TIME curiosities

In Praise of Unusual Flying Objects

LIFE.com celebrates readily identifiable, albeit unusual flying objects from blimps; early helicopters; jet packs; and other devices.

They’re out there: weirdly shaped vessels and creatures in strange garb, flying — often silently — above the earth, their purpose a riddle; their means of propulsion and navigation a mystery; their ultimate ambition and destination an enigma.

Wait. We meant to say “reportedly.” Reportedly they’re out there — unidentified flying objects, perhaps from other solar systems, other galaxies, other civilizations, checking us out, gauging whether we humans are advanced enough to contact and parley with. (Or, depending on how pessimistic one is about both human and extraterrestrial nature, they’re mulling whether we’re ripe for enslavement, or tasty enough to be made into a kind of galactic goulash.)

[MORE: Read Lev Grossman’s TIME cover story on “what happens when drones return home” to America]

This gallery, meanwhile, isn’t about the technical specs of those hypothetical alien vessels or the possible temperaments or appetites of their purely conjectural pilots. Instead, LIFE.com celebrates readily identifiable, albeit unusual flying objects made locally — that is to say, here on Earth: blimps big and small; early helicopters; jet packs; and other devices that, through the years, have helped humanity, if only for a moment, slip the bonds of earth or return safely to the ground after ascending into the sky.

So, it turns out that the rumors and the whispers are true. They’re out there, all right: weirdly shaped vessels and (our fellow) creatures in strange garb, floating and soaring above the earth. And until ET makes a confirmed, documented, verifiable landing hereabouts, we’ll stick with singing the praises of the flying machines and other inventions that, through the years, have been conceived and built by our fellow earthlings.

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