The Doppelganger aircraft and pilot of Ensign Don Cochrane
Martin Caidin, professional pilot and aviation expert
The late Martin Caiden was a professional pilot, a leading aviation historian, a best-selling author, a veteran of World War II, a former FAA examiner, and someone noted UFO author-journalist John Keel called a “very rare man, a ‘saucer expert’” who had worked alongside Project Blue Book personnel back in the 1960s. “He worked from the inside, investigating UFO sightings firsthand, learning what the Air Force learned, and participating in wild adventures pursuing mysterious lights in the sky,” Keel wrote in his introduction to Caidin’s book Ghosts of the Air (1995).
“A man with real qualifications to study and interpret what has been going on in our skies for at least half a century,” Keel added. “He’s even been inside the notorious Bermuda Triangle! When he and his pilot wife Dee Dee were flying their private plane over that peculiar section of the Atlantic a few years ago, they actually entered a zone where their instruments went amok and the sky and ocean turned murky.”
Keel had the highest degree of respect for Caiden. They had first met at NBC’s “green room” back around the early 1960s when Keel was a writer for the Goodson & Todman TV show starring Merv Griffin.
In Ghosts of the Air, Caidin presents well-documented stories that he had collected from other pilots and astronauts of strange unexplained experiences they had in the air. One of my favorite strange tales can be found in the very first chapter of this book.
James Don Cochrane, described by Caidin as “a solid citizen then and solid citizen today,” told how on the morning of October 10, 1967, then 23-year-old naval aviation student pilot Cochrane was flying a North American T-2B jet trainer. This was his third aerobatic training flight with an instructor seated in this plane behind him. He was flying in his assigned sector of practice in the area of the Naval Air Station Meridian, in Mississippi. That morning there were four T-2A and T-2B jet trainers in the air, and ground controllers and radar confirmed that each one was in their assigned sector.
Cruising along at twenty-one thousand feet, around 7:30 a.m., Cochrane asked his instructor if he could begin his assigned maneuver, which was called a high loop. “Preparatory to beginning the maneuver I was in a clearing turn to the right,” Cochrane recalled. “You clear to the right, and you clear to the left, and you check above you and below you and in all directions, and you do this no matter if you’re told that the area is clear.”
“I had just finished my scan to the right, and for some reason—I still don’t know why I wanted to look again in that direction—I looked over my left shoulder.”
“Flying very close wing position, tucked in really tight, was another T-2B with a student in front and the instructor in the rear. This aircraft was in a shallow left bank with both pilots looking at us. Everything was absolutely crisp; the vision factor was perfect.”
Cochrane then noticed that the nose numbers on this other T-2B were the same as his, which he immediately realized should not be since the navy didn’t put identical numbers like that on different aircraft.
“The student in front waved at me,” Cochrane continued. “I was looking at myself. I didn’t know what to think as that other pilot waved to me and then banked hard left and rolled away. Startled, even shocked, I glanced away, and when I looked back, the aircraft was gone. I looked everywhere: nothing.”
“I asked my instructor, as was my habit, if he’d seen anything during the clearing turn. He told me he hadn’t. I didn’t mention a thing to him at the time, because I was concentrating on the maneuver and the other aircraft was long gone, and I was nervous and this was an aerobatic hop and he was a real screamer, and I was unsure of what I was supposed to do, and hell, I was a student! So I flew that airplane…”
Cochrane was convinced that he had witnessed something truly extraordinary. Once back on the ground, he went to the operations control room to determine how many other planes had been up there at the same time. It was confirmed that there were only three. “All three were confirmed in other and different areas,” Cochrane noted. “There was no one else anywhere near us; the closest other plane was miles away. So I did what any smart and enterprising ensign student pilot does under so incredible a situation: I kept my mouth shut.”
“But I was convinced then, as I have always remained convinced, even if I can’t explain what happened that morning, that the other pilot was me.”
“And I often wonder what happened to him.”