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The Spectral WWII Bombers of the United Kingdom

World War II saw the skies buzz to life with swarms of aircraft of all kinds, which took to the heavens to seek out and decimate the enemy. During this epic war, countless airborne missions were carried out to deal death around the world and add their own brand of hell to an already hellish conflagration of hostilities that held the world in a state of seemingly unending battle. The numerous plane wrecks from the era that dot the countryside and rot at the bottom of the sea are testament to this violent time of aerial warfare, yet are there cases when these planes don’t stay down as was thought? Can these aircraft somehow defy their fate to rise up and dutifully continue their missions even after death and the fading memory of their era from the public consciousness? The world has many reports of just such strange occurrences; spectral or ghostly planes which allegedly fly about overhead on mysterious errands for some unknowable purpose. One hotspot for these phantom aircraft is the United Kingdom, where for years there have been persistent reports of long dead WWII planes that seem to have transcended destruction, death, and indeed time itself.

The presence of planes from the Second World War in the United Kingdom is in itself no particularly strange. During the heat of World War II, there were several areas throughout the region which were home to Allied airfields or used as testing grounds for bombers in preparation for real missions against the enemy. Indeed, there are certain areas of the countryside here that are littered with the wreckage of WWII era bombers that crashed to their doom for one reason or another. One area known as Ladybower Reservoir, which was used as a testing ground for bombers, is strewn with wrecked aircraft, and another place notorious for the derelict remains of crashed planes is Howden Moors, in the Peak District northwest of Sheffield, which was home to several Allied airfields and features the remains of at least 50 aircraft scattered about its landscape. Yet for all of these broken husks of long lost planes, there are also persistent reports of phantom aircraft prowling the skies above various areas of the UK that seem to suggest that some of these downed planes have refused to remain dead and are still very much in service.

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One of the most commonly sighted types of ghost plane is the Avro Lancaster bomber, which was a heavy, highly versatile four-engine bomber that was the most extensively used, most high profile, and indeed most feared type of bomber in the Royal Air Force’s arsenal during WWII. During the course of the war, the Avro Lancaster was a tireless workhorse, flying over 156,000 sorties, many of these perilous night missions, and raining 600,000 tons of fiery death upon the enemy. Although the Avro Lancaster was once a fairly common sight in wartime, it was put out of service in the 1950s, which makes it all the more odd that they should still be mysteriously seen flying around over the countryside.

One area plagued by mysterious Lancaster bombers is the previously mentioned Ladybower Reservoir area, located in the Upper Derwent Valley of Derbyshire, England. The forlorn, desolate hulks of crashed aircraft dot the landscape here and the skies above seem to be the haunt of a mysterious, ghostly WWII era plane commonly described as a Lancaster bomber. The plane is often sighted circling above the area, or making quick runs through the valley, sometimes flying low enough to profoundly startle eyewitnesses, before seeming to vanish into thin air. In at least one report, a Lancaster bomber was seen to fly low over a hill and crash spectacularly, with the fiery devastation and smoke visible from afar, yet when the eyewitness went over the hill to investigate there was no sign of any crash nor indeed any plane at all. Interestingly, there were two high profile crashes of bombers in the exact same area as this sighting during WWII. One was a bomber named Vicky the Vicious Virgin, which crashed here after 3 years of active service in the war on a routine training run on the 18th May, 1945, and the other was a United States Air force Dakota which fatally crashed here in July of 1945. Phantom planes are not the only weird occurrence in the Ladybower Reservoir area, with strange lights in the sky often reported from here as well.

Avro Lancaster bomber

Avro Lancaster bomber

Another apparent hotspot for sightings of ghostly bombers is the A44 roadway, in the vicinity of Eisteddfa Gurig Farm at the base of Pumlumon, which is the highest point of the Cambrian Mountains in Wales. Ghostly Lancaster bombers have been spotted here for many years. In one report from a motorist named Shelley Hobbs, a bomber was seen to fly so low it seemed sure to crash, yet it bizarrely made absolutely no sound. The mysterious plane careened recklessly around a hillside, obviously about to smash into the ground, but when the driver rounded the bend around the hill there was no sign of the plane. The witness was perplexed as to why such a heavy bomber would be flying so low in hilly country, why there was no wreckage when it could not have possibly missed the hill, and why the aircraft had been so unsettlingly silent. In another sighting from the very same area by a Paul Willenhall, a bomber was seen on 15th March 2007 as the man was driving along the A44 between Llangurig and Aberystwyth. In this case the aircraft was reported as flying only 15 feet above the ground across the road at explosively high speed and seemingly doomed to crash, yet when the motorist passed by and looked in the rearview mirror, fully expecting to see debris and carnage, the plane had simply vanished. Again it was reported that the aircraft was completely and utterly silent. In an interesting detail, the slopes of Pumlumon happen to harbor the scattered wreckage of a WWII era bomber.

Phantom Lancaster bombers have been seen in many other areas of the United Kingdom as well. One such ghostly aircraft was seen in 1964, in an area north of Aberystwyth. The witness claimed that he was in a car driving towards his cottage on Bow Street when he witnessed what he described as a “a whitish ghost-like bomber – almost certainly a Lancaster” descend from the clouds and head west at an estimated altitude of 150 feet, after which it made a sharp bank over the Plant Breeding Station and go south before disappearing behind some hills. Eerily, the mysterious bomber remained completely silent the entire time, despite the fact that Lancasters were known for having extremely loud, rumbling engines.

(c) National Museum of Flight; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Another sighting was made by a retired police officer in the area of Loch Lomond, Scotland. The man reported that in his days before becoming a police officer, he had been out camping near the Loch with his girlfriend and another couple in June of 1965. They had been driving for a long time and decided to stop the car and take a break, during which time they made their way to a secluded beach. The weather was reported as overcast and an ominous mist had formed over the Loch which rose around 100 feet over the water. As the eyewitness was loading his camera to take some pictures of the scenery, he was startled by a sudden, deafening roar which echoed over the Loch and when he looked up to see what the commotion was he saw what appeared to be a Lancaster bomber emerge from the mist, scream bombastically by overhead, and then vanish back into the mist once more. When the terrified man ran to see what his friends had thought of the incident, all of them denied having heard or seen anything at all. The witness really seemed to recall the uproarious commotion the plane created, showing that the phantom aircraft are not always so totally quiet.

Other sightings are more recent. On 15 August 1995, a phantom Lancaster bomber was seen by a father and daughter as they drove towards a place called Scammonden Bridge. The aircraft was reported as spewing billowing clouds of smoke as if it were heavily damaged, yet when the witnesses drove under the bridge and came out the other side the plane was nowhere to be seen even though it still should have still been plainly visible. The bomber in this case was reported as making no noise.

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In 2004, there was a rash of sightings that were reported from the area of Barnoldswick and published in a series of articles in The Craven Herald. The first of these accounts was reported in January 23, 2004, by a Moira Thwaites, a retired policewoman, and her husband, Malcolm Spensley. The couple alleged that they had been driving along Skipton Road at around 11.20am and had been approaching a Rolls-Royce factory in Bankfield when the incident occurred. There had been an unseasonable amount of fog and mist enveloping the area at the time, and the two reported that out of this thick mist there suddenly appeared a massive, four-engine heavy bomber which was grey in color and completely silent. The mysterious plane darted from the bank of mist so low that the two witnesses were sure it would plow into nearby houses, but the impact never came and the plane disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. Mrs. Thwaites said of the bizarre event:

It was so low I fully expected it to hit us, or at least hit the houses near the Bankfield site. We both fully expected to at least hear the impact of a crash, but there was nothing. And when we both looked back there was nothing. Whatever it was had vanished. There wasn’t a sound from the engine at all. It was really weird, but we both know what we saw and I just wondered if anyone else had reported seeing anything.

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This sighting would be followed up that week by a deluge of similar sightings from all across the area, all of which described the same basic thing; a dark grey bomber with no apparent markings, four engines, and completely silent despite the fact that the propellers could usually clearly be seen to be spinning. Most eyewitnesses were positive it was a Lancaster. The spectral plane was often reported as setting itself on a collision course with houses or hills only to vanish before impact, leaving witnesses startled and speechless. Many eyewitnesses who called in reports claimed to have seen the mystery plane on the very same day as Thwaites and her husband. An aviation enthusiast and expert on aerial phenomena, Dave Cooper, speculated that the odd sightings could have something to do with the copious electrical energy emitted by the Rolls-Royce factory in the area.

On Friday 24 February 2006, there was another report of the mystery Lancaster flying low near a small airstrip in Barnoldswick that had been used as an emergency landing strip during WWII. The plane’s propellers were reportedly spinning yet it did not make a sound. When it was suggested to the 70-year-old witness that he may have seen a more modern large propeller-powered aircraft such as a Hercules transporter, he was quick to dismiss this and point out that he had served in the war and knew what a Lancaster and Hercules looked like. He remained adamant that he had seen a Lancaster and that it had been no modern plane. Interestingly, this airstrip was the site of a rather baffling report of a Lancaster that was seen to actually come in for a landing, after which authorities quickly moved in to seal off the area. It is unclear if this had anything to do with the mysterious ghost plane or if it was merely some sort of historical commemorative event, but the complete lockdown of the airstrip by police upon landing is certainly curious.

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In addition to the various sightings of phantom WWII aircraft over the United Kingdom, there has even been at least one report of an actual entire ghostly landing craft lurking offshore here. In October 1959, a 500 ton landing vessel was spotted off the Devonshire coast that was described as flying the Free French flag of World War II. Since the enormous ship seemed to be in distress, several vessels were launched to rush to its aid, but as they approached the gigantic landing vessel seemed to simply fade out of existence, drifting into a bank of fog and vanishing despite extensive efforts to locate it.

There has been a range of theories posited for what could be behind these sightings of ghostly WWII era bombers. One suggestion is that witnesses are merely seeing more modern aircraft that could then be misidentified for a Lancaster, yet the Lancaster had a very distinctive, unmistakeable design and some witnesses who are familiar with aircraft strongly dismiss this possibility. Even eyewitnesses who do not know much about airplanes have insisted they have specifically seen WWII Lancaster bombers when shown photos of the planes. Another possibility is that people are seeing historical aircraft that are being flown for commemorative events, but many of the sightings have occurred on days when no such event was taking place and it still does not explain the complete silence the phantom planes exhibit. Lancasters were extremely and unmistakably loud, so how do we explain this detail?

Lancaster bomber

Lancaster bomber

In an attempt to come to some sort of understanding of this phenomenon, other theories branch out into more supernatural fringe areas. One commonly postulated idea is that there are events known as “time slips” in which long passed, historic events converge upon our time and result in us witnessing things that happened decades or even centuries ago through some sort of rift in the fabric of space and time itself. Similarly, it has been speculated that these events may have become imprinted upon these areas like a memory, and so past events, in this case WWII missions run by bombers, may occasionally play out in front of our eyes in modern times almost like a film being projected onto a screen. These sorts of historical imprints are typically associated with places that have experienced tragedy or hardship, and in fact are sometimes blamed for various ghost sightings so this would fit in with the debris of numerous WWII era planes crashed and strewn about the region, and the hellish quality of the Second World War to begin with. Or could it be that for some reason or other there is something poking through here from another dimension to impose itself on our reality somehow, perhaps pushing through some thin spot between realities from time to time? Could it even be that these planes and their crews were so imbued with purpose and hate for the enemy that they have somehow kept going, unaware that they are dead or even that the war is over, like some lost Japanese soldier on a remote Pacific island who continues to fight long after hostilities ended unbeknownst to them?

Although World War II is long over, it seems that perhaps for whatever reason something has maybe carried over, and that history could somehow be seeping into the present. Or perhaps this is all nothing, simply something as basic and mundane as an illusion, misidentification, or outright exaggeration. We cannot be sure of what causes these sightings or what lies at the heart of this phenomenon, be it a natural mundane explanation or something more paranormal, but we can be sure that many reliable witnesses from all walks of life continue to see these mystery phantom planes. As long as the sightings continue, perhaps there is worth in pondering the origins of such things and even considering that maybe history never really dies, but rather stays to haunt us, perhaps even to remind us of where we’ve been and where we may be headed.

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  • Eric Lucas

    I remember seeing something awhile back saying that there are only two Lancasters left in existence and only one of them is flight worthy. So, the chances of it being that plane being sighted all over the UK is pretty slim.

  • SJ

    Actually, both are flightworthy. One lives at RAF Conningsby down the road from me, with the other in Canada; it came over last year for an anniversary fly around with the Vulcan. Growing up under the BBMF flight path, I saw this (and it’s regular Spitfire and hurricane escorts) WAY more often than modern commercial aircraft!

  • Toondrawer*35

    The Hopi Native Americans in our Southwest are claiming that “the veil is parting.” Could these be examples of that? We may be in for more incredible sightings. So, get ready. “Time slips”, huh?

  • Paul Robinson

    There are currently two Lancs still flying Eric. In UK and Europe the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight displays regularly with the Lanc “Spirit of Lincoln”, and in Canada and North America the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum flies their Lanc, known as “Vera”. A third Lancaster “Just Jane” in England is regularly taxied, and possibly if enough funds can be raised, they will make her fully airworthy. Completely right though, chances of seeing a Lanc very slim, and in UK regularly reported in press when and where it displays, so wouldn’t be much of a mystery. Sadly since moved to France haven’t seen a Lanc in yonks. Back in my natal Northern Ireland there are so many military aircraft buzzing around, most people ignore them, and not well up on identification, and suspect, due especially to the heavy presence of aircraft and losses in WWII, the north of Ireland is another fertile site for spotting phantom aircraft.