The first ‘modern’ UFO sightings were the ‘mystery airships’ seen by thousands of people all over the United States between November 1896 and May 1897. At that time, European inventors were far ahead of their American counterparts in airship experimentation, but neither the French nor the Germans had managed to design an airship that could do much more than hover. Not until 1904 was the first dirigible – Thomas Baldwin’s California Arrow – flown, in Oakland, California. Consequently, the mystery airships of 1896 and 1897 were as inexplicable and frightening as are the UFOs of today. Significantly, the mystery airships were invariably reported as being cylindrical or cigar-shaped, and driven by a motor attached to a propeller – in short, they seemed to mimic exactly the airship technology that was soon to become common place . They also seemed to be manned by human beings, not by creatures from another world. In fact their occupants were often reported to have talked to witnesses, usually asking them for water for their machines.
Who was the man called ‘Wilson’
Perhaps the most intriguing of all such cases were those involving a man who called himself Wilson. The Houston Post of 21 April 1897 carried an account of an event that took place in Beaumont, Texas, two days previously, when J B. Ligon, the local agent for Magnolia Brewery, and his son noticed lights in a neighbour’s pasture a few hundred yards away. They went to investigate and came upon four men standing beside a ‘large, dark object’, which neither of the witnesses could see clearly. One of the men asked Ligon for a bucket of water. Ligon gave it to him and the man gave his name as Wilson. He then told Ligon that he and his friends were travelling in a flying machine, that they had taken a trip ‘out of the Gulf’ and that they were returning to the ‘quiet Iowa town’ where the airship, and four others like it, had been constructed.
When asked, Wilson explained that the wings of the airship were powered by electricity. Then he and his friends got back into the passenger car at the bottom of the airship, and Ligon and his son watched it ascend and flyaway. The next day, 20 April, Sheriff H. W. Baylor of Uvalde, also in Texas, went to investigate a strange light, as well as voices behind his house. Here, he encountered an airship and three men. Again, one of the men gave his name as Wilson, and said he came from Goshen, New York State. Wilson then enquired about a certain C.C. Akers, former Sheriff of Zavalia County, saying that he had met him in Fort Worth in 1877 and now wanted to see him again. Sheriff Baylor, surprised, replied that Akers was now at Eagle Pass, 60 miles (96 kilometres) to
the south-west. Wilson, apparently disappointed, asked to be remembered to him the next time Sheriff Baylor visited him. The men from the airship then asked for water and requested that their visit be kept a secret from the townsfolk. They then climbed into the passenger car of the airship, before its great wings and fans were set in motion.
The airship then ascended and sped away northward in the direction of San Angelo. The county clerk also claimed to have seen the airship as it left the area.
Many mystery airships were described as having large propellors and bright spotlights
Two days later, in Josserand, Texas, a whirring sound awakened a farmer, Frank Nichols, who looked out of his window and saw ‘brilliant lights streaming from a ponderous vessel of strange proportions’ In his cornfield. Nichols went outside to investigate; but before he reached the object, two men walked up to him and asked if they could have water from his well. Nichols agreed, and the men
then invited him to view the airship. He said there must have been six or eight crew members. One of these told him that the ship’s motive power was highly condensed electricity and that it was one of five that had recently been constructed In a small town in Iowa with the backing of a large company in New York.
The next day, 23 April, witnesses, described by the Post as ‘two responsible men’, reported that an airship had descended where they lived in Kountze, Texas, and that two of the occupants had given their names as Jackson and … Wilson.
On 27 April, the Galveston Daily News printed a letter from CC Akers, who claimed that he had Indeed known a man in Fort Worth named Wilson, that Wilson was from New York, and that he was ‘of a mechanical turn of mind and was then working on aerial navigation and something that would astonish the world.’
Subsequently, the Houston Post reported that, in Deadwood, Texas, a farmer called H. C. Lagrone had suddenly heard his horse bucking, as if about to run amok. Going outside, he then saw a bright white light circling around the fields nearby and illuminating the entire area before descending and landing in one of the fields. Walking to the landing spot, Lagrone found a crew of five men, three of whom talked to him, while the others collected water In rubber bags.
The men informed Lagrone that their airship was one of five that had been flying around the country recently, that theirs was the same vessel that had landed in Beaumont, and that all the ships had been constructed in an interior town in Illinois (which borders Iowa). They were reluctant to say anything more because they had not yet taken out any patents on their machine.
Dawn of the age of air travel
By May 1897, the mysterious airship sightings had stopped. But what lay behind them? Could such airships Indeed have been financed by a powerful company in New York and constructed secretly in the wilds of Iowa or Illinois?
This is certainly a possibility. During the late 1890s, numerous inventors in the United States obtained patents for planned airships. But since most of them worried constantly about the possible theft or plagiarism of their designs, they also kept many of their ideas completely secret. Knowing this, many Americans came to believe that Wilson and his friends could well have invented successful airships.
Experimentation in aerodynamics was highly advanced by the 1890s, particularly in Massachusetts (an area having numerous mystery airship sightings) and New York, reportedly Wilson’s home city.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), there were plenty of informal courses on propulsion and the behaviour of fluids, relevant to aerodynamics. What is more, by 1896, instructors and students at MIT had built a wind tunnel and were experimenting with it to get practical knowledge of aerodynamics. A man such as Wilson could have attended those courses and then gone on to Cornell University in Ithica, New York. Here, by the mid 1890s, it was possible to obtain a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics.
Early aviation pioneer Santos-Dumont narrowly missed colliding wit hthe Eiffel Tower in Paris 1901
One of those who gave a series of lectures at Cornell University – noted nationally for its courses in aerodynamics – In 1897 and 1898 was Octave Chanute, the world-famous engineer. In 1896, he had emulated the successful manned hang-glider experiments of the German engineer Otto Lilienthal. The courses at the University included experimental engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as machine design and construction. Aeronautical texts would have included the Smithsonian Institute’s Experiments in Aerodynamics, Sir Hiram Maxim’s reports on his experiments with engines, propellers and aircraft designs, and the Aeronautical Annual, which contained highly innovative contributions from most of the leading aeronautical scientists of the time.
By 1896, the first successful flights of S.P. Langley’s flying machines had taken place In Washington, DC; and by the following year, numerous patents for other types of flying machine had been registered. The scientific advances of the last decade of the 19th century were of staggering magnitude, laying the all important ground work for advanced aeronautical experimentation. So if a particularly dedicated team of scientists did indeed happen to be working on an airship project. it certainly becomes possible that the sightings allover the country that took place during that period were indeed of man-made flying machines.
No more was heard of the mysterious Wilson, however. But the following years saw remarkable further advances in the field of aeronautics. By 1901, the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont had succeeded in flying an airship from St-Cloud, on the western edge of Paris, to the Eiffel Tower and back in less than 30 minutes; two years later at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright brothers made the first known heavier-than-air manned flight; and by 1906, the American Robert Goddard had begun hrs exciting experiment In rocketry. On the last day of December 1908, Wilbur Smith flew 77 miles (123 kilometres) in just two hours and thirty minutes.
Louis Bleriot’s aircraft shortly before making his record breaking trip across the English Channel
Seven months later, the French aviator Louis Bleriot became the first to fly across the English Channel, from Calais to Dover. Since these were all highly publicised achievements, is it possible that even greater advances were being made away from the public gaze? The numerous UFO sightings of the early 20th century and the rapid pace of technological development suggest that this may have been so.
In 1904, US Navy Lieutenant Frank H. Schofield – later to be Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Fleet – officially reported seeing, from the deck of his ship, three bright lights that were travelling in echelon. They remained above the clouds, and ascended before disappearing. In 1909, numerous unidentified aircraft were reported over Massachusetts. On 30 August 1919, at about 9 p.rn., a long black object flew low over Madison Square, New York City, and was witnessed by hundreds of people. The nature and origin of this object were never determined.
An enormous UFO is lit by spotlights and battered by AA guns during The ‘battle of Los Angeles’ 1942
The Scandinavian Ghost Planes
In 1933 and 1934, a wave of sightings occurred over Scandinavia, ‘Ghost planes’ were reported on scores of occasions, frequently appearing or heard overhead in ‘impossible’ conditions for aircraft of that time, They were described as monoplanes, usually grey in colour, Sometimes their crews could be glimpsed. Often their engines would cut out, and the aircraft would glide for long periods before their power was turned on again – an unlikely feat for conventional aircraft, Sometimes brilliant searchlights would be directed from them on to the ground below.
In 1934, the Swedish Air Force began a thorough search of those remote areas from which the ‘ghost plane’ reports were emanating, Twenty-four aircraft took part in the search, and two of them actually crashed during it. No traces were found of the bases that would be required to support the activities of the intruders, however, In April 1934, a highranking Swedish military officer stated in an announcement to the press:
‘Comparison of these reports shows that there can be no doubt about illegal air traffic over our secret military areas. In every case, the same remark has been noted: no insignias or identifying marks were visible on the machine, ‘ It is Impossible to explain away the whole thing as imagination, The question is Who are they? And why have they been invading our air territory?’
The same questions were by now being asked in Norway and Finland, too, where similar sightings were said to be occurring, but they were never satisfactorily answered either – so that the origin and purpose of these ‘ghost planes’ still remained utterly elusive.
Aeronautics had by the mid 1930s’ advanced from initial crude experiments with wind tunnels in Massachusetts to the highly complex rocket research facilities at Peenemunde on Germany’s Baltic coast which led to the first continental ballistic missile – and precursor to NASA’s Saturn 5 rocket, theV-2.
Taking the principle that all scientific research resembles an iceberg – in other words, nine-tenths is hidden from public view – the possibility arises that secret research in America, Europe, or both, had led to the construction of machines much more powerful and unorthodox in design than those that were officially put into use. Certainly, it is a fact that, from the First World War onward, more and more technological research was being financed and controlled by governments who were interested mainly in the military applications of craft built as a result of such research.
foo fighters were commonly encountered by allied pilots during the war. These mysterious glowing balls of light where never identified
Foo fighters to future tech
The pace of aviation development accelerated still further during the decades following the Second World War. Jet aircraft, radar navigation and detection, ballistic missiles and bombers of unprecedented size all appeared in response to the military necessities of belligerent cold war adversaries, and sightings of equally mysterious craft also accelerated. Glowing balls of light, dubbed ‘
foo-fighters‘ by the allied airmen who witnessed them were replaced by Kenneth Arnold’s silvery flying saucers in the 195os and the birth of the modern UFO phenomenon.
So the question inevitably remains, is it possible that citizens of the United States and certain European countries had witnessed the clandestine aeronautical experiments being carried out by their very own leaders? The answer to this must of course be yes.
There is another possibility which I find particularly intriguing, that our species is somehow being guided by unknown influencers and introduced to technologies which are just out of our current reach- airships in the 1890’s became, ghost planes and rockets in the 30s before merging into the modern UFO’s which seem to operate on some sort of
electro-gravitic power system.
Perhaps the answer is a combination of all of the above .
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