Over 30 years of conducting UFO and fortean research, I’ve come across some particularly strange reports that are suggestive of either glimpses into the future through some sort of ‘time window’ or sightings of actual time-travellers visiting us from our own future.
There are reports of people standing on floating platforms and of men flying through the air using rocket packs or other gadgets. We also share our highways, motorways and country lanes with an odd assortment of futuristic vehicles – some even without wheels.
I can’t say with any certainty if time travellers are, in fact, visiting us, or if rifts in time are somehow allowing us to catch glimpses of the future. Perhaps there are rational explanations for what people have seen. In the spirit of Charles Fort, here is the evidence for you to make up your own minds.
On two occasions, witnesses have reported seeing a group of people standing on a floating platform as it hovered over an urban area. The first case is from about 1916. After the son of the witness wrote a short letter that was published in the Daily Mirror on 8 August 1968, he was contacted by Flying Saucer Review.
In his reply, Mr AE Whiteland described the unusual sight witnessed by his mother around 1916 or 1917, when she lived in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. One day she had gone upstairs, looked out the window, when “at a height of about 30ft [9m], eight to twelve men appeared, on what seemed to be a round platform with a handrail around it… They were wearing blue uniforms and little round hats, not unlike sailors’ hats. She heard no sound from the machine as it came off the nearby marshes. It turned a bit, and went over the railway yard, to disappear behind some houses.” 
When she first saw the platform, it was about 100 yards away and “came straight along the road, and then when she thought it was going to pass her house (one of a terraced block of six) it suddenly turned away at right angles from her and went between the Railway Hotel and the sheds on either side of the railway yard. The shed opposite the house was maybe 23 to 25ft [7–8m] high; it was two-storeyed, and hay was stored in the upper part, and the thing just cleared its roof, from what Mother said.” 
The men were holding tightly on to the handrail, which was “brass, and a second rail, also of brass, was at the height of the men’s knees. As she was trying so hard to take it all in, she cannot say of what material the platform seemed to be made… Mother says that she kept wondering what was making the thing move, and looked up in the sky and then at the men and then in between their legs to see if there was an engine there in the middle, but she could see nothing there. There was nothing in the middle, just a hollow, with the men around the sides.” 
The platform was totally silent and moved at about the speed of a running man. It was visible for at least several minutes. Mr Whiteland’s mother never heard of any other witnesses to this strange sight, but she didn’t speak about it much until after the war. Also, the street had been empty of pedestrians at the time of her sighting, which was at midday during the working week.
Researcher Charles Grove wrote to Charles H Gibbs-Smith of the Victoria & Albert Museum asking about the possibility that the platform had been an observation platform hung below a German Zeppelin. Gibbs-Smith replied in the negative, pointing out that such platforms were tiny and carried only one man in a prone position (rather than a group, which would have made an easy target for British troops), were never low to the ground and would have swung out when making a sharp turn – not to mention the fact that the noise of any Zeppelin’s engine’s would have been easily heard.
The abrupt 90-degree turn down another street that was executed by the platform is also particularly puzzling – it’s a manœuvre commonly reported in connection with UFOs, which appear to perform it at high speeds.
The same, or a very similar, floating platform was seen again nearly 40 years later on the afternoon of 18 October 1955. The Reverend Pitt-Kethly was travelling on the Uxbridge train line to East Harrow, London. When the train had stopped at the West Hampstead viaduct, he noticed a reddish-brown and grey platform the size of a small bus. It was silent and travelled at a height of about 120ft (37m).
There were approximately 20 helmeted men dressed in khaki uniforms standing on the platform, which moved at about 20mph (32km/h) and was in sight for three or four minutes. The Reverend did “not doubt the evidence of his own optics”. 
THE JET PACK MEN
Despite these intriguing English examples, most reports of flying men have come from America.
On the evening of 28 July 1880, two male witnesses saw a man flying through the air with the aid of wings or fans. He was “surrounded by machinery which he seemed to be working with his hands”. 
Only a few weeks later, in early September 1880, it was reported that an odd object like a “man with bat’s wings and improved frog’s legs” was seen flying in the sky. Allegedly, “[T]his monster waved his wings in answer to the whistle of a locomotive.” Even more suspiciously, even though flying at an estimated altitude of 1,000ft (300m), the “face of the man could be distinctly seen, and it wore a cruel and determined expression”. 
In a 1980 letter to the Center for UFO Studies, Ann D Alley recalled an unusual sighting from 1938 in Silver City, New Mexico:
“I must have been around nine, that beautiful age when we don’t question the things that happen around us… My brother, who is about 21/2 years younger than I, and two other little friends and I were playing in the yard. It was twilight… and we were at the extreme end of the front yard, which, in those days, seemed like a very large area. It was that moment before lights go on anywhere and everything seems grey. The four of us were playing quietly and then we happened to look up. We all saw him. He was dressed all in grey and he even seemed grey; he was drifting or floating at treetop level. The thing I remember the most about him was that he seemed to be wearing a belt which was wide and had points sticking out of it. He also seemed to be wearing a cap (à la Flash Gordon).” 
The children stood and stared at the odd figure as he drifted across the sky. They didn’t tell their mother about what they had seen when she returned from visiting a neighbour.
“About 15 years ago I was telling my husband about it. When I did, I questioned myself – perhaps I had had a dream. But just in case, I called my brother. By now I was about 35 and he about 32. I prefaced my conversation by telling him that I had a strange story to tell and that perhaps it had all been a dream, but that I thought that in about 1938 I had seen a man fly over our heads.” 
Her brother stopped her and proceeded to describe the whole incident, which he remembered quite clearly, in detail.
A slightly earlier sighting of a flying man occurred in the USSR in 1936. The witness, Mrs Loznaya, was 15 and was walking to her school in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan early one morning. She caught sight of a dark object flying through the air. It was a man whose “black clothes covered him completely, like overalls… I could see behind his back an oval thing like a rucksack. Looking with fright at the ‘flying man’ I noticed suddenly that he had changed his course and was now flying towards me.” 
The distance between them rapidly decreased to some 40m (130ft) and she turned to look for cover – but there was none to be found in the snow. She looked back and the man was gone. She tried to rationalise his disappearance: “Maybe he had made an abrupt change in his course, or maybe he had dived in a snowdrift… but the next moment I was running towards my home.” 
In 1948, there were two unusual sightings in the state of Washington. 
On 6 January, on her farm just outside the small town of Chehalis, 61-year-old Mrs Bernice Zaikowski saw a most unexpected sight – a man flying with some sort of wings strapped to his back.
She had heard a “sizzing and whizzing and there he was, just about 200ft [60m] above my barn”. Stunned, she watched as the man, equipped with long silver wings fastened over the shoulders with a strap, ascended “very rapidly”, hovered, banked and then continued in level flight. The wings retracted close to his body as he ascended and extended again as he manœuvred. The man flew in an upright position, appearing to manipulate the wings with controls strapped to his chest. There was no propeller or any other indication of what the birdman’s motive power might be. The wings did not flap. Mrs Zaikowski also did not think it could have been any kind of one-man helicopter, as the “wings did not rotate”. 
“I know most people don’t believe me but I have talked to some people in Chehalis that tell me they saw the man, too, and that he flew south from Chehalis and apparently came in from the north or west. It was about 3pm on the Tuesday after New Year’s Day and there were a lot of small children coming home from school at the time. They saw the man too, and asked me if they could go into my back yard so they could watch him longer as he flew toward the south end of the city.” 
Mrs Zaikowski said five other Chehalis residents had told her of their own sightings. One soldier claimed the army had been experimenting with them, but army officials told the newspaper that they knew nothing about the matter.
But had Mrs Zaikowski really seen something unexplained? According to a 1976 newspaper article, an explanation had been found. The man was flying a parakite – a forerunner of modern-day hang gliders.
“It was about the time they were trying to find someplace to use hang gliders. There were those who felt this area would have been a good place for it,” said a Mrs George Zaikowski, presumably the daughter of the original witness. 
There has been some recent discussion of the “hang glider” explanation, with researchers using the power of Google Earth to examine the area and assess the likelihood of a hang glider being able to overfly Mrs Zaikowski’s house in the manner described, and there are hopes of an on-site investigation. 
Such an explanation, though, is rendered problematic by the date of the sighting in 1948; according to Wikipedia, it wasn’t until August 1961 that American engineer Barry Palmer developed and flew the first foot-launched Rogallo wing hang glider near Sacramento, California. 
This was over a decade after the Zaikowski sighting and accounts suggest that Palmer’s longest flights were around 180m (600ft) at altitudes of up to 24m (80ft), falling far short of the described altitude and distance achieved by Mrs Zaikowski’s flying man.
I’d have thought that the sport of hang gliding would have become popular in the 1950s instead of the 1970s (when it actually did) if somebody had invented a precursor to the Palmer hang glider, and one that was capable of doing what was seen in 1948. 
Only a few months after Mrs Zaikowski’s sighting, on 9 April 1948, three flying men were seen above Longview, Washington state. Mrs Viola Johnson, a laundry worker, told reporters she had seen what looked like “three men in flying suits flying through the air. They wore dark drab flying suits and as far as I can judge – I’m not very good at judging distance – they were 250ft [75m] high, circling the city. They were going at about the same speed as a freight train and had some kind of apparatus on their sides which looked like guns, but I know it couldn’t have been guns. I couldn’t see any propellers or any motors tied on them but I could hear motors which sounded about like airplane motors, only not so loud. When they first came into sight, I thought they looked like gulls, but as they got closer I could see plainly that they were men. I couldn’t make out their arms but I could see their feet dangling down and they kept moving their heads, like they were looking around. I couldn’t tell if they had goggles on, but their heads looked like they had helmets on. I couldn’t see their faces.” 
Mrs Johnson said a janitor, James Pittman, also saw the flying men (she called to the workers still in the laundry but they got outside too late to see anything). But Pittman denied seeing flying men and said he saw three planes. According to a newspaper account, he added that he was tired of taking a ribbing from his friends concerning the incident. 
Perhaps Mrs Johnson mistook three planes for flying men; or perhaps Pittman changed his story to avoid further ridicule. At this late date, it is impossible to tell either way.
William Silverstone wrote to Fortean Times to describe a more recent sighting from the summer of 1996. He was staying at the home of his cousin in Beverley Hills, California, and as the weather was so hot he “donned a pair of trunks and got into the swimming pool to cool down. Suddenly the shadow of a human figure flitted over the pool and the surrounding area. I managed to get a quick glimpse of what seemed to be the figure of a helmeted man in a tight fitting yellow suit with his arms outstretched and whizzing across the sky at a height of about 150ft [45m]. The Slemens family also saw the figure, which rules out subjective hallucination. Perhaps the flying man was wearing one of those Bell Aerosystem jet packs developed in the 1960s by the US military, but in the couple of seconds I saw him, he didn’t look as if he had any such apparatus on. What then did I and six other people witness? A parachutist in trouble or Captain Hollywood?” 
There was a more detailed sighting of a flying humanoid on the evening of 12 July 1877, in the town of Quebradillas, Puerto Rico. Adrian de Olmos Ordonez, 42, was resting on his balcony between 8:30 and 9:00 pm when he saw a small figure walking along the road: “In its right hand it was carrying a small shiny object. The light from our house was reflected off the glass of the creature’s helmet, which shone with a tremendous brightness… It placed its hands on the front part of its belt, and then a thing which it had on its back, like a rucksack, lit up, and emitted a sound like the noise of an electric drill… And then it rose up into the air, and made off towards the trees.” 
There are more recent sightings from other countries. In 2005, hundreds of witnesses in the town of Ljubovija, Serbia, saw a figure with a cloak flying along “as if he had an invisible engine on his back”. He changed direction repeatedly. 
Two years later, 20 witnesses in the village of Gemeni, Romania, saw a blue-suited figure. Local policeman Ion Anuta said: “We talked to people of different ages who are all reliable citizens in our village. They all said they saw this strange creature who flew over their houses in his shiny blue costume. We’ll just have to see what happens next.” 
According to witness Constantin Toader: “He looked like Superman and was flying slowly at about 100 yards from the ground in a standing position. He didn’t make any smoke or sound. Just cruising around.”  On the Internet, several videos (mostly filmed in Mexico) have appeared in recent years showing what purport to be flying humanoids.  It is highly likely that many, if not all, of these recent reports can actually be explained as novelty shaped balloons or remote controlled toy gliders. However, those, like the Washington sightings, dating from a period when man-made technology seems unlikely to be responsible must remain a mystery.
In the light of recent developments (see “Real-life fliers”), perhaps we are now only a short step away from recreating what people have been seeing in the skies for decades.
Thanks to Jerome Clark for the information on the 1938 New Mexico flying man case, Chuck Flood for copies of the original newspaper reports on the two 1948 Washington state cases and Theo Paijmans for the 1976 follow-up article on the 1948 Zaikowski sighting. Also thanks to Chris Aubeck and Loren Colemen for opinions, leads, and further information.
1 Anon: “The Aldeburgh Platform” in Flying Saucer Review, Jan–Feb 1969, v15 no1 p23.
4 Jonathan M Caplan: “Another Floating Platform” in Flying Saucer Review, May–June 1969, v15 no3 p21. The website URECAT has a brief examination of this second floating platform case. It is pointed out that the estimates of distance and speed cannot be totally accurate for the witness to have seen the full figures standing on the platform as reported. It was probably further away and moving slower than he thought.
5 Jerome Clark & Loren Coleman: “Winged Weirdies” in FATE, Mar 1972, p82, quoting Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal, 29 July 1880.
6 News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, 15 Sept 1880, quoting from New York Times, 12 Sept 1880.
7 Jerome Clark: The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon from the Beginning, Omnigraphics, Detroit, 1998, pp879–880.
9 Vladimir V Rubtsov: “A ‘Flying “Man” In Black’ In Russia”, Flying Saucer Review, Jan 1979, v24 no4 p13.
11 Both were first widely publicised in Clark & Coleman, op. cit., pp80–89 and later in Loren Coleman: Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, Paraview, NY, 2002, pp24–37.
12 Portland (Oregon) Oregonian, 21 Jan 1948.
14 Centralia (Washington) Daily Chronicle, 30 Oct 1976; also fully quoted in Theo Paijmans: “The Black Flash of Cape Cod: true heir of Spring-heeled Jack”, The Anomalist, No. 13, pp10–36.
15 The discussions took place on the Magonia Exchange email group during May 2008. See Magonia Exchange and Magoniax.
16 'History of hangliding', Wikipedia.
17 Although researcher Chris Aubeck has also noted that: “A group of students from Darmstadt used a hang-gliding hill for flights using a glider based on Lilienthal’s bat-shaped designs of the 1890s. Their best flight was one by Hans Gutermuth, who reached 2,700ft [820m] in 1912.” Chris Aubeck to the Magonia Exchange email group 14 May 2008, quoting from Morton Grosser: Gossamer Odyssey: The Triumph of Human-Powered Flight, Zenith Press, 2004, p8.
18 Portland (Oregon) Oregonian, 10 Apr 1948.
19 Longview (Washington state) Daily News, 10 Apr 1948.
21 Sebastian Robiou Lamarche: “A ‘Flying’ Humanoid In Puerto Rico”, Flying Saucer Review, April 1978, v23 no6 p9.
22 FT203:8, quoting London Evening Standard, 25 Aug 2005.
23 FT230:8, quoting Sunday Mail, 23 Sept 2007.
25 There is an article on rense.com and a YouTube search on “flying humanoid” returns vague video results like this and this. Alleged flying witches have also been taped.
In the Fifties and Sixties there were several attempts at building flying platforms for military use. The most famous of these was the Hiller VZ-1 Pawnee, developed in 1954. However, the 8ft (2.5m) platform could only carry one man to a maximum height of 33ft (10m)  and at a maximum speed of 16mph (25km/h) using the power of twin ducted fans. 
Richard Timewall invented a similar one-man platform in the mid-Seventies. He sold it as a kit for ,795 or a bargain .50 for the blueprints only. It was powered by four jet engines and Timewall claimed it had a “ten mile [16km] range, 15-minute flight time, with a top speed of about 40mph [64km/h].” 
Two other claimants for the crown of one-man flying platform were variations on a theme – the Williams X-Jet and Williams Aerial Systems Platform (or WASP), which both looked like a bit like flying pulpits, as the pilot was covered up to waist height. 
It’s hard to see how any such man-made flying platforms could have been the cause of the two English sightings; these were only ever tested in America, decades later, and none carried more than two men.
1 VZ-1 Pawnee, Wikipedia.
2 Bill Rose and Tony Buttler: Secret Projects Flying Saucer Aircraft, Ian Allan, 2006, pp133–137 has a wealth of detail.
3 Anon: “Hardware” column in Future, August 1978, p48.
4 Williams X-Jet, Wikipedia and 'Is it a bird? Is it a plane?' Guardian 14 Sept 2000. There is a video of the WASP flying on YouTube.
REAL LIFE FLIERS
To date, human attempts at flying jet packs and rocket belts have had limited success.
In the Sixties, Bell developed the Rocket Belt and Jet Belt. Intended for military use, they were fuelled with very pure hydrogen peroxide, but were impractical due to a maximum 40 seconds flight time. However, they did look extremely cool – cool enough for James Bond to use one in the opening sequence of his 1965 film outing Thunderball.  Currently, a handful of individuals have made and fly their own versions. 
A recent advancement was claimed in the form of the SoloTrek Exo-Skeletor Flying Vehicle in 2002. The US Defense Department was interested enough to invest million in the concept. The pilot stood vertically and two large horizontally positioned fans provided the lift. In short, tethered test flights, the device hovered just above the ground. 
Later that same year, during a test flight, the tether tangled in the blades and the prototype crashed; thankfully, the pilot was uninjured. A new company is now continuing to promote the idea. 
Flying wing concepts have recently taken off with Felix Baumgartner’s 22-mile (35km) English Channel flight assisted with a 6ft (1.8m) carbon fin strapped on his back. 
The idea has just been taken further by Yves Rossy, aka Fusionman, who has developed a powered wing with four tiny jets. Even so, it is launched from an aircraft at 2,500m (8,000ft), has a flight time of only 10 minutes and lands with the aid of a parachute. 
1 For more detailed information see Wikipedia and Flying into the Future (has side by side photo of the Bell jet belt and rocket belt); there's a couple of cool video clips here and here; Paul Brown’s The Rocketbelt Caper (reviewed in FT233:60) details the nasty true story of an early Nineties attempt at making and marketing one.
2 Justin Mullins: “Strap In, turn on, blast off”, New Scientist, Oct 2005, pp27–30; Larry Smith: “Ready for takeoff?”, Popular Science, Mar 2006, pp45–48, 86; Dan Schlund is an experienced modern-day flier. See his site: www.rocketman.org/ and video clips on YouTube.
3 “Solo flyer aimed at army, adventurers”, [AP] New Zealand Herald, 18 Jan 2002.
4 SoloTrek XFV, Wikipedia. The new company website is here.
5 'Skydiver in record Channel flight', BBC News 31 July 2003
6 “Birdman powers through the air”, [AFP] (Wellington, New Zealand) Dominion Post, 16 May 2008.