It's Extraterrestrial Week, an observance I made up just now to mark the confluence of two noteworthy news items concerning alien visitation.
This is my excuse to tell you about the day 10 UFOs flew over Bakersfield.
Spacemen are back in the news — and some of them are apparently quite real.
Others less so. I refer here to the idiocy coming this Friday to the southern Nevada desert when hordes, or perhaps just a misguided handful, converge on Area 51, the U.S. Air Force facility north of Las Vegas that, according to conspiracy lore, is a kind of wrecking yard and mortuary for crashed UFOs and their crews.
Matty Roberts, a former Bakersfield College student, got the party started this summer by creating a "Storm Area 51" Facebook page (slogan: “They Can't Stop All of Us”) and attracted 2.1 million RSVP affirmatives for his planned Sept. 20 siege. Suddenly all too aware of the startling reach of social media, Roberts eventually called the whole thing off. But if one-100th of 1 percent of his interested invitees show up anyway, the Air Force will have a situation.
My other Extraterrestrial Week news item is considerably more worthy of our attention. We've just learned that the U.S. Navy has confirmed the authenticity of three online videos from 2004 and 2015 purportedly showing UFOs in flight. The videos, shot by Navy pilots, indeed show “unexplained aerial phenomena,” according to the Navy, which also admits that the clips were never cleared for release to the public in the first place.
The three videos, first posted by The New York Times in December 2017 and March 2018, were in all cases recorded using an onboard Raytheon AN/ASQ-228 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) Pod. They show separate encounters between Navy jets and unidentified aircraft performing aerial maneuvers that, based on currently known aviation technology, would be considered impossible. The Navy pilots can be heard shouting with astonishment at what they're seeing.
And suddenly Washington is abuzz. Three U.S. Senators were briefed by the Pentagon in June about those and other UFO sightings, and more requests are coming in. One former government official told Politico, “There are people coming out of the woodwork” with questions about these UFO encounters.
It all seems to validate what Dick Rankin saw over Bakersfield 72 years ago.
According to a confidential Strategic Air Command document dated Aug. 14, 1947, and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Rankin, a pilot with more than 7,000 hours in the air, told military and intelligence officials that a few weeks prior he had seen "a formation of ten flying disks over Bakersfield, California." He was interviewed on July 27, 1947, almost four weeks after the Portland (Ore.) Daily Journal interviewed him. Rankin was one of several people, most of them in the Pacific Northwest, who reported having spotted UFOs within the span of a few days.
Rankin told the newspaper that the aircraft were traveling at "maybe 300 or 400 miles an hour" toward the north but when "they returned on the reverse course, headed south, there were only seven.
"I couldn't make out the number or location of their propellers and couldn't distinguish any wings or tail. They appeared almost round," he said.
Rankin, who lived in Palm Springs at the time, told investigators he'd made the sightings from a Bakersfield backyard June 14 (but told the newspaper it had been June 23). He said he hesitated to describe what he saw until he heard that others were reporting the same thing.
The summer of 1947 was a busy one for UFO crew-beings. In addition to Rankin's sighting over Bakersfield, witnesses spotted unexplained phenomena over Hamilton Air Field in Marin County on Aug. 1 and another over Muroc Army Air Field's flight test base on July 8. The sightings at Muroc — now Edwards Air Force Base — were noteworthy enough to get the attention of the FBI and Department of Justice, Army Air Force intelligence and at least one publisher of “fantastic” stories.
Eight witnesses, names redacted from declassified documents, were interviewed at Muroc by a Thomas A. McMillan and, separately, Capt. Harry D. Black, a military intelligence officer.
One witness, who assured McMillan he was of "complete health in body and mind," said he was walking from the Muroc post exchange to his office when he heard military aircraft overhead. "Looking up, as I always do, I observed the aircraft and looked slightly to the left, whereupon I observed two (2) silver objects of either a spherical or disc-like shape moving about three hundred (300) miles an hour, or perhaps less, at approximately eight thousand (8,000) feet, heading at about three hundred degrees (300) due north.
"When I first observed these objects, I called (redacted, redacted and redacted), who immediately came to where I was standing. I pointed in the direction of the objects and asked them the question: 'Tell me what you see up there.' Whereupon, all three (3) with sundry comments stated, 'They are flying disc(s)' ... All three (3) in a consistent nature stated that the objects were moving toward Mojave, California."
One of the witnesses summoned by the first individual told McMillan, "I could not hear a motor roar like one of our planes and it could not have been a balloon.
"I am of good health and sound mind and this was no hallucination."
Another witness, a pilot working some distance away on a tarmac, noted that one of the strange aircraft, "yellow or whitish in color" was "oscillating in a forward whirling movement without losing altitude."
"I did not have time to chase it in a P-80," he said.
I asked Edwards Air Force Base staff members if they might tell me about other more recent sightings, or perhaps of cases where military aircraft or satellite delivery rockets were mistaken for extraterrestrial or divine visitation. They did not respond to repeated attempts.
I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't think anybody was shooting from that grassy knoll and I don't think Jim Morrison is shacking up with Janis Joplin somewhere in Tibet. I don't believe Area 51 has any cryogenically frozen Andromedan corpses, either, but I'm starting to think Dick Rankin may have been sober that day in Bakersfield 72 years ago.