Music History

On the Subject of Missing Planes, Here’s a Musical Angle

One of my areas of geekdom is a fascination with civil aviation.  One of the ways I spend my time away from music is following what’s going on with airlines, airports and airliner manufacturers.  Naturally, this means I’m very interested in the fate of that Malaysian 777 that’s gone missing.

This isn’t the first time a plane has disappeared without a trace.  One of the most famous cases dates back to 1944–and this one has a music angle.

On December 15, a Noorduyn Norseman–a single-engine high-wing plane, USAAF serial 44-70285–took off from Twinwood Farm airbase in the southeastern corner of England headed for Paris.  On board was American big band star Glenn Miller.

Miller had enlisted in the army at age 38, offering to modernize music for the troops which, it was hoped, would boost morale.  Organizing a 50-piece Army Air Force Band, he led them through more than 800 performances in 1944 alone.  He also had a number of recording sessions at Abbey Road during the time he was stationed in England.

On that December day, Miller was on his way to Paris to play for soldiers in recently-liberated France.  Two minutes after takeoff, the plane disappeared into the fog.  It was never seen again.

What happened?  There are plenty of theories, but the most current is that Miller’s plane encountered a fleet of 139 Lancaster bombers returning from an aborted bombing raid over the continent. Because they were short on fuel, they were required to dump their bombs and incendiary devices–some 100,000 of them–over the English Channel.  It’s suspected that the Norseman, flying at an altitude below the Lancasters, was hit by one of these jettisoned bombs and crashed into the sea.

Glenn Miller is still officially listed as missing in action.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37445 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “On the Subject of Missing Planes, Here’s a Musical Angle

  • Hi Alan,

    Thanks for this. I grew up with the Glenn Miller mystery. My Dad was stationed in the UK with the RCAF during WWII. One of his wartime pals sent him a piece of the runway from which Mr. Miller took off. I still have it along with a 78 of Moonlight Serenade. I too am a lifelong aviation enthusiast – got my private pilot license in 2002. Great to read a story linking aviation and music! Thanks again.

    Paul Irvine

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