You’ve all heard of the 1980s movie Gremlins, right? What you may not know is that the little creatures in the movie were based upon allegedly real entities which, during the World War II and even before, plagued pilots with all manner of mischief and outright vandalism. In the skies of WWII crews of various aircrafts from all sides described seeing essentially the same thing –  bizarre impish beasts that were there with the sole intent of causing enough problems to bring down airplanes from the sky.

One of the first mentions of the creatures can be traced back to the early 1900s in a British newspaper called the Spectator:

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.

Yikes. That’s wild stuff. The legend of the gremlins really took off in 1923 when a British pilot crashed his plane into the sea and later reported that the accident had been caused by tiny creatures which had followed him aboard his plane, created havoc, sabotaged the engine, messed around with the flight controls, and ultimately caused the plane to crash.

That story spread, and it wasn’t long before other British pilots began to complain of being harassed by similar miniature troll-like creatures with a mastery of technology and machinery which caused engine failures, electrical malfunctions, communications shutdowns, bad landings, freak accidents, and pretty much anything else that could possibly ever go wrong with an aircraft.

Gremlins were also said to engage in such a bunch of bad behavior like sucking the gas out of tanks through hoses, jamming radio frequencies, screwing up landing gear, blowing dust or sand into fuel pipes or sensitive electrical equipment, cutting wires, removing bolts or screws, tinkering with dials, knobs or switches, jostling controls, slashing wings or tires, poking or pinching gunners or pilots, banging incessantly on the fuselage, breaking windows, and a wide variety of other crazy acts.

They were also reported to be seen sitting out upon the nose of the plane or the wings of aircraft in midflight tampering with the wings or even the engines. On occasion the gremlins were said to shout, giggle, whisper, growl, or otherwise make noise so as to distract aircraft crews. Bottom line, by the end of the 1920s almost anyone who flew a plane had claimed to have seen the little beasts.

One of the most famous alleged gremlin accounts from this period was made by none other than Charles Lindbergh as he was taking his historic nonstop solo flight over the Atlantic from New York to Paris in May of 1927. In the 9th hour of his flight Lindbergh reported that he suddenly found himself surrounded by several strange looking beings in his cockpit, and they spoke to him and demonstrated incredibly complex knowledge of navigation and flight equipment. In this case, however, rather than cause mischief, Lindbergh said that the gremlins actually kept him alert and reassured him that he would remain safe on his journey.

Lindbergh kept this experience to himself for years until the account was finally published in his 1953 book The Spirit of St. Louis.

What did Gremlins look like, you ask? Well, actually the little monsters in the Gremlin movie were based on their description. They were said to look animalistic, with hairy bodies, large, pointed ears, deep red or even glowing eyes, and horns. Other reports spoke of gremlins as having hairless grey skin, being sort of reptilian in appearance, and having enormous mouths filled with pointy teeth. Some were even described as having bat-like wings. Holy moly.

One common trait in all reports is that through whatever means, gremlins were known to be able to adhere to the outer fuselage of planes and to withstand incredible temperature extremes, high altitudes, and violent winds.

Gremlins seemed to reach their peak during World War II when reports reached an all-time high. In fact, during the Battle of Britain gremlin reports were so prevalent that the British Air Ministry acknowledged the problem and even made serious attempts to investigate the phenomenon.

Hell, the Ministry even went as far as to have a service manual written up by a gloriously named “Gremlorist,” Percy Prune, which included the creatures’ exploits, how to placate or distract them, and various ways to avoid accidents due to their presence. You cannot make this stuff up, folks.

It wasn’t just the British who saw the little pranksters, either. German pilots saw them, Americans too, and the only common denominator was that they were almost always seen over European soil or water. Strange but true.

One of the stories told by an American pilot is a rather chilling one. He said he looked outside to his right and saw a freakish “entity” outside of the plane’s window and latched onto the plane. He described a creature that was about 3-feet tall with abnormally long arms, grey hairless skin, deep red eyes, a gaping mouth full of teeth, and pointed ears with tufts of black hair at the ends like “owl ears.” He said it was just staring in at him from beyond the glass. When the terrified pilot looked to the nose of the aircraft he was astonished to see yet another one of the creatures apparently dancing about out there and pounding away haphazardly at the fuselage. He said that the strange creatures appeared to be laughing maniacally, and that they gleefully cavorted about outside of his plane pulling on whatever they could get their clawed hands on, banging on the aircraft with all of their might, obviously trying their best to bring the plane down.

Good God almighty.

Crazy stuff, man. So what are gremlins? A figment of a bunch of pilot’s imaginations? What were all of these people seeing or experiencing? It’s been pointed out that the lack of adequate pressurization of aircraft back in those days may have led to hallucinations, but why would so any people have basically the same hallucination? Some have said that gremlins may have been an excuse for human error, with pilots blaming accidents on these creatures. “Captain, I was doing one helluva job flying my plane until those damn gremlins made me crash.” Seriously?

To this day nobody knows for certain, but one thing is undeniable – to thousands of pilots who flew back in the early 1920s up through to the end of World War II, gremlins were real.

So, next time you’re flying somewhere and feel a little turbulence or bouncing of the plane, or maybe you hear a strange noise outside, take a gander out the window. You just might see a gremlin peering back at you.

PS: You know the old Twilight Zone episode where the monster is on the wing? It was inspired by gremlins. A couple pics above were taken from the 80s remake of that episode.

PPS: Disney even had a book about gremlins. That’s cray-cray.

 

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