National Geographic : 1943 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine Catching Forty Winks 500 Feet above the Atlantic Dawn-to-dusk patrols are exacting. Lest fatigue dull efficiency, the Navy encourages airship men to nap while off watch. Cables support the bunk. Atlantic, the Gulf, and the Pacific. Lakehurst and Moffett Field, California, train their per sonnel. Foremost among the "fanatics" enjoying a belated hour of triumph is Lakehurst's Elmer Leidy, chief petty officer and head of the pigeon loft. If Radio Fails, Pigeons Carry On As each patrol blimp goes out to sea, she receives six of Chief Leidy's 350 pigeons. Four, bearing white capsules in leg bands, are released for practice flights. Two, with red capsules, are kept for emergency use. In event of radio silence, they carry messages to the station. If the ship is down with wireless out of commission, they will bring word of her position (page 88). Chief Leidy proudly displayed diplomas his Navy pigeons had won in races against private fanciers' birds. "But now," he said mourn fully, "my birds are retired from sport racing for the duration. They have a racing job to do for Uncle Sam." Asked how long he had been in the service, Leidy replied unhesitatingly, "I've been in the pigeon game 30 years." Only proved birds are mated. Some are known as 500-milers. "We don't want deep-keeled birds," said the loft master, stroking the dainty, stream lined breast of one of his pets. They have too much wind resistance." The female, although lighter, is as sturdy a flyer as the male, Leidy observed. Both share watches over their young. "What's that? Are they all homing pigeons? Of course they are. And," he added, "don't you call them 'carrier pigeons'! One of the newspaper men did." Flapping outside the pens was a yellow pennant, signal to a wing of warbirds wheeling aloft that they could exercise a while longer. When the banner was taken down, it was their cue to come in for feeding. "They eat like fighters," said Chief Leidy, sifting a handful of their food, "and they train like fighters." They get a balanced ration according to the season: heating grains in winter and cooling grains in summer. Glancing at the instructions written on a pigeon crate about to be loaded on a blimp, I had a vision of our airship's abundant food and her crew's hospitality. Leidy, who doesn't want his birds to break training, evidently had been struck by the same thought. On the crate he had written: "Notice. Do Not Feed the Birds at All."