June 19, 2007

Redmond's Project Blue Book Festival

The aliens are coming to Redmond, but if you keep your eyes on the skies, you'll miss it. This weekend's "Project Blue Book Festival" is an earth-bound affair, centered in and around the downtown Plaza on Saturday.

Project Blue Book refers to a U.S. Air Force project to document and analyze reports of UFO sitings between 1952 and 1970. Of the nearly 13,000 reports collected, the Air Force dismissed nearly all of them as misidentifications, either of conventional aircraft or meteorological phenomena. A handful remained unexplained - including one in Redmond in the fall of 1959.
According to the official report filed by the Air Force, in the early morning hours of September 24, 1959, military radar picked up an object 300 to 400 feet across in the skies above Redmond. Air traffic controllers at the Redmond Airport also picked up the object, visually and on radar, and reported it moving between altitudes from 6,000 to 52,000 feet. Eight military aircraft were dispatched to the area to identify or intercept the object; upon their arrival, it departed at a high rate of speed - the pilot of one of the F-102 fighters sent to intercept the object reported that he had to swerve to avoid a collision, while another nearly lost control of his plane upon hitting the turbulence left behind while leaving. One pilot followed the object for a short time before giving up the chase, but the object continued to register on radar for the next two hours. Several people on the ground, including Redmond police officer Robert Dickerson, reported seeing the object and the ensuing chase, but the initial report from the Air Force suggested there was no object - the radar systems that had tracked it had malfunctioned, and anyone who saw anything was overly imaginative. Later explanations suggested the object had been a weather balloon, and still later, the planet Venus. Between accounts recorded by the FAA, the Air Force, and local residents on the ground, the Redmond incident is one of the better documented UFO sitings ever reported.

But according to the organizers of the upcoming Blue Book Festival, it remains little-known - between the passage of nearly 50 years and the arrival of tens of thousands of new residents from outside Central Oregon, the Redmond case was in danger of disappearing from memory.

"It's not well known," said Steve Hudspeth, owner of P.S. Shoes and one of the event organizers. "Of course, '59, not a lot of people were around then, but when you tell people there was an actual Blue Book incident in Redmond, they all go 'What? Really?'"

Even Tracey Thille, another event organizer and a self-described "big sci-fi nut" didn't know about it until recently. She was pushing for a UFO-oriented festival before she was even familiar with the 1959 incident, largely based on her own interest in the subject and the success of a similar annual event held at the McMenamins Hotel Oregon in McMinnville. In the course of recruiting help with putting the festival together, both Hudspeth and Thille have ran into a surprising number of people with personal UFO sighting stories.

"There's a lot of people when you talk to them say 'I had this happen to me,' or 'I had that happen to me,'" Hudspeth say. "They may not want to say it out loud, but they'll tell you about it."

Thille said though she's hoping for a fun event, there's a serious aspect to the Blue Book festival as well. No one will be laughing at anyone who has a story to share. "We respect their experiences. We're going to have something called the Sightings Studio, where you can come in and record your experiences. And later in the evening we're going to have a gathering which will be just an open time in the plaza where you can sit and talk with fellow encounterees," she said. "Talk about your experiences and you see that you're not alone, there are a lot of people who've seen something. Some people won't say anything, they'll say 'It'll make me sound like I'm whacko,' but nearly everyone I've talked to knows someone who's seen something or they've seen something themselves."

Thille said she's disappointed she won't have a story for the sightings studio."I don't think I've seen anything. I try, I sit in the hot tub every night and watch," she said. Hudspeth and Thille both said they're hopeful the festival draws enough community interest that they can bring it back next year.

For a full listing of activities at the Blue Book Festival, see What's Happening on page 16 or pick up a Blue Book event publication at the Spokesman office.

No comments: