It’s not hard to find reports of World War II ghost planes. Unfortunately, it’s quite hard to find documented sources of these ghostly tales. The fact is, they’re all pretty much folk tales. They take many forms, but there are two basic types.
First, you have post-war stories about people encountering planes from the past. Typically, you’ll have a young couple out for a country stroll in the 1960s, 70s or 80s. They hear an odd sound and turn around to see a prop-driven vintage warplane cruising along at low altitude, or perhaps an entire flight of them. Some of these stories are heavily embellished (the plane disappears into thin air, the sighting was a harbinger of a tragic plane crash that happened shortly thereafter, the ghostly pilots waved sadly to the witnesses as they passed). Stories might incorporate speculation about “time slips.”
The second type is more interesting. These are ghost plane sightings that happened during the war. In its most common form, the story revolves around a flight of planes that left for a dangerous mission. Later, all the planes return and are accounted for except one. Everyone watches the sky, hoping they made it out alive, but no plane appears on the horizon. Then, hours later, the drone of radial engines sounds in the distance. A plane is spotted. Could it be their missing comrades? But, no they would have run out of fuel hours ago. Still, there it is, heavily damaged, limping along toward the air field. It makes a ragged landing and fellow airmen rush to the scene. Inside the plane they find…nothing. Not a soul. Not a corpse. And the fuel tanks are bone dry.
There are variations – sometimes the crew is on board, but dead. Sometimes the plane is so badly damaged there’s no physical way it could have flown. There’s a story that a U.S. plane appeared over the California coast hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, smoking and sputtering. Witnesses could see a pilot on board, but when the plane crashed, the wreckage was empty.