The 1890s Airship Waves and our contemporary Flying Black Triangle Mystery


German immigrant Charles Dellschau (1830-1923) was a draftsman of odd aerial devices. Researcher Peter Navarro discovered a coded story within Dellschau’s drawings that told of a worldwide secret society of inventors who had experimented with airships in the 1850s. Dellschau purported to be the draftsman of the Sonora, California chapter of this organization. He filled many notebooks with meticulous designs for these vehicles.

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Between the 1850s and 1880s isolated reports of flying vehicles akin to Dellschau’s designs were described in the press. Inventor Solomon Andrews flew the first dirigible, the “Aereon,” in 1863. It is possible (but unlikely) that independent inventors conducted experiments in secret, given the descriptions of the remarkable vehicles seen. Additionally, during a time of great tension with Russia, balloons and airships that performed like advanced planes were sighted in waves from February to April 1892 in Poland. They have never satisfactorily been explained.

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The Airships of 1896-97: Thousands of people across the US, mostly on the West Coast and Midwest, report seeing a massive cigar-shaped vehicle in the sky. It has brilliant “headlights” and “searchlights” that sweep the land. Sometimes it has wings. Often lighted cabins are reported, and inhabitants are seen at the ships’ windows.

These craft float slowly over highly populated areas and are also observed racing instantly from a hovering position to the horizon or disappearing in seconds.

Powerful light beam projectors such as those reported on the ships did not exist at the time. A lamp strong enough to create these effects would have weighed far more than any then-existent lighter-than-air vehicle (balloons or dirigibles), and brought it crashing to the ground.

In the two months prior to the airship sighting waves, there are scattered reports of strange aerial phenomena: nocturnal colored light patches and a triangular set of lights observed by an astronomer. A rumor spreads prior to the first appearance that a Hoboken, New Jersey inventor named “Leon” had been boasting of flying a powered balloon cross-country.

                                                                      CALIFORNIA PHASE

The airship appears over Sacramento on November 17, 1896. Two or three very intense lights are described moving in tandem and drifting about in irregular rhythm. Voices are heard speaking in English of course headings and to avoid the church steeples. It reappears on the 22nd, moving against the prevailing winds. Hundreds see its lights, including district attorney Frank Ryan. They are described as far more powerful than an arc light; a man using binoculars on the object sees a dark mass connecting the lights. Others report a dirigible body, with fish-like tail and wings.

On that same night the airship appears over San Francisco bay—at approximately the same time. The press goes nuts. Over the next days, reports come in from all over California and as far north as Tacoma, Washington and western Canada.

On November 27th, the San Francisco Mail publishes an interview with a Colonel H.G. Shaw, who claims his buggy was halted—the horses stopped, in paralyzed terror—by three seven-foot, delicate-looking, very slender human-shaped beings who “warble” at him in a monotone. He sees their 150-foot long, cigar-shaped “ship” nearby. They approach his buggy and attempt to grab him but Shaw grabs one of them first and picks it up. He says the being weighed less than an ounce. Still they try to carry him to the ship but he easily resists them. They depart to the ship and it rises and vanishes.

He concluded they must be a team of scientists “from Mars” looking for a specimen.

On November 29th, red, white and blue lights are seen in conjunction with the powerful aerial arc beams in Tulare, California.

Two prominent lawyers (the second a former California attorney general, William Henry Harrison Hart) come forward claiming to represent the airship’s inventor—having been approached by him before the sightings began. The inventor, who fronts for a secret group (shades of Dellschau), desires absolute secrecy until the patent clears. But George Collins, the first attorney, says the man, who is from the state of Maine, will demonstrate “their” genius with further displays.

The press use detectives to track down this inventor. He turns out to be in fact a dentist from Maine, and is in fact one of Collins’s clients, but quickly disappears when he is ridiculed publicly and the press does what the press do best: hound him incessantly.

Both of the two chosen lawyers’ stories change suspiciously over the next two months; Collins retracts claims of accompanying the inventor to witness the ship’s takeoff from a hangar in Oroville, California. The airship sightings in California diminish then stop after the two fronts’ boastful newspaper interviews, in which the supposed systems of propulsion, energy source, and design of the craft are revealed in detail…

It’s fair to ask: Are the attorneys outright lying about this contact with the “inventor”, or did they reveal too much and the inventor(s) immediately threaten to withdraw the groups’ association with them? Did persons unknown hoax Collins and Hart after the sightings started, instructing them to say the meeting occurred before the airship first appeared? Or did the legal duo place this solicitation as occurring before the first airship sighting on their own, to puff up their own importance? We’ll never know. Their claims, though, are public record.


                                                                      THE MIDWEST WAVES

The airship appears at Hastings, Nebraska on February 1, 1897, then Invale, Nebraska on the 5th. It is made clear in these newspaper articles that the witnesses were reliable, honest people: they spotted the UAP on the way home from a prayer meeting and were teetotalers (presumably to counter all the accusations of bad whisky playing a part in the whole affair thus far!) Second, their description: a single bright light was seen fore on the black, conical-shaped craft, and six lights, three spread out on each side. “Wings” are also mentioned. It is not clear whether these three-to-a-side lights are on the wings, but if they were it would render the Invale UAP a close description of what will occupy the second half of our essay: the black triangular/delta shaped craft thousands of people have seen worldwide for the past three decades.

Afterward, newspaper reporting on the UAP explodes in Nebraska.

On February 16 it is reported over Omaha. From thence until the end of April it is reported all over Nebraska, and the news of its appearances goes national. In the wake of the initial sightings, hoaxers are caught (or admit) sending up balloons with fire-baskets. Landings, take offs, and close encounters (seen within 500 feet) of the airships are reported. Letters from two more “inventors” arrive, one at the Kearney Daily Hub and one addressed to the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, a world’s fair to be held in 1898 in Omaha. The writer of the latter envois is deduced, and he turns out to indeed be an inventor and engineer—but one whose airship design patent was deemed flawed by inspectors.

In Topeka, Kansas, it appears as a bright red light, loitering and skittering over the city long enough for hundreds, including the Kansas governor, to see it.
On April 2nd it is seen over both Kansas City and Everest—a distance of 60 miles—in under an hour, and apparently seen by thousands of people that night.

Then it appears over Iowa and Texas, and the “high strangeness” reports begins. A Tennesseean claims to have met the crew, comprised of a silent young woman, two very long-bearded young men, and an older bearded man. The older leader has “shining black eyes” and tells the witness his uncle had conquered gravity and left him the task to build and use the machine—to attack the Spanish occupying Cuba with a Hotchkiss (machine) gun!

The St. Louis Globe-Democrat of April 23 describes the story of a resident named Joseph Joslin who discovered a grounded airship. He claims to have been hypnotized and abducted by a short entity, suffering a missing time period of three weeks. But the story from a W.H. Hopkins to the St. Louis-Post Dispatch outdoes this last one—and also strays into contemporary UAP/alien folklore. Hopkins stumbles across the airship—described as a shiny, tapering cylinder—and meets two blond, naked, radiantly beautiful humans from “Mars” who seem to be overheating and having a difficult time in the earth’s intense sunlight. They communicate shortly then quickly depart. The ship lifts off and vanishes upward in seconds.

The description of the two beings sounds strikingly similar (sans their sky-clad condition) to what would eventually be known as the “Nordics” in UAP lore: majestic, aloof, beautiful humanoids who radiate intelligence and compassion. The description of them overheating and having trouble tolerating the atmosphere, on the other hand, will figure in many “humanoid” reports, especially the Asian/Mediterranean-featured “Men in Black,” from 1946 onward.

The airship shows up over Chicago and Wisconsin in mid-April. One reporter claims to have been taken on a 100mph ride over Chicago; the “pilot “only turns on the elaborate light system when passing over the Masonic temple’s tower. Like the Tennesseean’s account, this pilot mentions using the craft to liberate Cuba from the Spanish army, this time using dropped dynamite bundles.

A Peoria newspaper conducts a psychological test by sending up lit cylinder-shaped balloons. Most spectators comment that this faked “airship” looks and behaves exactly like a balloon, but many claim to see a cylindrical upper structure, struts, and even windows with crews visible. The Peoria press publishes the finding and scoffs.

Yet again, “associates” of the inventors come forward. Those explicitly named by these associates disavow any connection to the airships.

The Ringling Brothers, whose circus was gearing up for opening in Chicago, are suspected of creating the craft for promotional purposes. Rumors spread that the vehicle left San Francisco for a cross-country trip, to ultimately land in Washington to present the patent papers.

There follows a series of spectacular reports that later are uncovered as hoaxes: a farmer sees the lighted ship descend at night over his cattle pen, observes “horrible” jabbering entities within its gondola windows, and watches them yank a cow from the pen. He fails to free the animal and it sails off with the rapidly ascending vehicle.

While untrue, this tale strangely presages a well-known connection between cattle abductions/mutilations and UAP activity that has occurred from the 1960s to the present.

In the second hoax, a “judge Procter” claims an airship crashed into his windmill and exploded on his property bearing one dead pilot “obviously from the planet Mars.” The report maintains that the population of Aurora, a struggling town, supposedly scoured the wreckage area, picking up fragments of the strange metals and viewing the body of the astronaut, which is buried with a funeral in a cemetery. Telegraph operators pick up the story and pass it along, knowing it is a hoax. The supposed grave is looted and its headstone stolen. Proctor’s relatives and neighbors eventually admit he made up the story: there was no explosion and the judge didn’t even have a windmill on his property. Still the story is recycled to this day, and people visit Aurora looking for the “Martian” grave. Of course, these crazy believers think Proctor’s relatives are lying to cover up the truth–and get people to stop digging up their damn cemetery. Hint not taken, regardless.

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Although a portion of the reports was shown to be examples of “yellow journalism” to sell papers, these invented stories were spun from a core of researched sightings by impeccable witnesses. Hundreds of people of all walks of life saw the ships from differing angles on the same night in these main reports. The descriptions were uniform. Astronomers were consulted and ruled out known celestial phenomena in many cases.


60 years later: UFOs (or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, UAPs) appear in waves (“flaps”) across the world, chiefly among them cigar-shaped vehicles that could be said to resemble the 1890s airships. “Ghost rockets,” at first believed to be Soviet V-2 tests, were sighted thousands of times in Scandinavia from 1946 to 1948. According to American intelligence reports, the USSR might have been test-firing such weapons, but the CIA analysis was inconclusive. Many times these objects were seen flying in groups and horizontally and crashes were reported that turned up no debris…

Although the term “flying saucer” became the American norm for UAP by a quirk due to a 1947 witness’s metaphor for the objects’ motion (“like a saucer skipping across water”) there has always been an individualized variety to their appearance. Statistically, though, most of them are cigar or globe-shaped.


-Roughly 85 years after the Airship Wave, huge lighted boomerang/triangle-shaped vehicles begin to exhibit the same brazen low-flying behavior, mostly in the Hudson River valley 1981-1987 and Belgium 1989-91. They continue to be seen all over America and in NATO countries to this day. From the descriptions, the objects’ leading edge have prismatic lights that change shape, or the three lighted tips are the only illumination seen. There is almost invariably a red light in the center.

Some 20,000 people have seen these vehicles worldwide. The reason we have this 20,000 figure is that the objects remained in the air in both areas for many nights and for extraordinarily long time-periods. The triangles lingered long enough on the night of March 24, 1983 for hundreds of people to stop their cars along New York’s Taconic State parkway, for instance, to get out and watch them for upwards of 25 minutes. Police in Connecticut as well watched the object(s) for extended periods. So many New Englanders saw the object(s) that the reporting reached a critical mass. Hundreds then thousands of witnesses came forward from 1981-87.

Press conferences were called. The FAA and Air Force claimed that the lights were ultra-light aircraft “stunt-fliers” flying in formation. This explanation was thoroughly debunked; no such flights were ever discovered having been launched from any airport in the area. Such a feat would have been illegal at night and warranting prosecution, and the FAA should have—had they believed their own assertion—sought these pilots to prosecute them. But they did not. Nor did the Air Force or FBI.

In any case, ultra-light planes could not have aerodynamically performed as the described objects did. This applies equally to the “Phoenix Lights” incident of March 13, 1997 in Arizona. In that case, the official explanation was that flares had been dropped during an Air Force exercise. Thousands saw the row of lights moving vertically across the sky, including actor Kurt Russell, who was flying his son into Phoenix at the time in his own airplane and reported the object to the tower; they reported back to him that there was no traffic at that position. Many people reported more than one enormous boomerang-shaped object that had lights along its edge and blocked the stars as it slowly passed over. Arizona governor Fife Symington called a press conference a few days later and ridiculed the sightings, then years later admitted he had seen the object himself that night and believed it to be of extraterrestrial origin (much like the Kansas governor’s sighting in 1897, but this time with a cynical prelude).

The Connecticut State Police Department, the Belgian Air Force (and, I suppose, Fife Symington) are the only official institutions and persons to publicly acknowledge the triangular crafts’ existence. They continue to be seen all around the world to this day.


Airship Pilots: 1896: as noted above, the quasi-dirigible airships were occasionally seen on the ground being repaired by crews.

—In one of these episodes, two young bearded men, a silent woman, and bearded old man dressed in normal clothes were encountered in locations a thousand miles apart independently reported by different newspapers. This would lead one to rule out a hoax or fabrication—unless there was a joint effort between newspapers via telegraph to concoct a hoax. But back then the wire service was used almost exclusively for hard news, and that such “fanciful” reports would not garner the dollar-valuable time of transmitters. It would have been too involved to send a detailed report by telegraph, and to what purpose?

—Another encounter details a “swarthy” crew speaking German; a third a crew of “Japanese”-appearing pilots who spoke nonsense.

—A few people including a reporter claimed to have been taken aboard and transported hundred miles from their hometown. Other witnesses were offered trips, but refused. Some were allowed to inspect the vehicle. In one case, a man stumbled across the landed craft in a field, conversed briefly with the wary crew, and was about to leave the area when the aeronauts began to argue in a foreign language. The witness was then invited to dine with them. Repairs continued while they ate. The crew quickly bade him farewell and launched.

He subsequently believed the meal was planned to delay his going to report the landed craft.

Airship origins: The Silent Inventors: The supposed “inventors” were always fronted by “respectable people” to be the public representative for an unnamed inventor or group who claimed to have perfected air travel.

Whether real, fabrication, hoax, shared hallucination, all these tales had a definite effect on the public’s imagination. The stories embodied a sense of expectancy towards a new technological age—the age of flight.

Origins: The Flying Triangles: 1981-present: People mostly believe the lighted triangular craft are either secret government vehicles or of extraterrestrial origin; others maintain they are holographic illusions generated by the U.S. military as “psychological tests” on the public. Yet others think the triangles are interdimensional machines, or even time machines from our future.

“Contactees” and UAP investigators have both attempted to explain the craft and their “occupants’” purpose. Narratives have evolved over the decades since their appearance. People have invented origin stories for them—calling them the “Aurora” or “Astra” or “TR-3B” that use layered rings of superconductive materials through which magnetized mercury spins, creating a field that reduces the ship’s mass to near zero, etc.

It is always a whistleblowing “inside source” that has told some UAP “researcher” of their existence—much like the position into which the “upstanding citizen” officials who fronted for the inventors a century ago were compelled.

I tend to believe these are secret government craft: very rarely do they interact with witnesses or produce the radiation/EM physical effects associated with “classic” UAPs (local animal agitation, electrical interference, witness nausea, headaches, burns, actinic blinding, telepathic messages, concurrent “entity” sightings). They have never been seen on the ground. The triangles merely loiter in the sky, performing impossible aerodynamic feats, send down light beams and red “scout” orbs out into the sky that return.

To me, the most likely possibility is that these vehicles are a trump card the US “shadow military” has been holding for decades for the eventuality of a DEFCON 1 situation of active nuclear hostilities. Although the triangles have never demonstrated weapons capability, by their reported astounding aerial behavior these vehicles could easily travel into any hostile “denied access” area in the world. They appear to have cloaking and “total informational surveillance” capabilities as well (in dozens of instances witnesses have reported blinking headlights or flashlights at them and the vehicles respond back by instantly flashing back).

One of the “they’re aliens” camp’s objections to the shadow military hypothesis is that our government would never risk civilians’ safety by flying over populated areas, or risk the crash of such an advanced craft. They minimize two important facts, however:

1) the US government’s long, documented history of using the public as unwitting guinea pigs in experimentation, thus the military wouldn’t care if the vehicles generated physical, sociological, or psychological side effects; they would indeed be studying these effects in secret—see this:

2) the government has proved itself capable of securing areas during test malfunctions and instituting more or less successfully ambiguous cover stories for secret projects for 70 years, since the Manhattan Project.

This “dark military” theory implies there would be secret security teams in the area ready to deploy within seconds of vehicle failure in order to cordon off the area during the sighting windows.

The ET proponents also ignore plausible conjectures about the machines:

Perhaps the craft have redundancies in their design that render them “crash-proof,” making 2 above unnecessary. Perhaps they are programmed to immediately traverse space to hover over the nearest large body of water if their engines/field generators even hint at failure. This is backed up by the fact that many times they have been spotted loitering over reservoirs and lakes—in several cases taking in water by way of “hoses”. There also is a long history of one or more–sometimes a dozen–helicopters seen in the vicinity of these vehicles. Here is as good an “authentic” 2008 film of a “TR-3B” loitering in the sky as can be found in the YouTube wilderness of fakery:

Perhaps in addition to an anti-gravity field, they also possess “sonic dampening bubbles” that keep the ostensibly loud sound of the craft to a minimum to silent. The landscape beneath them has never been affected by exhaust streams. Perhaps their exotic propulsion system requires no combustion at all, thus no nozzles, exhaust, rotors, or the sound of turbines we associate with airborne craft.

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Of course this is all near-worthless speculation. I’m not interested in proving the existence of the airships of 1896-97. If even one of them were real, that would be enough to throw a wrench into aviation history.

The existence of these gravity-defying triangular craft, on the other hand, has been established beyond any reasonable doubt. What is interesting is that the two phenomena have mythic and psychological similarity in the effects on the public:

-They challenge the accepted laws of physics of their days.

-They were confined to “flap” areas for periods of two to three years of concentrated activity in which thousands of people saw them.

-Their creators wish to remain anonymous.

-Through this secrecy, they become objects of paranoid imagination.

-They maintain the sense of mystery about the “affairs of humankind” with regard to “shadow government,” secret societies, and technology—that magic is more than just possible, but real.

These fulfill unconscious longings. It is becoming accepted by people of all walks of life that our civilization is at a tipping point of collapse. It is rapidly approaching a point of being out of the control of individuals and even organizations. The triangles, like all UAPs, fulfill an emotional and almost spiritual need in a crisis time: they elicit a sense of expectancy of a new technological age: the age of interstellar flight/extraterrestrial contact.

But after all this: why were identical black flying triangles reported in Baltimore in 1949? And then this:

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For more information, see David Marler’s Triangular UFOs: An Estimate of the Situation,  CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2013

Daniel Cohen: The Great Airship Mystery: A UFO of the 1890s, Dodd, Mead, 1981

Jerome Clark: The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon from the Beginning, 2 Vols., Omnigraphics, 1998.