Great Mysteries of Aviation
By Alexander McKee
Published by Stein and Day 1982
This edition of Bill’s Bookshelf is a little different. It’s a tribute to my father, Billy Keith King. He was a pilot and collected books on aviation. I usually feature books of weird tales in this space and the closest I could find in his collection is Great Mysteries of Aviation by Alexander McKee.
Dad was a pilot during World War II, flying supplies to South America. After the war he became a machinist at the Radford Arsenal, fixing typewriters, calculators, and other office machines. When I was about seven years old, he brought home an old Royal typewriter that his employer was discarding. Soon he was letting me use it, until at last he gave it to me and bought himself another one. Dad kept his pilot’s license as a civilian, occasionally renting a small airplane from the Virginia Tech airport to go flying for an afternoon. He also volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol, training cadets in search and rescue missions.
Great Mysteries of Aviation is written in a matter-of-fact but entertaining, conversational style. The author, Alexander McKee (1918 – 1992), wrote a total of 27 books. He was a historian, journalist, and scuba diver who, in the late 1960s, was instrumental in finding and recovering the Mary Rose, an English Tudor warship of King Henry VIII that sank in 1545 near the Isle of Wight. McKee’s knowledge of aircraft and flight procedure is quite evident.
Naturally, the book includes the disappearance of Amelia Earhart as well as two incidents that became cornerstones of the “Bermuda triangle” legend, while downplaying the paranormal aspects of the latter. Also discussed are airplanes that continued to fly without pilots, including two documented instances of planes landing without pilot or crew, skidding along the ground without lowering their landing gear, but otherwise undamaged.
The ghostliest story in the book is about the apparition of a bomber pilot who crashed near a farmhouse on the Isle of Wight during WW2. On several occasions, beginning around 1975 or 1976, members of the household reported seeing a spectral man wearing a leather flight jacket standing on their lawn. His face was described as “blank.” The sightings were usually preceded by the overhead buzzing engine of an old-fashioned bomber plane from the 1940s, as well as an eerie stillness and chill in the room. Their young daughter had once actually seen the airplane. McKee prefaces this story by two personal accounts of seemingly strange phenomena. One account reminds me of something that happened in my own childhood. McKee says that during WW2, he dreamed of seeing some burned-out houses while walking along Burgoyne Road in Southsea, a seaside resort in Hampshire, England. Two months later, those same houses, and only those, were burned in an air raid. My personal experience was this: When I as a kid, I dreamed I saw bones on the creek bank beside the road. The next day I rode my bicycle to the creek and, sure enough, there was an old burlap sack, stained with dried blood, with some bones spilled halfway out of it! They turned out to be pig bones from the butcher shop in Kroger’s Grocery Store. Someone had probably tossed them at the dumpster behind the store, missed, and maybe a dog had dragged the sack to the creek bank. My father said I must have already seen the bag of bones, earlier in the week, and it registered in my subconscious mind, so I dreamed about it. I didn’t think so. I suspected it was precognition. My father probably read McKee’s account of the burned-out houses in the 1980s, and I didn’t read it until years after that. I wish he and I could have discussed it, just for fun, before he passed away in 1993. McKee also recounts an incident in which he was flying through dense fog and running low on fuel. His only hope was to land at Heston airbase in England, but the fog was so thick he could not get his bearings. Miraculously, he says, “I received a command: ‘Turn now.’ I didn’t exactly hear a voice. I certainly did not have a premonition, or a hunch. On the contrary, I was told, by something or someone outside me, that now was the time to make my turn” (McKee, 176). Needles to say, he made the turn and landed safely at Heston. This account reminds me that another aviator, Charles Lindberg, once said that spirits “accompanied him during flight” to comfort him and keep him awake, although he conceded that they may have been “hallucinations caused by lack of sleep” (Gray 82).
Several of the mysteries in this book involve accidents that investigators have never been able to conclusively explain, such as the death of Joe Kennedy, Jr. and Wilford John Willy in a 1944 explosion. These two lieutenants volunteered for Operation Aphrodite, in which large bomber planes, Boeing B-17s and PB4Y-1 Liberators, were filled with tons of explosives and guided like drones by radio control to crash into enemy targets. The aircraft could not take off safely without pilots, so a crew of two would get the planes into the air, arm the detonators, and then parachute out so the planes could be guided by remote control to their targets. For some reason, the Liberator flown by Lieutenants Willy and Kennedy, Jr. exploded in the air before they parachuted to safety. Historians tell is that Joe Kennedy, Jr. was his father’s choice to groom for a future presidential campaign. After his death, the responsibility fell upon John F. Kennedy, who was elected in 1960, only to be assassinated in 1963.
My name is Billy Keith King, Jr. When I published my first book, I decided to use the pseudonym “Bill Ectric” because I wanted a name that would stand out when searched on the internet. I’ve thought about reverting to my given name, but I’ve published enough material under the pseudonym that changing it now would lose whatever momentum I’ve achieved. As a compromise, I use “Bill Ectric King” on Facebook. Dad wouldn’t mind.
About a year before my father died, my brother Jeff gave him a very special Father’s Day present. I’ll end this article by reprinting a letter about it that my father sent me (click to enlarge):
Gray, Susan M. Charles A. Lindbergh and the American Dilemma: The Conflict of Technology and Human Values. Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988.