Many people have speculated as to the nature of the strange phenomenon which occasionally envelopes aircraft flying in the semitropical area off the Florida coast. Commercial pilots are reluctant to discuss the matter with outsiders, and even more unwilling to have their names used in regard to whatever opinions they might express. To admit that something may be going on beyond the range of present human knowledge, is to be branded a crackpot and perhaps lose one’s license. But many pilots agree, in private, that there may be an unstable aberration in the atmosphere, some sort or hole in the sky that planes fly into and can’t get out of. Perhaps the missing aircraft are somehow shoved into the past, or into the future, or into another dimension, through some means as yet totally unknown to science.
The most chilling story of all, in support or the above theory, concerns a private pilot in Ohio who recently had an almost incredible experience. According to “The American Legion Magazine,” this pilot was flying through clouds one day when he suddenly came upon another aircraft and almost collided with it. He banked hard to avoid the collision, but his wing-tip nevertheless scraped the other plane, which was a strange-looking canvas-and-wood job obviously of pre-World War I vintage. The pilot or the ancient airplane was wearing a leather flying hat and goggles, as was the custom in those early days. His aircraft flew on, not seriously damaged, and disappeared again into the clouds. The Ohio pilot flew home and made a report of the incident. But there was no record that any such aircraft was in the vicinity at the time, or even that such a plane was licensed. In other words, the near-disaster occurred with a plane that apparently didn't exist
Then, according to the story, an old plane just like the one described by the modern pilot, was found a month or so later under a stack of hay in a barn where it had apparently been sitting abandoned for many years. Inside the pilot’s pouch was a log book, and one of the last entries in the log was a description of a near-disaster with a weird silver airplane. The log book was turned over to a government agency, which found it to be authentic and over 40 years old. The old airplane was also checked, and sure enough, there was a long scraps along one side of it, just where the log’s narrative said the plane had been hit. There were traces of paint and aluminum in the scrape, and when these were analyzed, they matched perfectly with the modern plane!
The whole incident has been investigated by the Civil Aeronautics Board. The CAB thinks it’s a hoax, but they can’t find any way to explain it or negate the evidence. The pilot in question is known to be or good character, and thus far the investigation has upheld his version or the story.
But the American Legion Magazine was more helpful. The story as given in the April 1962 article, about the disappearance of six Navy planes in the Bermuda Triangle in 1946, is a bit different than Moseley presents. For one thing, the story is secondhand and attributed to no actual person. Citing the unwillingness of pilots to speak on the record, the reporter, the late historian and novelist Allan W. Eckert, attributed the following paragraphs to “a composite pilot—let’s call him Captain Jimmy Drake,” entirely in keeping with Eckert’s future practice, cited by the Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly, of blending fact and fiction to produce more dramatic narratives and “recreate” dialogue based on his belief about what might have happened. In other words, the quotes and the person involved are, if not outright fake, at least something less than factual:
“Look,” Captain Drake said, “just a matter of months ago the Civil Aeronautics Board got hold of something no one can understand, even though there’s a barrel of evidence to back it up. This guy, a private pilot in Ohio, was flying around through the clouds one day when all of a sudden he sees he’s almost on top of another plane. He banks hard but his wing-tip still butts the other plane. Now, what is this plane? Well, it turns out to be an old canvas-and-wood strut-job obviously of pre-World War I vintage and the pilot is wearing one of those old leather flying hats and goggles. Our pilot loses sight of it right away in the clouds, so he heads for home and makes out a report. But there’s no record anywhere of a plane like this flying around or even licensed and one certainly didn’t crash.
“Then, a month or so later, a plane just like the old one he described is uncovered in a barn under a stack of hay where it’s been sitting for many years. Inside the pilot’s pouch is a log book. In one of the last entries the pilot tells of encountering a weird silver aeroplane with which he collided, but not hard enough to do any damage. Apparently it scared hell out of him, though.
“Anyway, the old book is turned over to the CAB and they have the FBI or somebody run tests on it and, sure enough, the book’s authentic and the entry is over 40 years old. Then they check the plane itself and it has a long scrape on one side where the pilot’s entry says the other plane hit him. There are traces of paint and aluminum and when they’re analyzed, they find it matches perfectly with the modern plane.
“Sure,” he said, flicking his spoon with a finger, “it sounds crazy and smells like a hoax. But the pilot’s a square guy and even though CAB thinks it’s a hoax, they can’t find any way to explain it or negate the evidence. So what’re you supposed to think? Maybe this aberration theory isn’t as far out as a lot of people would like to think.”
The Civil Aeronautics Board is still attempting to unravel the mystery of this strange collision. The investigation thus far upholds the pilot’s version. If it wasn’t a hoax, then just what happened?
What strikes me, though, is the similarity between the story as presented and the Twilight Zone episode “The Last Flight,” which aired on February 5, 1960. In that episode, as in this story, a World War I biplane mysteriously appears in modern airspace as the result of flying through a strange cloud. The pilot eventually travels back in time to return to his own era. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a science fiction story of similar structure that I haven’t read that is still closer to the story told by the fictitious “Captain Drake.” Or, if not, perhaps this is a case where elements of the Twilight Zone time travel stories about ships cross-pollinated in the telling, since this story shares elements with them as well. It sure sounds like a science fiction story. A decade later Sir Victor Goddard would claim, in his 1975 book Flight Toward Reality, that in 1935 he had experienced a similar time slip in his own plane, traveling four years into the future to see the world of 1939.
Anyway, it was an interesting story, but one that has so little to recommend it that I doubt there is much even to investigate, except perhaps what science fiction story truly inspired it. It might be worth asking the National Archives for whatever records there are, but I don’t want to spend the money on their research time to turn up nothing, especially since the NTSB did not find anything when they digitized the old accident reports.