The world around us becomes bigger, scarier and more difficult to understand. The future is uncertain, the present even more so. No wonder a lot of people try to make sense of it the old fashioned way: by involving mystical powers that weave conspiracy after conspiracy just under the nose of unsuspecting citizens.  And some of these theories are more absurd than others.

Many of them, unsurprisingly, involve aviation: a field so large and complex, the comparison with the tip of the iceberg seen by ordinary customers does not even begin to scratch the surface. One has to have substantial scientific knowledge to fully explain day-to-day operations of an aircraft, and although a bit of critical thinking and middle-school level of physics is enough to know facts from absurd fantasy, many do not even try.

That is where the fun begins, as looking at the ways some twist their logic and misuse assumptions can be both refreshing and enlightening. There is cathartic quality to enjoying cringe, one which arguably leads to less naivety and more understanding of one’s own vulnerability to nonsense.

This list does not aim to scorn all conspiracy theories, as many well-known stories of undeniable criminal activity started as one. Yet there is a large difference between shady cover-up by corrupt government and a notion that the whole aviation industry, with millions of personnel, is secretly involved in some reality-defying activity.

 

Bermuda triangle

It might look like the story of this supposedly mysterious region started well before the invention of manned flight, but the notion that aircraft and ships disappear there is actually quite new. It all began with a series of pulpy articles in the 50s, each of them prone to abuse statistics and blow real-life tragedies out of proportion. One can hear all kinds of theories as to why this bit of ocean, located just east of Florida and north of Cuba, is dangerous: from Alien activity to government experiments to all kinds of supernatural phenomena involving distortions of time and space.

Truth is, the so-called Bermuda triangle is one of the heaviest-trafficked areas on the planet, with high numbers of planes and ships passing through it every day, and all the original disappearances that inspired its story were quite well explained and accounted for. Although crashes happen there, it is by far not the most dangerous spot, and no aircraft or ship operator avoids it. That is where the conspiracy theory aspect comes in, as various clickbait-y articles insist on outlandish claims by ufologists, mystery “experts” and unnamed scientists taunting supposed danger of passing through the region, an idea which does not reflect reality. If the triangle is a dangerous place indeed, all kinds of secret societies and governments are probably working night and day to cover it up.

 
 

 

MH370

Boeing 777-200ER of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 vanished over the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew. A lot of confusion surrounded the initial accident, owing to incompetency and unwillingness to cooperate by local institutions. Low trust in Malaysian government fueled the fire and the theories started to appear: people, in complete seriousness, speculated that the aircraft was abducted by aliens, swallowed by a black hole, hijacked and flown to Kazakhstan, or somehow transported to Ukraine just to be shot down and labeled MH17, tying together two unrelated tragedies.

Although every detail of the disappearance may never be known, a lot of information has come up in the following years. Satellite data, reluctantly but independently confirmed by the government, allowed to draw the path of the doomed flight. A detailed analysis of ocean currents led to the discovery of dozens of pieces of the unfortunate 777 washed up on the coasts of eastern Africa. Researches dug into the life of the pilot, composing his psychological profile and finding troubling signs initially covered up by the Malaysian state. Despite that, the prospect of the plane being hijacked not by a team of masked terrorists but by its own captain is terrifying, and the thrill of unlikely possibility to find some hidden sinister plot is irresistible. And so, the conspiracy theories persist, overshadowed only by MH370s gradual decline into obscurity.

 
 

 

9/11

Of all the supposed conspiracies made up about the world’s worst terrorist attack the majority are, frankly, rather boring. They follow the usual pattern of assuming the result (“the government is hiding the truth”), looking for perceived inconsistencies in the documentation of the disaster, and hailing it as the red flag. As soon as somebody with the technical background publically explains that the inconsistency stems from accidental or deliberate misrepresentation of facts on the “researcher’s” part, the topic is forgotten and the truther crowd moves in search of another one. 

But there are exceptions. Some of them are simply awe-inspiring. One story says that the Pentagon building was hit by a missile, the debris and witnesses were planted and the damage made to look like the one from a plane after the fact. Another claims the planes that hit the World trade Center towers were military ones and two Boeing 767s did not exist, along with all their passengers. Then there are those who say there were no aircraft involved, only military missiles with holograms around them, or that the Twin Towers were not hit at all, and all the footage of the event was edited in post-production (memories of all the witnesses, presumably, as well). There are dozens of videos on Youtube claiming that every distortion of the footage is evidence that either planes, or buildings, or other aspects were holographic. One has to wonder, why not forgo all the trouble and say that the entire New York City does not exist and was computer generated for the occasion.

 
 

 

Chemtrails

In 1996, the US Air Force published a report that considered spraying substances from an aircraft as a way of weather modification. Someone somewhere took that report and thought to himself: “What if this is already happening, and what if it is happening to an absurd degree?” And so an idea of chemtrails was born – baffling belief that many (if not all) aircraft around the world are constantly spraying people with chemicals in order to enact mind control, mass sterilization, slow world-wide genocide or whatever malignant cause one can imagine. See a trail of cloud behind an aircraft? That’s the government poisoning you.

Actual workings of engine exhaust-induced condensation did not bother the theorists, as well as the logistics of loading every single commercial and military airplane (since the first high altitude flights in 1910s, no less) with obscene amounts of undisclosed substances. Following the logic of the theory, everyone who ever worked on any airplane, especially owned one, has to be hiding this secret from the public. 

 
 

 

Flat Earth

The most difficult part is finding where to start on this ball of baloney. The Flat Earth “theory” consists of the assumption that the Earth is, obviously, flat – a disc somehow floating in the cosmos, and all the contrary claims are made up by sinister conspirators for some reasons that elude even the most hardcore theorists. The North Pole is the center of said disc, the Antarctica is the wall of ice preventing oceans from spilling into the void, and everyone, absolutely everyone, whose work involves evidence of such a scheme, is in on the conspiracy.

The funniest part is calculating the amount of people supposedly hiding the truth. Every cartographer, every physicist, every astronomer – both professional and amateur – is in that group. All the geologists and meteorologists as well. An army of CGI artists Photoshoping a slew of images of the Earth from space and a real army guarding the circumference of the disc from truth-seeking travelers. All the people working in the aviation industry should be amongst the conspirators too, including everyone who ever was on a flight in the Southern hemisphere – Melbourne (MEL) to Sao Paulo (GRU) for example. In the Flat Earth model, those should either last many more hours than they do, or involve supersonic travel. So, if you ever embarked on one or followed one on Flightradar24 and did not find anything unusual, you can count yourself as a part of the world-wide secret society. Congratulations.