Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Top Secret: Jet-flying Gorillas

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“The story of the first military jet aircraft to fly in the United States—an aircraft that apparently no one could see.
The date was 1942; the location was Muroc Army Air Field (today Edwards Air Force Base). Whenever it was on the ground, the P-59 was fitted with a fake propeller for the sake of secrecy.
Unfortunately for secrecy, at the local watering hole, test pilots mixed with P-38 pilots stationed nearby. After slugging down a few drinks, the test pilots bragged about flying a propellerless aircraft and were immediately labeled as liars by the P-38 crowd—fighting words for sure. Subsequently, test-pilot Jack Woolams decided to put them in their place, not with his fists but with something far more effective.
He rented a gorilla suit and took off wearing it along with a big cigar protruding from his mouth and a derby hat on his head. Once airborne, he found a lone P-38 pilot, pulled alongside, giving the P-38 pilot a clear view of the jet and gorilla suit, then waved, much to the shock of his intended target. The next day when queried at the local watering hole, not a single P-38 pilot had seen an "escaped gorilla" or knew anything about it. The explanation: why of course, it must be that P-38 pilots could only see what they believed was possible. Yeah, right. Apparently, the P-38 pilots never again questioned the possibility of propellerless aircraft, let alone the honesty of test pilots."

From the Snopes forum, now, this is such a good tale, even if it’s completely apocryphal. As Snopes further notes:

"Although the events are not even a century old, already there are more than one version of the Jack Woolams tale. All are slightly different. One version relates that there were multiple sightings of the gorilla-piloted jet and that the base psychiatrist talked several P-38 pilots out of believing what they saw. Who knows? The fact is, that even if someone sees and believes a phenomenon, it doesn’t mean they will honestly talk about it. And if they do, it doesn’t mean that the details will be perfectly remembered in the historical record—especially if there isn’t one."

I have just seen a History Channel documentary on the history of jet propulsion, where a former test pilot told that tale in camera, so at the very least we know that it’s a real rumor around the place. The fake propellers attached to the secret jet airplane when wandering in the ground is a fact, as can be seen in the photo below:

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Though it’s not very plausible that Woolams may have used a whole gorilla suit, it’s not that wild to think he may have played a joke and used a gorilla mask to waive to another pilot. What that pilot may have thought of a propellerless aircraft piloted by a gorilla, we may never now.

Truth or not, a wonderful tale, and I was impressed that there seems to be no reference to it in UFO circles. This is surely related to speculations regarding the classic Father Gill sighting, for instance, MILABs and all the ideas about the government disinformation. Granted, we don’t know if it’s true, but we don’t know that about real UFOs either.

"Even if someone sees and believes a phenomenon, it doesn’t mean they will honestly talk about it. And if they do, it doesn’t mean that the details will be perfectly remembered in the historical record—especially if there isn’t one."

[via Anomalist]

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Posted in Fortean,Skepticism | 2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. UFOMystic » Uncle Sam’s Gorilla Pilot September 9th, 2008 6:33 am

    [...] came across this great post over at the wonderful forgetomori site about Edwards AFB (then called Muroc Army Airfield) in the [...]

  2. Craig York September 9th, 2008 4:21 pm

    I’ve known a little about the XP-59 for many years now, and
    only very recently heard this story about the test flights. I
    won’t say its impossible, but I do think its unlikely for a
    couple of reasons. First, this was
    a new type of aircraft, and while it was of
    conventional configuration, it still represented a very
    new and unfamiliar set of flight parameters. I find it hard
    to believe any test pilot would risk not only his job, but
    probably his career with such a stunt. Even though the Aira
    Comet was a very stable aircraft, flying it with what would
    have amounted to a hood over the head would have been very
    foolhardy. Second is the time frame. This was wartime, and
    the program was very very secret. THe notion of pilots
    bragging about it, even to fellow pilots, seems hard to
    credit.
    A third problem with the story occurs to me: the story
    omits the fact that most pilots, then and now, would have
    familiar with propellerless aircraft-they’re called gliders.

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