The Gremlins of Aviation- Yes, You Read That Right

The Gremlins of Aviation- Yes, You Read That Right

By on Mar 6th 2017

I think it's safe to say that most everyone above the age of 20 conjures the same image when they hear the word "gremlin."

That popular movie defines gremlins for many, but did you know that gremlins are a part of WWII history? In fact, gremlins are typically characterized as having a particular interest in aircraft and modern machinery. Furthermore, their interest is believed to lie in dismantling said machinery.

I know. The thought is a little- unsettling to say the least. But many pilots have reported sightings, and it's a little too much to ignore. 

And that's just what they're believed to do: cause chaos and annoyance. Specifically, in machinery and airplanes.

Some believe that the gremlins helped boost morale during the war and that, rather than point the blame at each other when something went wrong in the air, they would blame the gremlins.

So how did stories spread outside of the Royal Air Force (RAF)? Author Roald Dahl, having served in the 80 Squadron of the RAF, wrote about the creatures in his first children's novel titled "The Gremlins."

Recognize the author's name? This is the same man who wrote "James and the Giant Peach," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and "Fantastic Mr Fox."

In "The Gremlins," Dahl wrote of creatures that lived with their families on RAF fighter planes. The book was sold to Walt Disney and was published in December of 1942 in Cosmopolitan. The book was printed with Random House the following year at an initial print run of 50,000. It was widely successful and spread the gremlin tales around the world.

The RAF, WWII, and Gremlins

Remember when we said these creatures caused chaos and annoyance? Well, they are said to have applied those tendencies to the sky during WWII.

The first reporting surfaced in the 1900s. A British newspaper, the Spectator, reported:

The old Royal Naval Air Service in 1917 and the newly constituted Royal Air Force in 1918 appear to have detected the existence of a horde of mysterious and malicious sprites whose whole purpose in life was- to bring about as many as possible of the inexplicable mishaps which, in those days as now, trouble an airman's life.

It took off from there. Many pilots reported seeing creatures both in and on the planes. One pilot reported that creatures followed him onto his plane and toyed with the engine and flight controls, which caused him to crash into the ocean.

Most reports surfaced around the time of the Battle of Britain and a service manual was written up with instructions on how to avoid and counteract the gremlins' pranks. There were even posters made that warned people of the gremlins.

Physically, the descriptions of these aerial gremlins vary. Some describe them as ghost-like creatures and others as more menacing with red, glowing eyes and horns. The height of these creatures ranges between a few inches and a few feet, while their skin is sometimes furry and other times reptile-like.

It kind of reminds me of that one Twilight Zone episode, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet...

Yup. This is another Hollywood take on the gremlin.

Charles Lindbergh also reported having seen the creatures 9 hours into his historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean; he wrote about it in his memoir, "The Spirit of St. Louis."

These "spirits," as he called them, reassured him that he was going to be alright and helped with navigation.

Other pilots have reported similar incidents; hearing voices that helped them avoid collisions or mechanical failures and issues. However, by the 1950s, talk of gremlins died down a bit, possibly because the military discouraged it.

Was it a lack of cabin pressure and/or sleep that cause these sightings (hallucinations)? We can all come to our own conclusions here regarding whether or not this actually happened. But I stand by my earlier statement: there's just too much here to ignore.


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