Blind Men Are WWII Plane Spotters

Blind Men Are WWII Plane Spotters

Worcester, Mass. – January 22, 1941

     Civilian “plane spotters” were used throughout World War II as part of our nation’s civil defense, and as evidenced by an AP news article, one didn’t need eyes to “see” potential enemy airplane.

     In Worcester, Mass., a small group of blind men volunteered for duty and proved that they could distinguish different types of  aircraft by the sound of their engine(s).    One of the group,  Eino H. Friberg, was quoted as saying, “The individual with eyes sees in one direction only. We blind have to ‘see’ sounds coming from all directions.  We learn to sort out those sounds, to attach meanings to them, to identify them, much as your eyes are trained to sort out red flowers from green leaves.” 

     In the early days of the civilian plane spotter system, the military ran several nationwide tests to see how well the volunteer spotters would do.  It was found that blind “spotters” could hear approaching aircraft and identify them at least a minute before those with sight and normal hearing.  It was also discovered that blind spotters were not encumbered by dark nights, fog, or cloud cover. 

     Friberg explained that when he first hears the sound of a motor, he has to determine if its one motor or two.  He then determines its location, how fast its moving, and in what direction.

     Friberg attempted to teach other spotters with sight to close their eyes and try to hear what they couldn’t yet see.  

     Two other blind men in Friberg’s group were John Cooney, and Raymond Lessard. 


Source: Woonsocket Call, “Blind Men In Plane-Spotting Posts Beat Sharp-Eyed Comrades In Tests”, January 21, 1941, Pg.1 

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