It's a true story. But the drawing for Ripley's Believe It or Not "Luckiest Man Alive" is slightly mythical. Captain Hedley, as an observer with no seatbelt, did indeed both fall out of his plane and land on it again, just not quite as dramatically as shown in the Ripley's drawing of the event. The drawing showed Hedley falling straight down while the airplane dove in a vertical half-circle to intersect with his fall. Instead, it seems he fell more or less with the airplane, and somehow landed on the tail. But a miss is as good as a mile; it didn't matter if Hedley was near the plane as long as he wasn't on it, and that was how many World War 1 airmen died.
In a recent museum talk, Andy Parks told Hedley's story with some comments from biographer Jack Stokes Ballard and Hedley's grandson Dennis Hedley (shown in the picture, beside his grandfather's uniform.) The talk covered the Bicycle Corps that Hedley also served in, his achievements as an ace, his strong personality, the FE2B versus the Albatros, other pilots' scary experiences, Hedley being shot down by a red triplane, his POW experiences, the vendetta that brought him to America, his speaking career, and his (lack of) medals.
Another story told (that didn't make it into the talk) was about a less lucky friend of Hedley's, who not long after Hedley's adventure fell out of his airplane and fell all the way to the ground. However, he fell into a bog, and his only injury was a broken toe. Not the luckiest man alive, but still a good war story and no doubt very happy to be alive!
This download is free for now (and is also available in epub and pdf format; see True Stories on the main site), because this is just such a great story and it needs to get out there. Our plan is to get these talks on paper and available to download as the great war stories and Great War stories one would expect from this shop. For the live, interactive, video-and-audio-enabled version, which can include consultation with Andy Parks who knew many of these aces personally, you can book a museum tour by calling (303) 668-8044, or you can attend the free second-Saturday talks at the museum.