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Pilots who fly over penguins and make them fall over

Urban legend started in Falklands War

Dear Matt: My aunt says she read in the paper that pilots who fly over penguins in the Arctic can make them all fall over by flying very low. She says they do it as a kind of joke. Can this be true? Why would the penguins do that? — Mario, Chula Vista

Penguins, actually, are more Antarctic than Arctic birds, though I’m sure Auntie doesn’t care. She sounds like a dweller in Weekly World News Land, where all things are possible. Anyway with so little to go on, I had few hopes of answering this one. But then we shuffled through the Urban Legend files, and there it was. A story a couple of decades old that pops up from time to time, is dusted off and accessorized with a contemporary handbag and heels, and trotted out as a recent factual occurrence. The story surfaced in newspapers during the Falklands War, tales of the Royal Air Force flying back and forth past acres of penguins, who looked up and followed the planes with their heads, like spectators at a slow-motion tennis match. Pilots would then fly out to sea, turn around, and head straight toward the birds, who would again look up and, as the planes passed overhead, fall backwards like punched Schmoos. I can imagine a fighter jet distracting a penguin; I can’t imagine a penguin tipping over. Antarctic Urban Legend.

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Dear Matt: My aunt says she read in the paper that pilots who fly over penguins in the Arctic can make them all fall over by flying very low. She says they do it as a kind of joke. Can this be true? Why would the penguins do that? — Mario, Chula Vista

Penguins, actually, are more Antarctic than Arctic birds, though I’m sure Auntie doesn’t care. She sounds like a dweller in Weekly World News Land, where all things are possible. Anyway with so little to go on, I had few hopes of answering this one. But then we shuffled through the Urban Legend files, and there it was. A story a couple of decades old that pops up from time to time, is dusted off and accessorized with a contemporary handbag and heels, and trotted out as a recent factual occurrence. The story surfaced in newspapers during the Falklands War, tales of the Royal Air Force flying back and forth past acres of penguins, who looked up and followed the planes with their heads, like spectators at a slow-motion tennis match. Pilots would then fly out to sea, turn around, and head straight toward the birds, who would again look up and, as the planes passed overhead, fall backwards like punched Schmoos. I can imagine a fighter jet distracting a penguin; I can’t imagine a penguin tipping over. Antarctic Urban Legend.

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