They appeared to walk around aimlessly, looking innocent until the right opportunity presented itself. Then, moving as quickly as they could, they struck. Soon, the unguarded flying machine’s two linen wings had been ripped to shreds—an airplane that had cost Uncle Sam $5,465.
At least twice during World War I, these destroyers of government property succeeded in grounding Army training planes at Dallas’ Love Field. Who instigated these home-front attacks on American aircraft? Trench-coated German saboteurs? Disloyal Texans bent on hampering the war effort? Draft dodgers venting anger at the government? Nope, cows. Not seditious cows, not even mad cows. Just hungry cows.
“The discovery that Texas cattle will eat the wings of an airplane…is one of the reasons why a general order to ‘Stick to the machine, no matter what happens’ is impressed upon every cadet aviator training in Texas,” the Associated Press reported from Dallas in June 1918. The plane that Texas cattle found so tasty was the Curtiss JN-4D, or Jenny. First flown in 1914, the Jenny had wings made from linen stretched over a wire-supported spruce frame.
To make the wings airtight, the Curtiss company painted them with cellulose. Army aviators called cellulose “dope”; for cattle, it was dinner if they could get it. The cellulose, the AP noted, “softens under their tongues, and the cattle in their eagerness to obtain it will chew the expensive linen planes to pieces to extract the…flavor.”