From Missouri's Project Identification to Washington State's Yakima "UFO" Research:
ETs, Plasmas, or a Deeply Hidden Military Presence?
by Dr. Greg Little
In part 1 of this series, the Gulf Breeze UFO Hoax was summarized with the conclusions of this sordid affair being twofold. First, the flap at Gulf Breeze was started by a series of hoaxes that certainly fooled many of the then-current key figures in ufology. But it also seems likely that the subsequent intense interest by many people who wanted to become involved in investigating Gulf Breeze led to formal psychological studies performed by the military, probably the Office of Naval Research. Even the Gulf Breeze supporters claimed that military helicopters often suspended and dropped flares to "trick them" into reporting UFOs. The key point is that after the hoax was perpetrated and a huge public interest was created, there was some involvement by the military, although the precise nature of it can only be speculated upon.
Part 2 presented a synopsis of field research conducted by Dr. Harley Rutledge, chair of the Department of Physics at Southeast Missouri State University, from 1973-80 in the region of southeast Missouri. Rutledge published his findings in his 1981 book, Project Identification: The First Scientific Field Study of the UFO Phenomena (sic). It is clear from Project Identification that the entire region of southeast Missouri was hit with a UFO flap in the 1970's that was witnessed by probably thousands of people, studied by a large team of university-based scientists as it was happening, and verified again and again as a genuine, unknown phenomemon. Rutledge, a physicist, strongly asserted that at least some of the reports were cause by manifestations of plasma. But oddly he reported that the plasma manifestations often interacted with the observers and him personally.
My wife is from New Madrid, Missouri and from 1976 to the present I have spent a great deal of time in that area. In 1982 I was in New Madrid, Missouri for a weekend, where I was writing a chapter for my 1984 book, The Archetype Experience. In the book, I mentioned an incident that occurred during that particular visit where a close "acquaintance" related a missing time episode to me. The event took place during a deer hunting day trip in woods near the Mississippi River. Not related in the book were this individual's stories about seeing inexplicable lights flirting around above the river and these same lights being seen by many other people "landing" on islands in the river and rapidly taking off. Essentially the lights shot instantly into the sky.
Last month (April 2010) I managed to obtain 5 more reports from the New Madrid area, most of which took place in the mid-1970s. One report occurred in 1993, however, and it involved about a dozen people. None of these cases have been previously detailed.
Two more highly credible witnesses told of lights on the remote and uninhabited islands in the Mississippi River about 10-miles north of New Madrid. In both cases these lights were glowing orbs that landed and then were seen to dart back into the sky. Based on the descriptions, there is no craft that could have moved as the witnesses described. Three other credible people (including a former teacher and a former bank President) told me about watching a bizarre disk-shaped craft silently glide directly over them near downtown New Madrid late at night in 1973. The "craft" had a rotating rim with varying colored lights and was estimated as about 50-feet in diameter and was only a few hundred feet in the air. The object was solid because it blocked the stars and sky as it moved. Another witness I interviewed, who was then a teenager, saw the same object from another area of the town and immediately assumed that it was some sort of military craft, but the complete silence of the moving object was baffling to him. The two adults related that the craft was completely "other-worldly" and they dismissed the idea that what they had seen could have possibly been some sort of experimental aircraft. They decided to not mention it then for fear of ridicule and because it looked like something from another world.
The most bizarre report I heard came from a mother and daughter who gave nearly identical accounts of an event in 1993. They were driving home at night from a basketball game that took place about 30 miles south of New Madrid. After stopping at a restaurant, they were followed in their car by a line of other cars returning back to New Madrid. As they were driving on a rural back road through farmland with treelines at the edges of the fields, they spotted an intense orange light in the middle of the road several hundred yards in front of them. They slowed the car and got to within a hundred yards of the light form, stopped, and got out of the car. The orange glow was now visible as a disk-shaped object with a rim of rotating lights, changing from orange, to green, to amber, and white. It was hovering just over the road in complete silence and was larger than a car. As they stood and watched the odd object, the line of cars following behind them also stopped and many others got out of their cars to watch. After a few minutes, the object seemed to rotate slightly and an orange ball of light shot out of a side making no sound whatsoever. Immediately the object rose up and shot off the road and disappeared over a treeline in the distance. The many witnesses talked about the event among themselves but no formal report was made.
In 2003 another intense UFO flap took place further west in Missouri. The many reports that were made to the National UFO Reporting Center, the military, local authorities, and media were very similar to the earlier reports in southeast Missouri. Most of the sightings were of odd balls of light but some witnesses saw rotating disks with lights spinning around the rim of the object. While many of these recent reports were identical to the 1970's sightings, it is clear that the military was often in the vicinity, verified either through helicopters or jets being seen. Similarly, as Rutledge reported from the 1970's investigations he conducted in the Piedmont region, on many occasions miltary helicopters and fighter jets were associated with the phenomenon he was studying. The implication of the military presence isn't clear but two possibilities immediately come to mind. Either the military was "causing" some of the reports or they were trying to investigate the phenomenon. Rutledge also came to that same conclusion, but after consulting with the military, he assumed they too were studying the phenomenon—not creating it.
My first hunch in such cases is the possibility that some sort of experimental aircraft is undergoing testing. While many ufologists immediately dismiss experimental aircraft as the cause of some of their most intriguing cases, that is sometimes behind some UFO reports and can often be a very interesting conclusion in itself. For example, decades ago I interviewed 3 witnesses who saw a triangle-shaped, black object silently glide over their heads as they sat outside one dark evening in Millington, Tennessee. After getting the details, I obtained a then-current copy of "Janes: All the world's aircraft" and copied a specific page. The house where the witnesses were located was about a half-mile from a runway at what was then the largest active inland naval air station in the U.S. The base has huge hangars, large enough to completely enclose the largest aircraft in existence. I showed the rendering of the "top secret" plane I copied from Jane's to the witnesses and all three immediately agreed that was what they saw. It was a B2 bomber prototype. Apparently the plane was flown to the huge base at night and the witnesses' description of the object making "no sound" implies it was gliding in with minimal power to land—and using no lights. Over the years I have concluded that many UFO reports are truly "Unidentified Flying Objects" to the witnesses, but they are certainly known to some agency or group within the military. I found something similar in my investigations of the black unmarked helicopters often observed over farmer's fields —and often linked to mutilations. It was information supplied from two separate sources that solved this mystery for me. One of the individuals was an active General in the National Guard and the other a physician who served as Medical Officer on DEA missions to South America. Both of these people told me about their missions and how they were conducted. At the time they told me these details I was working in criminal justice for various government agencies. In brief, unmarked military helicopters do fly all over vast rural areas at night, as well as in many other countries. The operations are essentially continual and ongoing, depending on weather and funding. There is sophisticated imaging equipment in these craft, which are capable of running in a nearly silent mode. The imaging and software utilized by the computers that process the imaging data are capable of seeing through roofs and walls and identifying halide lights, heat sources, and even identifying individual marijuana plants growing along streams, in fields, and inside structures. Those who are convinced that the military is doing mutilations for some sort of research simply reject the drug detecting use of the unmarked helicopters. And that's just fine with the people who are involved with the drug eradication program. (A program that has enough small "victories" to encourage continued funding and near complete failure to make a significant impact—which also encourages expansion of the program.) I have previously dealt with the mutilation aspect of the unmarked helicopters, which I see as having nothing whatsoever to do with UFOs.
Returning to the Piedmont UFO cases, I have tried to make sense of the cases that are NOT simply anomalous lights: disk-like objects seen by witnesses, rotating lights, hovering oval objects that shoot out balls of of light, and so on. There are some "lighter-than-air" craft that exist; for example, dirgibles that are disk like and experimental blimps of differing shapes. But the truth is that these do not explain what the witnesses were seeing, no matter how far the evidence can be stretched. And these lighter-than-air craft that I have managed to find were not in development back in the early 1970s nor has anything else emerged that even remotely matches the reports. Thus, I do not think that the saucer-shaped forms with the rotating and pulsing lights are experimental craft. As to precisely why military jets and helicopters sometimes zoomed into the area where Rutledge and his team were actively investigating a current UFO observation, the answer seems obvious. The military was doing the same thing that Rutledge was doing: trying to determine what the unknown lights and objects actually were. There are several other reasons why I say that this conclusion is obvious, and those reasons will emerge in a later article. However, people who know how to search government document repository libraries can find what is going on if they are willing to sift through mountains of non-digital government journals, obscure government-sponsored research reports, and military journals.
Yakima, Washington Research
Washington State has certainly had its share of UFO reports and virtually everyone interested in the phenomenon is aware that the whole flying saucer craze was started by Kenneth Arnold's 1947 encounter, which actually took place not too far from Yakima. A long series of "UFO-like" reports, in many ways similar to the Piedmont UFO reports, took place on the Yakama Reservation, not far from the city of Yakima located in south-central Washington State (the tribe name and city name are different by one letter). While the number of these reports peaked in 1972-74, the phenomenon continues to this day. Also notable is the fact that highly scientific research on the Yakima phenomenon began during the peak years, and the research continues despite some setbacks. Although there have been fewer scientists involved in the Yakima studies, in some ways the research is more important than that at Piedmont.
The Yakama Tribe, like many others, has legends and an oral history that seemingly takes the UFO-like activity on their reservation well back into time. For example, they have stories of "little people" known as "stick Indians" and legends of light forms. However, the earliest documented UFO report that I can find from Yakima comes from 1957. The report was gathered by Greg Long in an interview of Larry George, who was then stationed in a no longer existing fire lookout on Simcoe Butte on the southern extreme of the 1.3 million acre reservation. George was scanning the forests for fires when he saw a light in the sky, about the size of Venus, suddenly dip into a canyon. During the next years George had more sightings, but the vast majority of reports came in the early 1970s. Another article by Long, published in the July/August 1994 IUR Journal, related that fire lookout Dorothea Strum was reporting the strange lights as early as 1960.
Most of the reports were made by fire lookouts stationed at three key locations on the reservation. One particular ridge on the lands, called Toppenish Ridge, was a focal point of the reports. In general, most reports described glowing orbs of light, often orange in color, that moved up and down the ridges formed by the faults. Other reports involve red, white, green, blue, and yellow balls of light. The light forms would change shape and color, move erratically, and sometimes shoot beams of light to the ground. From 1972 to 1978, Bill Vogel collected 92 written sighting reports, but in a 1978 article in the Tri-City Herald, Vogel stated that in 1975-76 there were two or three reports made each night. In another article published by the Yakima Herald-Republic in 1978, Vogel said that virtually all of the people engaged in fire lookout posts had seen the anomalous lights. On the few occasions where the lights were in close proximity to the observers, they had odd sensations and curious experiences.
One large volume on the ensuing research at Yakima was published by CUFOS in 1990. The book, titled "Examing the Earthlight Theory: The Yakima UFO Microcosm," was written by UFO researcher Greg Long. In the book, Long relates that in 1972 Vogel contacted J. Allen Hynek who met with Vogel in April at Toppenish Ridge. The lights had actually become a problem for the fire watchers as they sometimes would be mistaken as a fire. Hynek then made a request to the tribe for permission to study the phenomenon. The Tribal Council granted the request and engineer David Akers from Seattle was asked to organize and conduct the research. Akers set up a variety of instruments and finished a two-week study for Hynek's organization. However Akers has continued research into the anomalous lights at Yakima until only recently, when the Tribe decided that it was time to discontinue the formal study. Akers maintains a research website on Yakima and is associated with a worldwide scientific group devoted to studying anomalous lights. Reports are now made through a voluntary system set up by Akers.
The results of the research have led Akers to have a disdain for using the term "UFO" to describe the Yakima phenomenon, because to most people it immediately implies something extraterrestrial. But the anomalous lights are certainly unidentified and very real, at least in the sense that they can be seen, photographed, and measured in various ways. In some cases the lights appeared to follow some of the many fault lines on Toppenish Ridge, but the vast research that has been done shows that the lights have been seen nearly everywhere in that region. Akers has also found that unusual magnetic phenomena are associated with the lights.
For example, a 2001 study conducted by Akers reported on the results of a 12-hour magnetometer recoding made from the Satus Fire Lookout on the Yakama Reservation. The study found numerous inexplicable magnetic pulses lasting from 30 mSec to 15 sec. The pulses showed a "patterned symmetry" with characteristics of some sort of an unknown "mechanical origin." Akers related that no anomalous lights were observed during the study but that there were similarities between the collected data and similar data recorded during anomalous light displays elsewhere. A total of "845 pulse events of unknown origin" were recorded. Akers noted that the pulses were not typical of natural phenomena or seismic forces. Akers also wrote that it would be "very easy to classify these signals as 'machine made' as opposed to 'natural' origins."
Greg Long's 1990 book on Yakima concludes that the phenomenon greatly diminished after Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, and that the plasma and related tectonic strain theories did appear to have at least some validity with the Yakima reports. However, Akers has written me stating that the phenomenon does appear to have lessened somewhat, but has continued to the present. And today, there are many reports coming from the region, especially around Mt. Adams. The lower number of reports may well be due to fewer people looking.
The Yakima reports also include a handful of "close encounters" with humanoids, odd mental phenomena, and strange creatures. And there are many cases that appear to show that the lights interacted with the observers, precisely as was the case at Piedmont. In essence, what the Yakima research certainly demonstrates is that something very real does manifest and we have yet to determine precisely what that is. My long-term hunch, which remains my best hypothesis, is that a plasma-like energy is involved. I detailed this idea in both my 1990 book, People of the Web, and in the 1994 book, Grand Illusions, as well as in sections in Ronald Story's Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters. The plasma theory will be the topic of a coming feature, and it involves the magnetic anomalies found by Akers' 2001 study.
My Own Investigations At Toppenish and Where It Points
In the mid-1990s, I spent many weeks in Washington State doing consulting work for the state including at least 3 weeks at Yakima, where I had several nightly vigils watching the focal point of the activity—Toppenish Ridge. I also visited newspapers and libraries and gathered as many newspaper articles and reports as possible and talked to a lot of people. I saw nothing whatsoever unusual there at night. However, what I did find came as a surprise, the type of surprise that occurred before digital cameras were invented and we had to have film developed. One of the things that I did was take about a dozen 35mm photos of Toppenish Ridge during the daytime. Appearing in all of those photos, and significantly on none of the other photos on the same roll of film, were opague blobs of amorphous white light. The blobs were not at all similar to modern "orbs" but were well-defined shapes and in most photos the background of the ridge or sky was visible "through" them. According to the professional university photo lab I was using back then, they were not developing defects but were just curious anomalies that they couldn't explain. I also took 8 consecutive photos through a window of a plane as I was flying from Seattle to Yakima. There was a low and dense cloud cover beneath the plane but the top of Mt. Rainier could be seen and that was what I wanted to photograph. After developing those photos I was surprised. The 8 photos showed a dark orange "blob" that progressively moved from under the plane to the top of Mt. Rainier. It was intriguing to me then, but at the time I was diligently working on other matters. All of these anomalous images will be released later.
One of the most unpopular UFO theories of all time was actually proposed by Kenneth Arnold himself and curiously can be found cited in the now-declassified 1949 government Project Sign UFO report. Naturalist Ivan T. Sanderson and writer Vincent Gaddis also were proponents of this unpopular idea. But the major name associated with this seemingly bizarre theory is Trevor James Constable. It goes by several variant names but it is best known as the "Space Animal" or "Space Critter" theory. Kenneth Arnold wrote that UFOs are "groups and masses of living organisms that are as much a part of our atmosphere and space as the life we find in the oceans." Sanderson wrote that it was "the most probable explanation" of UFOs. Constable, however, gave the most detailed explanation writing that they "are amoebalike life-forms existing in the plasma state. They are not solid, liquid, or gas. Rather, they exist in the fourth state of matter—plasma—as living heat-substance..." He went on to relate that they are in the infrared portion of the electromagnetic energy spectrum and thus, are typically invisible.
As a section in Ronald Story's Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters relates, "The space animal theory has never captured the public imagination, and it has not been seriously considered by most UFO researchers." Indeed. Rutledge's research has also been largely ignored because there isn't much in it that pointed to an extraterrestrial presence. There were no crashed saucers. No tales spun 35 years later by witnesses who either were not there or have false memories. No conspiracy. Yakima remains only a curiosity to UFO researchers because it too doesn't point to something extraterrestrial. No crashed saucers there, either. In mainstream ufology, Yakima and Piedmont are used as evidence that scientific research has proven the existence of UFOs, but this statement is then used as a springboard to give credence to assertions that do "capture the imagination" of the public. There are few books on "space critters" that have or ever will sell well, and it's quite difficult to tie government conspiracy ideas, the use of "alien" technology, or crashed saucer tales into it. Conspiracy, faked saucer photos, hoaxed crash cases, faked documents, and tales of secret alien research do sell and make great tv shows.
The really interesting question in this unpopular idea of plasma forms with an intelligence is, at least to me, how to explain the more bizarre aspects of ufology—the things that appear to involve mystical, occult, or supernatural events. How, for example, are abductions explained?
Next Issue: Abductions, tectonic strain, and more lights.