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Weird laws of Delaware – aircraft food supplies

charles lindbergh

Charles Lindbergh took 5 sandwiches and water on his 1927 flight, thus meeting Delaware’s “adequate supply of food and potable water” requirement

Reading this recent blog post on weird English laws at the Law Library Congress blog got me thinking about some of the weird Delaware laws commonly posted on websites like www.dumblaws.com or www.bored.com (Warning: obnoxious pop up ads!) Do these laws really exist in Delaware or are they just endlessly cut and pasted filler for content farm websites? I set out to do a little research to find out if any of them are true. Here is the first of my results.

It is illegal to fly over any body of water, unless one is carrying sufficient supplies of food and drink. Status: Once mostly true. Repealed.

This is the most commonly given example of a “weird law” in Delaware and yes, it really did exist. Originally passed in 1929, 2 Del. Code § 506, 36 Del. Laws Ch. 248, § 6 actually read: Aircraft flying over large bodies of water shall be provided with an adequate supply of food and potable water and if engaged in carrying passengers for hire, must be equipped with a Very’s pistol or a signal device the equivalent thereof, and life preservers or other flotation devices of the nature and character approved by the Secretary of Commerce of the United States.

The “large” part is usually not quoted making it sound as though Delaware had banned foodless flights over Lums Pond. In 1929 it perhaps didn’t seem unlikely for the passengers of a hypothetical Ford Trimotor that ditched in the Delaware Bay to survive by bobbing in their flotation devices, eating their adequate supply of food, and firing their Very’s pistol until help arrived.

The language of the law was taken from the then current “Air Commerce Regulations” of the United States. (7 Information Bulletin. Dept of Commerce. Aeronautics Branch 17 (eff. June 1, 1928)) At the time it was passed it was neither weird nor unusual and was in fact the regulation in effect everywhere in the United States. But as early as 1939 the Delaware law was mocked in the Minnesota Law Review as “a fine example of a superfluous effort…” (Newman F. Baker, Legislative Crimes, 23 Minn. L. Rev. 135 at 162 (1938-1939)) The food and drink provision was no longer a federal requirement by the time of the first Code of Federal Regulations in 1938. The law lingered on in Delaware until it was finally eliminated in a revision of the state’s aviation laws in 1996. (70 Del. Laws ch. 575 § 16)

Photograph from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

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