and the mystery of the Silver Bug
How does a secretive military project aimed at building a genuine flying saucer combine with one of the most popular films of all time to produce the plot for an adventure novel?
In 1993, well-known aerospace and adventure author Martin Caidin published "Indiana Jones and the Sky Pirates," an installment in a series of novels based on the character first introduced by Steven Spielberg and writers George Lucas and Philip Kaufman in the 1981 hit film "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
Caidin, who died in March 1997 in Tallahassee, Florida, was a tremenously prolific aviation writer. An avid pilot, he based his writing on his personal experiences in Air Force service in the early 1950s as well as his ongoing involvement with the aviation industry. In 1957 he published "Air Force," a flag-waving service history, and followed it with a similar book about the Navy and Marine Corps air arms in 1960. In addition, he wrote extensively for magazines like Flying, authored or co-authored dozens of non-fiction books on aerospace themes, and produced a steady stream of novels, beginning in 1956 with "The Long Night" and extending through "Marooned" (1964 and 1969), "Cyborg" (1972, the basis for the television series "The Six Million Dollar Man"), and two "Indiana Jones" novels. Caidin's last book was "Destination Mars: In Myth, Art and Science" with the late CNN reporter Jay Barbre, published in 1997.
To be charitable, "Indiana Jones and the Sky Pirates" is not quite as effective as most of Caidin's earlier fiction. Its plot, set in the year 1930, opens with the recruitment of the archaeologist by "M.I. Two," a British intelligence agency, which has become alarmed by weird interlopers who have been raiding ships and aircraft. These "Sky Pirates" utilize a fleet of incredible flying machines to carry out their attacks -- a 2,000-foot-long, gleaming cigar-shaped "mother ship," a squadron of super-speed, scimitar-shaped craft, and a domed, disc-like machine. Some of their victims believe them to be extraterrestrial.
Caidin manages to make the Indiana Jones character into a minor aspect of this story; its real hero seems to be a Ford "Trimotor" transport plane which a secret Army task force has rebuilt at Wright Field into a 1930s version of an A-10 strike fighter, complete with souped-up turbocharged engines, gun turrets, bomb racks and air-to-air rockets. (Caidin had a long love affair with a similar plane, a WWII-vintage German Junkers Ju 52 transport, as described in "The Saga of Iron Annie"). Jones and his multinational team of secret agents take off in the super-Trimotor on a global quest to identify the powers behind the fantastic airships.
The perpetrators turn out to be "The Group of Six" -- an organization of billionaire industrialists, arms dealers, and drug smugglers who have formed a conspiracy to head off a second World War and who ultimately plan to rule the world. In one passage, one of the leaders of the group, Halvar Griffin, muses on the motives of his cabal:
Griffin does not believe that the governments of the world will be fooled for long by the charade of an alien invasion, but he does think that the superstitious masses will be, and that this belief will be a useful means of political control.
After a series of escalating battles, the final showdown between Jones and the "Group of Six" takes place in a monumental dogfight between the Trimotor, the huge mother ship and its saucers over the high plains northwest of Roswell, New Mexico.
Caidin and Coanda
More interesting than the novel's plot itself is Caidin's afterword, in which he details the thinking behind his story. He reveals his own views on UFOs, describing two of his own sightings, and also provides some background information on the technology of the 1930s saucers created by his novel's "Group of Six." The first jet engine, he explains, was not built in the late 1930s by Nazi Germany or the British, as most historians tell it - it was really invented in 1910 by a French engineer named Coanda.
"This writer interviewed Henri Coanda at great length," Caidin writes,
It's a shame that the novel wasn't selected as the basis for what could have been an interesting and unique installment in the Indiana Jones film trilogy, particularly because of the Roswell connotations.