Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Time flies... faster than you think

Don't tell me that you haven't noticed it yourself: years becoming ever shorter and shorter and shorter, even though each one of them still has exactly 365 days (and this year even an extra second)?

Whether you have or you haven't, it doesn't really matter right now. This pedestrian time-keeping talk is a red herring - it has nothing to do (or so it seems) with the subject of tonight's... flight of fancy. ;)

Flight of fancy... Indeed, I am sure most "time slip" accounts are called just that - unless the person who experienced such a "slip" happens to be somebody with untarnished reputation for clear and logical thinking as well as personal integrity, both before and after the purported event.

Sir Victor Goddard was such a person.
He had joined the Royal Navy at the tender age of thirteen (in 1910); eight years later, in 1918, he entered the RAF (the Royal Air Force) - in fact, he is considered one of the founding fathers of the RAF- and worked his way up to the rank of Air Marshal.

We know now that even in his early youth he saw - or thought he did, anyway - more than usually meets the eye (more on that later). But whatever his experiences and view of the world, they evidently never obstructed his grasp on reality, needed to progress as he did in his professional career. If there were any unusual experiences during his first fifteen or twenty years of service in the RAF, nothing is known of them.

And then came a day in 1935 (some sources say 1934), when Goddard, flying alone over Scotland towards Andover, flew his Hawker Hart biplane into a gathering giant thunderstorm.

(If you're asking why didn't he check the weather forecast before departure - oh yes, people really do ask this question! - I'll remind you we are talking about Scotland: if you wait for "fair weather", you might never get off the ground.)

Hawker Hart biplanes at Andover (1931 footage, 
with wonderfully loudly roaring engines)

In those circumstances, there was little that even an experienced airman such as Goddard could do, except land in the nearest airfield. And it so happened there was one nearby: the RAF training airfield Drem. Built in 1917, it had been abandoned, and its runways were badly damaged; but even a damaged runway was better than nothing, Goddard thought (I assume). He knew the terrain well, so even without sophisticated equipment he was able to steer his plane in the general direction of Drem. Flying low, he soon spotted familiar landmarks and then, in the distance, the abandoned airfield itself.

But then, when he was less than a mile away from the airfield, the weather suddenly changed: the heavy clouds parted and rays of brilliant sunshine flooded the landscape.

Still intent on landing, Goddard looked for the runway.

It was there.
But the Drem airfield wasn't.

Or so Goddard thought.
The abandoned hangars and buildings looked freshly refurbished; and the runway was teeming with activity: men in blue overalls - instead of the customary brown - were busy painting airplanes yellow (a fact that confused Goddard more than anything, as he had never seen training planes in any other colour than silvery grey).
In fact, they were so busy that nobody even looked up, towards the incoming airplane.

Goddard circled the airfield. He was now flying at 50 feet, to get a better look at the miraculously restored runways and buildings.
And still nobody looked up.

But then, except for the roaring airplane flying in circles above them, they had no reason to look up: the sky had cleared. The storm was nowhere to be seen.

In view of the considerably improved weather conditions, Goddard climbed back to the normal altitude and resumed his flight towards Andover, his original destination.

Upon return to his base, he checked the current status of the Drem training field: it was indeed abandoned, in disrepair, deserted.

Five years later, in 1938 or 1939, Goddard returned to Drem, this time with a mission to rebuild the ruins into a top-quality training airfield. (The country was already preparing for the eventuality of a war with Germany.)
The runways were repaired, the installations refurbished; and when the airfield finally opened, it was once again full of military training airplanes - now painted bright yellow. And the mechanics were now wearing blue overalls. (Presumably they were also more responsive to Goddard's presence than in 1935.)

Goddard's circling had come full circle.

So there you have it: an in-credible story told by an apparently very credible man.
A man, however, who supposedly had other extraordinary experiences of this type both before and after this extraordinary flight. One such experience was even made into a film, The Night My Number Came Up (1955, starring Michael Redgrave); and Goddard's ghost photo is one of the very few such artifacts around that have yet to be satisfactorily "debunked", as the horrid word goes.

Still, if you know anything at all about aviation, about piloting airplanes (not to mention military aircraft), you know that it calls for people with a steady mind. Airy-fairy (excuse the pun) characters most likely wouldn't last a day in the air.
(Which is the reason why so many professional pilots speak up about purported unexplained events they had witnessed only after they have retired - i.e. when they cannot be sacked on the grounds of "mental instability" or whatever the verdict would be. About this see Martin Caidin's wonderful - only one dud! - book Ghosts of the Air: True Stories of Aerial Hauntings. The present account of Goddard's adventure owes much to his delightfully detailed description.)

Was Victor Goddard such a person?
Certainly his career and public reputation point to a man who was clearly in control of himself and of his surroundings. And those who knew him (so I am told) were adamant in that he was an unimpeachable character.

But does it even matter? After all, couldn't anyone, even the most "level headed" of people, happen to have an event of what appears to be a diminished grasp of the so-called objective reality"?

I suppose so; but there is no way of ascertaining the "truth" in questions as vague as that. Far too many parametres are unknown, unidentified, perhaps even misidentified.

On a purely psychological level, what is an "objective" or "steady" (or whatever one may call it) mind? How do you define it, how do you measure it? And of course,
what is the "objective reality"? How do you measure that? Are we really familiar with the rules it obeys? How can we know that even within the apparent frame of objective reality we really do have the same perception of the same phenomena?

Whatever the "true" nature of reality (if there is a single "true" nature at all), Goddard thought this question intriguing - and important - enough to dedicate the last part of his life to researching the realms of the invisible and sharing his thoughts with others. He even wrote a book about his extraordinary experience. Its title sounds like a very appropriate response to all those who undoubtedly must have called his experiences "flights of fancy".
Goddard called his book - Flight Towards Reality.

I suspect he was right.

ADDENDUM (8. VIII. 2011):

According to Colin Wilson's book Mysteries (p. 473), quoting another author, Stephen Jenkins (THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY: Adventures Into Other Dimensions), Victor Goddard was present at a discussion about UFO at a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society, in May 1969. Goddard is said to have commented that, in his opinion, "there was no need to assume that UFOs were visitors from other planetary systems; they might come from an invisible world that coincides with the space of our own."

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