I was doing some reading today, and I came across the following report from the June 1963 edition of The Saucer News which somehow or another found its way into the Project Bluebook files. At the time Saucer News was edited by the late James W. Moseley, the famous ufologist, who in the 1960s was one of the field’s best known names and was then a close friend of James Randi, whom he later declared an enemy when Randi became a more dedicated skeptic. The story in question comes from a piece on anomalous aerial phenomena written by Sandy Moseley, his onetime wife. Here is what she reported:
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 Civil Aeronautics Board formed in 1938 and was disestablished in 1985 as part of deregulation. Its various duties were taken over by the FAA, the NTSB, and the Dept. of Transportation. If I read the National Archives records listings correctly, the particular record should be a Bureau of Enforcement accident report, but without a more specific date or place, I wouldn’t even know where to begin trying to pry the (probably nonexistent) records out of the National Archives. The NTSB digitized most of the CAB accident reports, and this one doesn’t appear in their archive so far as I can tell, certainly not between 1958 and 1962.
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.
Eckert presents this as a secondhand account from a (fictitious) pilot, and he made no effort to confirm the truth of the story, or even specify the time and place where it occurred other than a vague suggestion that it was somewhere in Ohio, sometime in late 1961. Or, maybe not. The story came from one of “dozens of coffeecup interviews” of no certain date, so we can’t really pin down when that time a few “months ago” really was. Now, given that old airplanes were still in use through the 1960s (WWI biplanes hidden in a haystack would show up on Get Smart, and another appeared on Green Acres), and flight plans weren’t required for local travel, there’s really nothing anomalous in this story except for the unproven assertion that the plane’s logbook was forty years old—the detail most likely to be fictional. Again, I couldn’t find any similar report in the CAB accident reports that have been digitized, so I’m not sure we should even suspect that the incident happened at all.
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.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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