Sky Queen

Nellie Jay was the first cow to be milked in flight 91 years ago

Sky+Queen

Harrison Melton, Staff Writer

On February 18, 1930, a Guernsey cow named Nellie Jay was flown from Bismarck, Missouri to the International Aviation Exhibition in St. Louis. Nellie, also known as Elm Farm Ollie, was chosen to board a Ford Trimotor plane due to her high milk production (She reportedly needed to be milked thrice a day), calm nature, and her weight of 1000 pounds. The voyage was taken in order to test the strength of the plane as well as to take data on Nellie’s behavior throughout the flight. Part of the reason behind this absurd event was that it was a scientific study regarding how farm animals would respond to this form of transportation. She was accompanied by the pilot, Claude M. Sterling, and Elsworth W. Bunce; they both ensured her comfort and satiation. During the short flight, Wisconsin-born Bunce became the first man to milk a cow while aboard an aircraft. The 24 quarts of milk produced by Nellie was packaged in paper cartons and dropped to the spectators below via parachutes. After the journey, Nellie Jay became known as the “Sky Queen.” Additionally, she posed for the camera next to a plane, surrounded by people, with a sign reading “Guernseys Are Always Ahead” placed in front of her. She unfortunately only lived about 10 years; however, she became the subject of a numerous amount of cartoons, stories, art, and poems. An excerpt from “The Bovine Cantata in B-Flat Major” by Giacomo Moocini and Ludwig Von Bovine honors Nellie Jay. The song goes:

“Sing we praises of that moo cow,

Airborne once and ever more,

Kindness, courage, butter, cream cheese,

These fine things we can’t ignore.”

Since the publicity stunt, every February 18th has been celebrated as the day the first cow was milked on an airplane. Around this time annually, museums set up exhibits in order to honor the Sky Queen and the 72-mile voyage she endured. For those who are unable to recreate the situation, the holiday can still be celebrated by visiting a cow on a local farm, enjoying a plane ride, or drinking some milk.