Ever since Macy’s added balloon floats to their iconic Thanksgiving Day parade in 1927, mishaps and fails have become regular occurrences.
Felix the Cat (above) got tangled in telephone wires that year. Popeye dumped cold rainwater that had collected on his cap onto the crowd in 1957. And poor Kermit the Frog; his head sadly deflated in 1991.
But at least it’s been 83 years since a float was hit by an airplane.
This midair collision happened in 1932 over a heavily populated area of Jamaica, Queens—long after the parade had ended and the helium-filled balloons were released into the sky (the custom in the early 1930s).
Annette Gipson, 22, happened to be at the controls of a biplane with her instructor, flying at 5,000 feet.
All of a sudden, the brazen “girl flyer,” as newspapers dubbed Gipson, noticed the 60-foot Tom-Cat balloon coming her way.
“She shouted, ‘I think I’ll have a piece of the neck’ to [her instructor], as she took dead aim at the cat,” reports the book Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“Upon impact, the balloon wrapped itself around the left wing. The plane went into a deep tailspin and sped toward the ground out of control.”
Afraid that the plane would catch fire when it hit the ground, Gipson turned off the ignition. “Witnesses in the surrounding neighborhoods, straining their necks to look skyward, gasped as they heard the engine die and saw the plane plummeting to earth.”
Before it did, her instructor managed to take over. As the craft came within 80 feet of rooftops, he got control and was able to land at Roosevelt Field, as planned.
Considering that she almost crash-landed in the middle of Queens, Gipson was nonplussed.
“It was a sensation that I never felt before—the whirling housetops, rushing up to meet me—and the thoughts of a whole lifetime flashed through my mind,” she told reporters who had rushed out to Roosevelt Field to speak to her after they’d been tipped off about her collision.
Gipson went on to become a prominent “aviatrix,” as the newspapers called her, touring the country and hosting headline-grabbing women-only air races at Floyd Bennett Field.