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  • Writer's pictureAeryn Avilla

That Time Deke Slayton's Plane Flew Without a Pilot

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

On June 13, 1993, a Formula One racing place designated N21X took off from the John Wayne Airport in California. It performed trick maneuvers before executing a steady upward climb on a westward heading, never to be heard from again. Due to its noisy racer and high speed propeller, the plane disturbed a number of people who proceeded to write down its tail-number and report it to the Federal Aviation Administration for violating noise level restrictions. A month later, Bobbie Slayton, wife of Mercury Astronaut Deke Slayton, received a letter of reprimand from the FAA addressed to her husband. However, she insisted Deke could not have been flying the plane because he had been deceased for six hours prior to the plane's departure. Additionally, the plane had been given to a museum in Sparks, Nevada, and had its engine removed. Nor did it have an electrical starter and could only be started by someone swinging the propeller while the pilot worked the controls inside. Still, people reported seeing and hearing a red racing plane with the tail-number N21X. Although no one was ever able to shed light on this phenomenon, Bobbie's explanation takes the cake: It took six hours for the plane to take off because "he probably took six hours to find Gus [Grissom, Deke's best friend] to prop the plane for him."

Deke's racing plane on display in the Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bike Museum in Sparta, Wisconsin (image source:



  • “Deke's Ghost Flight.” Sierra Hotel Aeronautics, 16 Oct. 2019,

  • Norris, Guy. “Ghosts in the Machine - Tales of Haunted Hangars and Phantom Pilots.” Flight Global, 22 Dec. 2006,

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