on humans, and presumably, on groundhogs. Newcomer, a nurse and a licensed pilot, planned to bail out over Florence and descend by parachute — it’s not known if she intended to jump with Tailwind. Dressed in white riding clothes, Newcomer also brought along a dress in case she was presented to King Victor Emmanuel III.
But it’s very sad to report that there was no parachute descent on Florence, and no royal audience – American Nurse was last seen by the S.S. France 400 miles from its European landfall. Edna Newcomer, Leon Pisculli, pilot William Ulbrich, and poor Tailwind the groundhog were never seen again.
Allan Janus is a museum specialist in the Museum’s Archives Division.