Why Did Boeing Fill A Passenger Jet With Potatoes In 2012?

The history of food is filled with all sorts of weird stories. Thanks to an odd arms-for-soda deal with Russia, Pepsi once (briefly) possessed the world's sixth-largest navy. Popsicles were created by an 11-year-old kid who accidentally left a sugary drink mix outside overnight. In 1981, the Reagan administration tried to classify ketchup as a vegetable as a workaround to nutritional requirements for school lunches. Chocolate was once used as currency in the Aztec Empire. Buffalo wings were created because a restaurant owner received sent a huge delivery of chicken wings by mistake. After people spent hundreds of years thinking they were poisonous, the Supreme Court had to rule in 1893 in Nix v. Hedden on whether tomatoes were a fruit or vegetable for tariff purposes (vegetable won it in a shutout, 9-0).

One time, Boeing loaded a large number of potatoes on a passenger jet and flew it up in the air as a part of a very critical test. As strange as it sounds, much of it had to do with potatoes' relation to humans in terms of water content.

Boeing loaded its jet with potatoes on purpose

As bizarre as it might sound, there's actually a good reason Boeing did this. In addition to their deliciousness quotient, potatoes have an odd quality — as USA Today explains, they absorb and reflect Wi-Fi signals in the same way humans do, thanks to their high water content.

In 2012, Boeing needed to test the effectiveness of its onboard Wi-Fi signal. In order to do so, it needed planes to be full of people over a significant period of time — Boeing knew this wasn't reasonable, but the engineers found a workaround with potatoes. They loaded huge piles of potatoes in every seat on the plane and sent them up into the sky. It worked perfectly, leading to significant advances in the viability of airborne Wi-Fi. They also called the project, Synthetic Personnel Using Dialectic Substitution (SPUDS), as a nod to the potatoes used in the experiment.

Potatoes' mixed history in different cultures

Strangely enough, this isn't the only bizarre story from the history of the potato (even if the story about the creation of the potato chip is probably made up). The humble tubers were once believed to cause syphilis, leprosy, nymphomania, narcosis, and sterility because Europeans believed they resembled the body parts impacted by those diseases. There was actually an edict issued in France at one point that levied fines on anyone who cultivated potatoes. Russian peasants were also once so superstitious about the potato that they starved rather than cultivate it. They believed that the "eyes" on potatoes were unnatural and a sign of evil, abetted by the fact potatoes bud rather than require fertilization.

The weirdness extends to both negative and positive history, however. The Incas revered the potato so much that they worshipped them in the form of the goddess Axomamma. They also buried potatoes with the dead so they'd have something to eat on the journey to the afterlife.