You know how sometimes you don’t even know that something exists and then, all of a sudden, it’s everywhere?
On New Year’s Day I looked out the window and saw this shark flying by:
I ran outside, snapped this photo and learned that my young neighbor had received this Air Swimmer shark as a present.
“You fill it with helium and it flies by remote control,” he told me, “I’m bringing it over to show my friend.”
Well, it seems like my neighbor wasn’t the only one to get a flying shark for Christmas.
Consider this report, found in the New Zealand Herald, about a flying shark spotted way off course:
“….[F]rom a pilot on the Wings Over New Zealand Aviation Forum: ‘There I was, just cruising around at about 1500 feet above Hamilton …when I see an object that looks like a helicopter off in the distance. However, without getting much bigger (i.e. closer) it suddenly whizzes past my left wing … and although it has the same general shape as a chopper, this thing has fins and a tail instead of rotors. Despite the warning on the box of the Air Swimmer Shark (for indoor use only) someone’s $80 Christmas present (with $50 worth of helium) is drifting gently southwest over Hamilton city, climbing at about 200 feet a minute. I did my civic duty and reported it …as a hazard.”
Whether you believe in them or not, today is the anniversary of the day back in 1947 when the “flying saucers” phenomenon began.
People had certainly spotted strange things in the sky before. But it was a pilot flying his private plane near Washington State’s Mt. Rainier that gave the unidentified flying objects such a catchy name.
“While flying in his private airplane near Mount Rainier en route from Chehalis, Washington, to his home in Boise, Idaho, Kenneth Arnold was startled by a bright light shortly before 3 p.m., on June 24, 1947. He looked north and saw nine gleaming objects racing southward along the crest of the Cascades. They were roughly circular in form — except for one crescent-shaped object — measured about 50 feet across, and appeared metallic. He watched them for approximately two minutes until they disappeared over Oregon.”
During a refueling stop in eastern Oregon, Arnold described his experience to the local newspaper editor, saying that the vehicles flew in and out of the mountain peaks at incredible speeds and in an undulating formation “like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.”
Stories like that,with details like that, are too juicy to ignore. The report got picked up by newspapers around the country – and around the world – and from then on, unidentified flying objects have become known as “flying saucers.”
My At the Airport column on USATODAY.com this month – UFOS at DEN? is all about aliens (from outer space), UFOs, crop circles seen at some airport and the secret messages in some of the artwork at Denver International Airport
Scary stuff – but really fun.
Officials insist the 26-foot tall statue of the ancient Egyptian god Anubis now standing outside the Denver International Airport terminal is there to promote a King Tut exhibit opening soon at the Denver Art Museum. But the giant image of the jackal-headed god tasked with protecting the spirits of the dead is alarming some travelers.
“I’m not superstitious, but it doesn’t exactly instill confidence when the god of the dead is staring through the window at you!” says Brian Olson, a Colorado resident who travels frequently through Denver airport.
The Anubis statue, which has also spent time at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, will leave Denver International Airport in mid-August. Staying behind will be several pieces from the airport’s permanent public art collection that some travelers consider ominous and, in some cases, out of this world.
Matt Chasansky, the public art administrator at Denver airport, has watched all the YouTube videos, answered many e-mails and read all the internet postings about the secret messages allegedly embedded in murals, sculpture and other art pieces in the airport. He’s glad people are responding emotionally to the airport’s collection but insists concerns about strange doings at DEN are just misunderstandings.
One traveler wrote to complain about the “demons” in the baggage claim area. Those demons are part of Terry Allen’s work, Notre Denver and are European cathedral-inspired gargoyles meant not to harm people, but to protect them from losing their luggage. Other travelers see a secret code in the words and images in 21st Century Artifacts, the four mosaic floors created by Carolyn Braaksma and Mark Villareal for Concourse B. “The piece is actually about geography, archeology and topography,” says the airport’s Chasansky, “And those are Native American words and symbols for the Colorado River and other sites around the area.”
On its website, the airport notes that “a few fanciful conspiracy theories have been generated” by Leo Tanguma’s mural titled Children of the World Dream Peace, but that none of those far-out theories “were intended by the artist.” And both the airport’s telephone-hold message and brochure for the self-guided art tour make reference to the uneasy feelings some travelers get from the glowing red eyes of the 32-foot tall blue Mustang by Luis Jiménez, who died while working on the sculpture. Dubbed “Bluecifer” by detractors, the sculpture rearing up on the road leading to the airport has spawned Facebook pages and campaigns calling for its removal.
(Mustang by Luis Jimenez; courtesy Denver Int’l Airport)
There are also rumors about the airport’s aliens. The ones that have supposedly come to earth and now live in the hidden underground areas at the airport. “One theory says you can put your ears against the columns in the terminal and hear alien voices from the basement,” says Chasanksy. Another describes how pushing the right combination of buttons on a keypad by the airport’s time capsule will signal the elevators to descend to the aliens’ underground base. Unfortunately for alien hunters, that ‘keypad’ is just a plaque with braille lettering on it.
“All those theories are fanciful and fun,” says Chasansky, “But none of it is true. And the aliens aren’t telling me to say this.”
Unexplained events at other airports
Fanciful or not, Denver International isn’t the only airport said to be visited by aliens. According to Peter Davenport of the Seattle-based National UFO Reporting Center, “There have been many reports which seem to be, in one way or another, associated with airports.”
Larry Bowron, now the Transportation Director for the city of Battle Creek, Mich., says back when he worked at the Scottsdale, Ariz., airport he saw something he still can’t fully explain hover over the runway and then zip out of sight. “It looked like a helicopter, but had no lights on it. All of sudden a white beam of light came on and within two seconds it accelerated and was out of my sight. There was no sound, yet it moved 100 times faster than anything I’d seen in my life.”
Bowron says prior to that experience he was “sort of a skeptic” about UFOs, but “You see something that defies logic and it makes a believer out of you.”
Travis McQueen, manager of Indiana’sHuntingburg Airport, hasn’t seen a UFO, but did jump in an airplane to take some aerial pictures of mysterious crop circles that once showed up on airport-owned land leased to a local farmer. He won’t say whether or not he believes it was aliens or local pranksters who left their mark in the farmer’s bean field, but McQueen did file a report with the local sheriff so that the farmer could file an insurance claim for his lost crops.
(Crop circle – courtesy Travis McQueen)
Then there’s the UFO that may or may not have visited Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on November 7, 2006. Peter Davenport of the National UFO Reporting Center says he received documents “that left no doubt as to whether the event occurred, or to its bizarre nature.” He estimates that the disc-shaped object seen hovering above Gate C-17 was observed by no fewer than three dozen people, including aircraft mechanics, airline supervisory personnel and others he calls “highly qualified observers.”
The Chicago Tribune and other news outlets published reports about the 2006 UFO incident. Davenport and others call the event “very dramatic” and “very well documented.” The only thing officials at O’Hare have ever said about the possible UFO sighting, though, is “No comment.”
Next Monday (June 30th) is the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska Event. On that day in 1908 an asteroid or maybe a comet – nobody really knows what – fell from the sky and devastated about 800 square miles of Siberian forest.
You can see photos and maps of the site and learn more about the ‘event’ here.
Can it happen again? You bet, says Schweickart. “Near-Earth objects have been impacting Earth episodically for the past 4.5 billion years. They don’t hit often, but when they do they are a serious threat to life and property. Ask the dinosaurs… they lost it all.”
Can the earth be saved? Schweickart is working on it. He’s the chair of the B612 Foundation, which plans to change the orbit of an asteroid by 2015 and prove that humankind can protect the Earth from future asteroid impacts.
It may sound like a Twilight Zone episode, but just in case, I’m heading over to Seattle’s Museum of Flight Saturday afternoon (June 28) to find out more. Schweickart will be there to talk about what astronauts, cosmonauts and experts from around the world are doing to make sure we are ready.
And while we’re talking about objects from outer space, earlier this week Dave Demerjian over at Wired’s Autopia wrote about the news that a police helicopter crew from Cardiff, Wales reported being chased recently by a “flying saucer-shaped vehicle.”