Much of the speculation about phantom airships - and in particular about the American 1896-97 scare - was generated before much of the information was extracted from old newspaper files. As a consequence rather simplistic ideas about these phantoms being UFOs in slightly different suits have been repeated.
The landmark work on the American scare was (as well as being an essential reference for any other airship scares) is Eddie Bullard's Airship File. Jean Sider’s work can be seen as a handy guide to the scare for those who can read French, It details and gives useful references to the major sightings. In addition, there are several illustrations of the phantom and imaginary airship designs, plus reproductions of newspaper stories. Whereas Bullard's File serves to provide the primary sources of information, Sider attempts to make sense of it. He looks at such explanations as the inventor theory; or that it was caused by psychological and/or natural phenomena. My French is as helpful as a wooden leg in a chorus line but I get the impression that Sider believes that this wave still poses many questions and that there is no simple answer or set of answers.
Jean Sider has spent a considerable amount of time and effort on this project and it would be great to see an English version of it. It is at first sight surprising that no similar American work has been produced especially since there is not the problem of translation involved. Though if we remember that Edgar Alan Poe did inspire Jules Verne to write his visions of fantastic flying machines, then it is right that the American visions they helped to produce in reality should interest the French.
- Nigel Watson. Magonia 28, April 1988.