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RAF Alconbury, England


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#1 earth_spirit

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Posted 09 June 2004 - 10:36 PM

In 1978 I was stationed with the US Air Force in West Germany and was sent to RAF Alconbury in England for a 30 day TDY (temporary duty.) When I mentioned to a co-worker I was going to RAF Alconbury, he told me that he had been there in 1972 when one of the aircraft mechanics in his squadron had been found late one night in the back seat of an RF-4C Phantom jet, supposedly after he had died of "fright."  The story was that a subsequent investigation revealed unexplained scratches on the glass of the canopy of the jet, and this started a rumor circulating that the unfortunate crew chief had been the victim of what came to be known as the infamous "hard stand monster."

But I'd spent my fair share of late nights out on the hard stands doing engine runs and other maintenance tasks, and I knew that many times your imagination would get the best of you if you let it. The hooting of an owl or the rustling of dead leaves could easily be mistaken for something more sinister on a moonless night. I dismissed my co-worker's story as a poor attempt to unnerve me and nothing more.

But the story stuck with me even after I got to RAF Alconbury.  The base had been built prior to WWII, and I discovered that Army Air Corps B-24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses had flown missions from the base. That in itself was rather bone-chilling, as I knew that many of the men who flew with the bomber crews out of Alconbury during that time never made it back, and many who did, died inflight before the bombers returned to base.  I'd seen the old movies made by combat photographers of ambulance crews pulling charred bodies from the wreckage of bombers that had crashed on landing, and something told me that some of the those crew members might still be lingering around the airfield waiting to fly that next mission that would never come.

There were just two of us qualified to do flight control maintenance, so guess who got to install a stabilator trim actuator that first weekend we were there?  The Technical Sergeant I was with had no intention of working past 5:00 PM, so I found myself finishing up the job so he could go back to his quarters and then hit the NCO Club.  I was none too happy about spending Saturday night in the tail section of an airplane, but there wasn't much I could do about it.  It wasn't long before everyone else in the hangar left for the evening, and it got deathly quiet other than the sound of me rummaging through my tool box.

Now the cavernous old hangar I was working in was built to accommodate large bomber and transport aircraft, so there was a lot of empty space between the much smaller Phantom jet I was working on and the front entrance to the hangar. After securing my tool box, I realized all the exits to the hangar were closed and locked except for the front door, and I was going to have to turn off the hangar lights and walk at least 100 yards from one end of the hangar to the other in the dark.  I looked around for another light switch, but there was no other way I could kill the lights except from the central power control.  So I made sure the front door was open, and I pushed the mushroom shaped button that plunged the hangar into near total darkness. Slowly, I felt my way along the wall, groping in the dark and keeping my eyes fixed on the open door.

I was almost two thirds of the way across the hangar when suddenly I heard the distinct "thunk" of the lighting relays kicking in, and in the blink of an eye, the entire hangar lit up like a football field.  Had I turned off the lights while someone else was still working?  No, I was the only one there, but to be sure I hollered out to see who had turned the lights back on. Nothing. No response.

I walked back over to the light switch and hollered out once again.  Still no response. That was strange, but there was nothing I could do about it. There was no one else in the hangar, so I didn't have much choice other than to turn the lights out again and make my way back to the entrance one more time. At least the lights didn't come back on the second time!

What caused the lights to come back on?  Maybe it was just a defective pushbutton, but it seemed rather odd that the lights would come back on since the button was spring loaded to the "OFF" position. Or perhaps it was a phantom crew member positioning himself on my "wing tip," turning on the lights to safely guide me home...  

Find out more about the base at:

http://www.century20....uk/page12.html
     

Edited by earth_spirit, 16 October 2008 - 09:55 PM.

The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit -- Nelson Henderson

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#2 Holly

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 06:32 AM

earth,

This is a great story and beautifully written - I'll be checking out the link you posted.

I've always been interested in WWII, especially in the fighter pilot aspect. It's always seemed to me that there's something ethereal about them. They seem to be the devoted type who would feel they needed to continue on with a mission if it had been unsuccessful the first time around...even if it had resulted in their death at that time. The bond between pilot and plane was so strong, wasn't it?

This has nothing to do with the War, but have you ever seen "The Ghost of Flight 401"?
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#3 earth_spirit

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 09:54 AM

Thanks for the input, Holly, and as former aircraft mechanic and flight engineer, I can tell you that the bond between man and machine does exist.  Why else would pilots name their airplanes and paint nose art on them?  One of the first things you learn in the military is that "the mission" is the most important part of your job.  In peacetime, safety is the only thing more important; in wartime, safety is totally forgotten.

Not only have I seen "The Ghost of Flight 401," I also read the book when it first came out.  It was a real "page turner" for someone like me.  It made me realize why parts from wrecked aircraft are not cannibalized and used on other planes.  The official reason is that there may be stress related damage on the parts that isn't visible to the naked eye, but I often wondered if it was because of the paranormal activity associated with using parts salvaged from wrecks where death was involved.  The same things happen with ships and cars, doesn't it?

Time permitting, I'll be posting a story here in the near future about an airplane I flew many times on which a crew chief was killed in a freak maintenance accident.  Some of the stories I heard were pretty interesting.

I also went back to the RAF Alconbury site and noticed that one of the pictures looked remarkably like the old hangar where my enounter took place.  Go to:

http://www.century20....uk/page13.html

It's the third picture from the bottom.  I can't say that it's the exact same hangar, but it looks like it could be the one.  Also, if you look at the picture above that one (the B-29 maintenance hangar) you can get a good idea of the size of the building I was in and the distance I had to walk in total darkness.  Use the door in the right hand corner of the building as a reference.
The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit -- Nelson Henderson

Not A Ghost Of A Chance -- The Story Of My Three Years At The Imperial Casino Hotel <-- Click Here For My Personal Website

#4 Caesar

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 02:56 PM

wow what a great story alot of old places like that are haunted. theres one in germany thats really haunted

#5 earth_spirit

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 03:36 PM

In my research I also came across a reference to a ghost named "Herman the German" who supposedly haunts the control tower at RAF Bentwaters. It's believed that Herman was a WWII German pilot who crashed while trying to land his disabled plane at the base.

I'd definitely like to hear from anyone who's been stationed in England at any of the many RAF bases used by the Americans during WWII.  I'm sure there're a lot more stories to be told!
The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit -- Nelson Henderson

Not A Ghost Of A Chance -- The Story Of My Three Years At The Imperial Casino Hotel <-- Click Here For My Personal Website

#6 Caesar

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 03:38 PM

me to good luck and thanks for that story

#7 Holly

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 07:58 PM

Thanks for the links,earth -

I look forward to reading more from you. Your words read like a novel...so articulate and self-assured.

Speaking of re-used parts, James Dean's story is interesting also, isn't it?
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#8 Caesar

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 07:59 PM

I agree Holly its like the twight light zone

#9 Holly

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 08:47 PM

True, mile!As a matter of fact, while I was reading his story, I thought of the Zone episode in which the plane and its crew were 'lost in time'!
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#10 earth_spirit

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Posted 11 June 2004 - 08:32 AM

You're very intuitive, Holly. James Dean's silver Porsche Spyder was exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote that.  Not to get off on a tangent or anything, but it's a common theme throughout history that you don't reuse parts from any type of vehicle--car, plane or ship--that has death associated with it.  I know that on one or two occasions I was going to borrow some small piece of hardware off a crashed plane that was awaiting disposal after an accident investigation, and then stopped at the last minute because it just didn't feel right.

The story of Dean's Porsche is obviously well documented, and if I'm not mistaken, Dean's passenger, Rolf Wuetherich, is still among the living.  What's really freaky is that after all these people died or were injured while around cars containing parts from Dean's Porsche, it suddenly disappears and is never seen again.  From what I read, the car just vanished while in transit back in 1960, and no one has seen it since.

Great minds think alike . . . I was thinking "Twilight Zone," as well.  As you may remember, in the original Twilight Zone movie there was a segment where a man who's just been released from a psychiatric hospital is flying home, and as he's looking out the window of the plane, he sees a "gremlin" on the wing trying to tear open the engine cowling.  Well, I saw the original episode from the Twilight Zone TV show back in the early 60's, and it was scarier than the movie ever was!  I saw it again many years later and was surprised to see that the main character was played by a very young William Shatner.

Obviously, the TV show made an impression on me, because twenty years later when I was a flight engineer, I would flashback to that stupid program every time I would do a periodic wing scan.  As part of my job, I'd scan the leading edge of the wing throughout the flight to check for leaks, misting or visible damage to the wing or engine cowling.  Without fail, that first time I looked out the window I would half expect to see a gremlin like the one from the Twilight Zone hanging from the pylon . . . .

Guess I'm going to have to get busy now and start writing that story about "Balls 19 - The Haunted Starlifter."
The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit -- Nelson Henderson

Not A Ghost Of A Chance -- The Story Of My Three Years At The Imperial Casino Hotel <-- Click Here For My Personal Website

#11 Holly

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Posted 11 June 2004 - 09:09 AM

earth...ahhh, a kindred spirit! We do think a great deal alike, so along those lines - What's your favorite Zone episode?
I'm partial to the one in which an old woman is so fearful of death, she cuts herself off from the world and won't allow anyone into her little hovel. Finally, a police office comes by to check on her(a young Robert Redford!) She agrees to talk with him and it turns out he is,in fact, Death and has come to take her..very gently.

The gremlin episode is a classic, and I also saw a bit of humor in it as well. The expressions on the gremlin's face, the taunting movements.

Dean's car remnants have disappeared - probably for the best, I would think.

My dad worked for TWA Airlines and the story of Flight 401 was well-believed. Although the airline never made a statement, I understand that pieces of wreckage are no longer used.
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#12 earth_spirit

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Posted 11 June 2004 - 02:12 PM

The gremlin episode is probably my second favorite after the the one about the man who discovers the pocket watch that stops time whenever he hits the stem.  It seemed like the answer to all his problems--that is, until he drops the watch and breaks it after he's stopped time.  I always wanted a watch like that!  Of course, as with most of most Rod Serling's stories, this one had a moral . . . yes, I do remember the one about the woman hiding from death.  So that was Robert Redford, huh?  I'm gonna have to see if any of those old TZ episodes are on DVD now.  I'm curious if the gremlin is as scary now as he was 40 years ago!

Twelve O'Clock High was another one of my favorite shows, hence the interest in WWII aviation

Do you suppose someone arranged for James Dean's car to mysteriously disappear?  The thing gained quite a reputation in a short period of time, so it's quite possible that an anonymous buyer (perhaps George Barris or another one of Dean's friends) bought it up and had the car destroyed.  Obviously, cars don't just up and disappear on their own, and it seems to me that the temptation to profit from the car would be too great for someone in this day and age if it still existed.

If your dad worked for TWA then I suspect you've heard quite few tales about the flight engineer who haunted Flight 401.  Personally, I always thought it would be rather reassuring to know that a phantom crew member was always onboard and keeping an eye on things.   But you'll hear  more about that when I get into my experience with the phantom crew chief of "Balls 19."  I guess I'd better get busy and start writing!
The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit -- Nelson Henderson

Not A Ghost Of A Chance -- The Story Of My Three Years At The Imperial Casino Hotel <-- Click Here For My Personal Website

#13 Mykiedave

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Posted 12 June 2004 - 04:05 PM

I am looking forward to reading that story as well. I've often heard tales of the "ghost bombers" of WWII. I love any Military encounter with the Paranormal, from ground troups to phantom dog fights. Thanks again.
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#14 freyjasdottir

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Posted 13 June 2004 - 04:46 PM

Is 401 the one that crashed in the Everglades?  I'm pretty sure it went down about the same time as I was born but can't remember all the details
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#15 Caesar

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Posted 13 June 2004 - 07:34 PM

There must be tons of ghosts storys from that erea.




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