First published in Magonia 25, March 1987
During the past three or four years, as I was reviewing the more recent literature on UFOs and the cattle mutilation phenomenon, I became aware that so-called ‘phantom helicopters’ were often seen in connection with these phenomena. In addition these usually unmarked, usually black, helicopters demonstrated some rather remarkable properties: they move silently or with sound unlike those of normal helicopters: they fly at abnormal, unsafe, or illegal altitudes: they appear both shy and aggressive.
They are reported to carry ‘oriental-looking’ people; their passage sometimes ‘blisters’ the dead and mutilated animals; they direct abnormal brilliant beams of light; the hover over missile sites and military bases; often they are heard distinctly and very loudly but not seen; sometimes they look like helicopters but sound like airplanes; they sometimes flash multi-coloured lights; they are observed in association with nocturnal lights; they are sometimes seen flying at abnormally high rates of speed.
All of this sounds very much like the sorts of behaviour typically reported of flying saucers. Strangest of all is that UFOs are occasionally reported to change into helicopters, or the helicopters are seen shortly before or after sightings of UFOs.
It was this combination of reported abnormal characteristics, and especially the reports of apparent transmogrifications, that prompted me to ask myself the following question: if such phenomena were reported as occurring in a dream, how would such a dream be interpreted? Such a dream would indicates that in some sense, an equivalence or, at least, a very close relationship between helicopters and UFOs was being suggested. In reality, of course, helicopters are not identical with UFOs, and so the relationship must be of a different sort.
It was my hypothesis that, if there was a deep-rooted psychological connection between helicopters and UFOs, evidence of this connection would appear in the experience and activities of individuals preoccupied – not with UFOs necessarily – but with helicopters. Since the work of these individuals predates the so-called modern era of UFO sightings, reliable naive material could be expected.
It so happens that one of the engineers most involved in early helicopter design was Arthur Young and, as luck would have it, Arthur Young published in a book called The Bell Notes, the record of his thoughts and activities during the time of his most intense efforts to design the Bell Model 47 helicopter.
In Peter Dreyer’s forward to the book, and in the very first paragraph he states that Arthur Young “had come to see the helicopter chiefly as a metaphor for the evolving spirit – the winged self which he now began to call the ‘psychopter’.” In Young’s own words “the many headed dragon of the helicopter seemed to be growing more heads all the time, and “I am working on the psychopter within the helicopter. I experimented with the self instead of with the machine.” Using an image borrowed from alchemy he writes: “Bell has become a laboratory in which I try to distil myself. The helicopter is only the vessel … I am constantly directing myself towards attainment of the psychopter”. Arthur Young went on to become intensely involved in psychic phenomena and metaphysics.
I also checked on Igor Sikorski. In 1900, at the age of 11, Sikorski had a dream that affected him deeply. The details of the dream are very much like a Jules Verne conception of being aboard a UFO:
“I saw myself walking along a narrow, luxuriously decorated passageway. On both sides were walnut doors, similar to the staterooms of a steamer. A spherical electric light from the ceiling produced a pleasant bluish illumination. Walking slowly, I felt a slight vibration under my feet and was not surprised to find that the feeling was different from that experienced on a steamer or on a railway train. I took this for granted because in my dream I knew that I was onboard a large flying ship in the air.”
Sikorski wrote several books of a theological and metaphysical nature. In 1947 he published The Invisible Encounter, a rather despairing book on the morals and fate of the twentieth century.
Another, very suggestive, dream illustration of the connection between UFOs and helicopters may be found in a letter to C.G. Jung in 1959. The writer was not, as far as I know, deeply involved with helicopters, but this is not certain. The dream is as follows:
“An aeroplane appeared from clouds of smoke or fog [The appearance of smoke or fog is often reported to be seen prior to encounters with UFOs and UFO abductions]. Then a contraption like a helicopter descended towards the dreamer to fetch him [There is an apparent transformation of the aeroplane into a helicopter, a type of phenomenon also reported in the UFO literature]. He saw shadowy figures which he knew to be higher types of man, with greater knowledge and absolutely just, visitors from another world”.
The years 1946 and 1947 were notable for other events of relevance to this discussion. On March 8, 1946, Arthur Young’s machine, the Bell Model 47 helicopter, was awarded the world’s first commercial helicopter licence. The helicopter thus became part of the general culture.
Considerable speculation was given to the possibility that everyone might own their own device for “genuine three-dimensional travel”. In the very next year, 1947, atmospheric straight-line flight achieved another sort of freedom: the sound barrier (sometimes referred to as a demon in the sky) was broken by a Bell X-15 rocket plane. In addition the world groundspeed record was established in 1947. Following Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of the previous year, 1947 was termed the ‘Year of Division”. And 1946 – 1947 marks the beginning of the modern era of flying saucers.
The theme of splitting was not only a feature of post-war science and politics, but manifested in the technology of the time as well. It seems as though the flight characteristics of the UFO – enormous straight line velocities combined with the ability to hover and move at right-angles and in all directions – were reproduced by us in the best way we could, by means of our rockets and helicopters. Unable to combine the astounding performance characteristics of the UFO in a single device, we produced two quite different technologies, each of which mimicked only one set of UFO flight characteristics.
One is tempted here to view the UFO as the visible representation of a background dynamic that is stimulating us to produce technologies that are partial representations of something that is, in its essence, irrepresentable and paradoxical.
This is reminiscent of the behaviour of the hero in Close Encounters of the Third Kind who feels compelled to reproduce in material form a vague and elusive unconscious image. One may further speculate that the level of accomplishment achieved by the production of supersonic rocket planes and reliable helicopters in some sense caused this background dynamics to reveal itself in the form of the irrational and myth provoking UFO. It was as if this hidden element were saying “No, that is not exactly it, that is not the whole picture. A merely technological representation is not ultimately satisfactory, so here is something for you really to think about!’. The UFO thus emerges as a sort of tertium quid, a transformative element of the mind related to human creativity.
Arthur Young addresses himself to this point several times in his book. He writes:
“What is the psychopter? The psychopter is the winged self. It is that which the helicopter usurped – and what the helicopter was finally revealed not to be. Fundamentally, I am trying to get out of the helicopter not because of what it is but because I believe in the psychopter. The construction of the psychopter is not advanced by plunging again into the helicopter. It is advanced by trying to distil the helicopter. So that from the point of view of the psychopter, which is the important one, the only commitments toward the helicopter which should presently, be stressed are indirect ones”.
Young refers to The Bell Notes as:
“[A] notebook on [a] machine that is much more complicated and subtle than the helicopter. The machine is my mind and body, with which I experiment every day, through which I will eventually achieve the end I seek, for I always knew it was not the helicopter. Here is a great experiment indeed.”
From these quotations we rather gather that this individual, Arthur Young, who was deeply involved in the problems of designing the helicopter, felt machine to be an inadequate external representation of an inner driving force to which he was totally committed. He saw the psychopter/helicopter problem as related to the nature of his own mind and body It is of interest here that Jule Eisenbud has referred to the UFO phenomenon as an “into-the-body-experience”.
The biophysicist Otto Schmitt asks us to consider such experiences as apports, and, by extension, the phenomena of UFOs, to be considered as examples of what he terms “matrix-inversion” – i.e., that instead of arising from the action of an external object on the sensorium, the ‘perception’ event may be primary, with the external object arising as a secondary phenomenon – a point of view not inconsistent with traditional teachings of Eastern philosophy.
We already know that certain forms of mental disorder are accompanied by the loss of the sense of bodily boundaries. Often this condition is accompanied by a view of the body as an extended machine or as being invaded by a machine. This condition has been well conceived by the UFO-naive artist who produced this lithograph.
This UFO-like image has clear resemblances to a machine, yet it is obviously of a very organic nature. It is composed of sinews and skeletal tissues that strongly suggest the parts of one or more human bodies. This ‘flask’ or vas hermeticum of tissue is surmounted by a pair of wings in the position of the rotors of a helicopter. The whole of the object seems to be emerging out of the metaphysical background of existence. The work was done in 1973, and is entitled Air Machine.
A very interesting mythology has been built up around the helicopter in popular culture. Recently a surrealist novel has been published called God’s Helicopter in which a demonic god terrorises the main character by means of a helicopter and its disembodied noise. Ron Westrum reports an ‘abduction case’ in which the sound of a helicopter figures as a fear-provoking element.
The helicopter has taken on near-mythological proportions in television and movies. Blue Thunder and the spin-off TV series Airwolf come immediately to mind. In these shows the helicopters possess such advanced technology that they take on a kind of personality. In the movie Apocalypse Now! helicopters are portrayed as Valkyries who attack the Viet Cong to the music of Wagner. In this film a cow is hoisted by helicopter to supply a barbecue held by the fliers of the machines, clearly mimicking reports of cattle abductions and mutilations. I doubt if this was the conscious intent of the film makers.
Perhaps the most outstanding of the many examples of modern helicopter mythology comes from the movie Iceman. In this, a resuscitated Neanderthal shaman sees the helicopter as a divine being. The consulting anthropologist in the movie attempts to explain the relationship of a helicopter to the Neanderthal as follows:
“The helicopter is the bird, the messenger of the gods, but also a Trickster – supposed to take you to heaven, but if you’ve done wrong, it takes you somewhere else, where you’re judged for your sins.”
Here the helicopter is given the alternate roles of devil or angel as expressed in the Trickster figure, prominent in the folklore of North American Indians for his considerable ability to change into many forms. In this way he is analogous to the alchemical figure of Mercurius, who may be said to stand for the collective unconscious itself. Trickster/Mercurius is the source of both creative activity and gross deception.
I am not claiming a complete solution to the problem of UFOs or cattle mutilations. The UFO problem is far too rich to be encompassed by one solution. I am suggesting that there are fruitful areas of investigation, not usually explored, that may give us a different perspective on what we are trying to see. The peculiar relationship between UFOs and helicopters may well provide such a different perspective.
REFERENCE: Arthur Young. The Bell Notes: A Journey from Physics to Metaphysics, Delacourt Press, 1979. (Click on the title to order from Amazon)