Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sheepman: The Trestle of Death

Sheepman: The Trestle of Death

The Pope Lick Monster is/was, according to legend, a half-man, half-goat creature that lives under the Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle across Pope Lick Creek and South Pope Lick Rd. near Fisherville in eastern Jefferson County, Kentucky. The stories have been used as a 'dare' that required an unfortunate sap to climb onto the trestle. These individuals were most likely under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Numerous urban legends exist about the creature’s origins and the methods it employs to claim its victims. According to some accounts, the creature uses either hypnosis or voice mimicry to lure trespassers onto the trestle to meet their death before an oncoming train. Other stories claim the monster jumps down from the trestle onto the roofs of cars passing beneath it. Yet other legends tell that it attacks its victims with a blood-stained axe. It has also been said that the very sight of the creature is so unsettling that those who see it while walking across the high trestle are driven to leap off.

Other legends explain the creature’s origins, including that it is a human goat hybrid, and that it was a circus freak who vowed revenge after being mistreated. In one version, the creature escaped after a train derailed on the trestle. Another version claims that the monster is really the twisted reincarnated form of a farmer who sacrificed goats in exchange for Satanic powers.

There is a well-known history of people dying either on the trestle or by falling from it. Many more have been severely injured.


The Monster at Pope Lick

Steve Rush
The New Voice - October 31,1990

Nobody knows when the quiet, rural area beyond Jeffersontown first became home to the community’s strangest, and definitely scariest, resident – the Pope Lick Monster.

But tales of the creature, also known as the Sheepman, have circulated for decades in eastern Jefferson County, and as Halloween night approaches, rumors of the beast again seem to be common.

“It’s always been around J-town,” said Michael Zettler, a 1985 graduate of J-town High School. “It was always talked about, especially around Halloween.”

“I first heard of it in the early 1960’s,” said Mary Ruckriegel, the wife of J-town Mayor Daniel Ruckriegel. “When I started dating Dan, the kids were always talking about it, especially during Halloween. I don’t know if it was a figment of someone’s imagination or what.”

“I can remember hearing stories of the thing when I was 4 or 5 years old,” said Rod Whitenack, a J-town native now in his early 20’s. “Every time Halloween would roll around, discussion about the monster would start up.”

There are probably as many residents of J-town as there are descriptions of the "thing" that supposedly lives below the rusty train trestle that passes over Pope Lick Road and Pope Lick Creek out Taylorsville Road near Fisherville.

Most describe the monster as a scary half-man, half-sheep, who terrorizes anyone who dares enter his domain. They say he has the features of both man and sheep, with horns, an ugly snout and a hairy brown body. He walks upright, has hooves for feet and can run at high speeds, enabling him to catch anyone in his territory.

Some say it is Jefferson County’s version of Ichabod Crane’s nightmare – a headless horseman-type monster who rides the tracks and kills anyone who crosses his path.

Others say it’s not a monster at all; it’s an old chemist who became a recluse after a chemical explosion in his lab terribly disfigured his face.

Others say it’s just a hermit who lived in a nearby shack and would scare away anyone who came near the trestle.

Still others say the figure that purportedly wanders the area is the deformed son of a local farmer, so hideous he won’t show his face until nighttime.

But whatever the description, the J-town monster has several similarities with other world-famous beasts. Like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, actual sightings of the Pope Lick Monster have been few and far between, if at all.

“There was always some guy who said he saw something out there.” Said Whitenack, who said he made many trips to the trestle. “But I never did.”

And like the Swamp Thing and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the J-town monster has even been the focus of his own local flick, titles “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” which premiered in Louisville in the fall of 1988. The 16-minute, black-and-white movie has been shown at the Vogue, The Uptown and, most recently, at the Water Tower, and been well received by area fans.

“I was looking for a Story indigenous to the area,” said the film’s director and producer local independent filmmaker Ron Schildknecht. “And the Sheepman is something only told around here; it’s been around at least three generations.”

Before he began filming, Schildknecht put in nearly a year of research o the subject. “I talked to 50 people formally and probably 100 more informally getting as much information as I could,” he said. “Was he half-man, half-sheep?” Did he walk on all fours or on two legs? Did he murder people or was he tame? I found a lot of interpretations; it was all real scattered out.”

Half the apparent appeal has been the imposing train trestle, which has stood overlooking the area since 1929. The trestle, which is still used regularly today, spans nearly 800 feet and is about 100 feet tall.

Over the years, teen-agers have been known to frequent the location in search of a remote spot where they could party without being bothered by police or parents.

“The trestles were a real popular place to go and drink and get rowdy,” Schildknecht said. “The talk of the a monster makes it much more attractive to go out there.”

“It was part of a senior tradition,” Ruckriegel said. “They would go out there to see if they could see it; it was a sign of bravery.”

“The boys would take the girls out there to try to scare them,” she added. “It was something really scary.”

While the site may have provided fun for some, tragedy has also come to many who have walked the tracks. In recent years, several youths have been killed, whether from falling from the trestle or after being caught on the tracks and hit by a train.

“It’s unfortunate,” Schildknecht said. “The story of the monster seems so harmless and innocent, except for the real danger of the railroad.”

About a year ago train officials put up a chain link fence with barbed wire to keep thrill-seekers from climbing to the tracks.

But that hasn’t stopped the rumors about the monster.

When the 32-year-old Schildknecht went there to film the movie, he didn’t see the beast but admitted even he found the place a little frightening. “It’s kinda eerie,” he said, “knowing the history and that people have been killed out there.”

“I didn’t feel anything supernatural,” he said. “I was just more intrigued with the ambiance of the trestle. And it’s pretty intense when a train goes by.”

Also finding the area spooky was Zettler, one of the high schoolers who with a couple of friends made the trek to the monster’s purported stomping ground.

“It was real scary.” He said. “Even though you know the legend is silly, you still think about it.”

As long as the legend has been told, no one knows for sure how it started.

“I’ve often wondered if it was a Halloween prank,” Ruckriegel said, “and then got blown out of proportion.”

“It probably started as a man walking his goat,” Zettler said. “It’s just a bunch of stories. It’s something you hear through the years.”

And the legend still exists in the East-End community today, but only to a degree.

“I think a lot of the kids today are too smart to believe all that stuff,” Ruckriegel said. “But I guess it’s still going around.”

“The story is still being told,” Schildknecht said. As long as there’s a trestle out there and long as there are kids in high school, it’s still alive.”

The Pope Lick Monster exist in the collective imaginations of hundreds of people,” he added, “which for me says he does exists.”

What do you think?

Monday, October 17, 2011

DREAMLAND: Fifty Years of Secret Flight Testing in Nevada By Peter W. Merlin

May 2005 marks the 50th anniversary of flight test activities at Groom Lake, Nevada, best known to the public as DREAMLAND or Area 51. For half a century this remote desert outpost has served as a breeding ground for aircraft on the cutting edge of technology. It served as an important national asset during the Cold War and numerous conflicts throughout the globe. Dreamland continues to support the warfighter and keep America on the cutting edge of aerospace technology.

Humble Beginnings

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established the Groom Lake test facility during Project AQUATONE, through which the Lockheed U-2 spy plane was developed. Capable of flying at high altitude while carrying sophisticated cameras and sensors, the U-2 was equipped with a single jet engine and long, tapered straight wings. For security reasons, CIA officials did not believe that the new airplane should be flown at Edwards Air Force Base, California. At the request of U-2 designer Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson of the Lockheed Advanced Development Projects division (better known as the Skunk Works), project pilot Tony LeVier was dispatched to scout locations around the southwestern United States for a more remote test site.
Richard M. Bissell Jr., director of the AQUATONE program, reviewed dozens of potential test sites with his Air Force liaison, Col. Osmond J. "Ozzie" Ritland. None seemed to meet the program's stringent security requirements. Ritland, however, recalled "a little X-shaped field" in southern Nevada that he had flown over many times during his involvement with the nuclear weapons test program. The airstrip, called Nellis Auxiliary Field No.1, was located just off the eastern side of Groom Dry Lake, about 100 miles north of Las Vegas. It was also just outside the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) nuclear proving ground at Yucca Flat.
In April 1955, LeVier, Johnson, Bissell, and Ritland flew to Nevada on a two-day survey of the most promising lakebeds. After examining Groom Lake, it was obvious that this would be an ideal location for the test site, with its excellent flying weather and unparalleled remoteness. The abandoned airfield that Ritland remembered was overgrown and unusable, but the lakebed was excellent. Bissell later described the playa as "a perfect natural landing smooth as a billiard table without anything being done to it."
Kelly Johnson originally opposed the choice of Groom Lake because it was farther from Burbank than he would have liked, and because of its proximity to the Nevada Proving Ground (later renamed Nevada Test Site). Johnson was understandably concerned about conducting a flight test program adjacent to an active nuclear test site. In fact, Groom Lake lay directly in the primary downwind path of radioactive fallout from atomic blasts.
Groom Lake was actually Johnson's second choice for the test location. He had already designed a base around his primary lakebed, dubbed Site I, which would have been a small, temporary camp with only the most rudimentary accommodations. Johnson estimated construction costs for such a facility at $200,000 to $225,000. Base requirements soon changed, however, calling for a permanent facility nearly 300% larger than Johnson's original design. Johnson estimated construction of a larger facility at Site I would cost $450,000. His estimate for building the same facility at Site II (Groom Lake) was $832,000. Johnson ultimately accepted Ritland's recommendation, largely because AEC restrictions would help shield the operation from public view. Bissell secured a presidential action adding the Groom Lake area to the AEC proving ground. Ritland wrote three memos to Air Force Headquarters, the AEC, and the Air Force Training Command that administered the gunnery range. Assistant Air Force Secretary for Research and Development Trevor Gardner signed the memos, this ensuring that range activities would not impinge on the new test site. Security for project AQUATONE was now assured.
During the last week of April 1955, Johnson met with CIA officials in Washington, D.C. and discussed progress on the base and the AQUATONE program. His proposal to name the base "Paradise Ranch" was accepted. It was an ironic choice that, he later admitted was "a dirty trick to lure workers to the program." The AQUATONE, officially designated U-2 became known as "The Angel from Paradise Ranch." The base itself was usually just called "The Ranch" by those who worked there.
On 4 May 1955, LeVier, Kammerer, and Johnson returned to Groom Lake in Lockheed's Bonanza. Using a compass and surveying equipment, they defined a 5,000-foot, north-south runway on the southwest corner of the lakebed and designated a site for the camp.
On 18 May 1955, Seth R. Woodruff Jr., manager of the AEC Las Vegas Field Office, announced that he had "instructed the Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Co., Inc. [REECo] to begin preliminary work on a small, satellite Nevada Test Site installation." He noted that work was already underway at the location "a few miles northeast of Yucca Flat and within the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range." Woodruff said that the installation would include "a runway, dormitories, and a few other buildings for housing equipment." The facility was described as "essentially temporary." The press release was distributed to 18 media outlets in Nevada and Utah including a dozen newspapers, four radio stations, and two television stations. This, in effect, constituted Area 51's birth announcement.

Watertown Operations

LeVier and fellow Lockheed test pilot Bob Matye spent nearly a month removing surface debris from the playa. Levier also drew up a proposal to mark four three-mile-long runways on the lakebed at a cost of $450.00. Johnson, however, refused to approve the expense, citing a lack of funds. Drilling resulted in discovery of a limited water supply, but trouble with the well soon developed. Top priorities for the test site included hangars, a road, offices, living accommodations, and various support facilities. Since Lockheed did not have a license to build on the nuclear proving ground, they gave their drawings to a contractor who did: Silas Mason Construction Company. The Lockheed group hid their identity behind the fictional company name "CLJ", using Johnson's initials.
The fledgling base consisted of a single, paved 5,000-foot runway, three hangars, a control tower, and rudimentary accommodations for test personnel. The base's few amenities included a movie theatre and volleyball court. Additionally, there was a mess hall, several water wells, and fuel storage tanks. CIA, Air Force, and Lockheed personnel began arriving in July 1955 and Richard Newton of the CIA was assigned as base commander. The test site soon acquired a new name: Watertown. According to some accounts, the site was named after CIA director Allen Dulles' birthplace in Watertown, New York. It is still listed as a member of Alamo Township in Lincoln County.
The first U-2 was transported, disassembled, to Watertown in an Air Force C-124 cargo plane. It had no serial number and was designated Article 341. Tony LeVier made the unofficial first flight in the U-2 during a taxi test on 29 July. He piloted the first planned test flight on 4 August.
After completing Phase I (contractor) testing LeVier was replaced by Lockheed test pilots Bob Matye and Ray Goudey who expanded the airplane's altitude envelope to its operational limits. By November 1955, the test group also included Robert Sieker and Robert Schumacher.
On 17 November 1955, tragedy struck the AQUATONE project. An Air Force C-54M (44-9068) transporting personnel to the secret base crashed near the top of Mt. Charleston, about 20 miles west of Las Vegas. Nine civilians and five military personnel were killed. There were no survivors. After the accident, Lockheed assumed responsibility for transporting personnel to Watertown. A company-owned C-47 was used to ferry pilots, technicians, and special visitors to the test site.
By the beginning of 1956, four U-2 aircraft had been delivered to the Groom Lake test site. By the end of March the fleet consisted of nine aircraft, and six CIA pilots were undergoing flight training at the site. Four experienced instructor pilots trained three classes in ground school, followed by landing practice in a T-33 and, eventually, solo flights in the U-2. The second class underwent training at Groom between May and August 1956. It included Francis Gary Powers, who would later win dubious fame after being shot down and captured while flying a U-2 over the Soviet Union. The third training class was conducted in late 1956.
Several U-2 airplanes were lost in accidents including the prototype. Two CIA pilots were killed and one escaped without injury. Lockheed test pilot Robert Sieker perished in Article 341.

Atomic Blasts

Nuclear weapons testing at nearby Yucca Flat affected test and training activities at Watertown. During the first two years of the Watertown operation, the atomic proving ground had been quiet as all full-scale testing was taking place at Bikini and Eniwetok atolls in the Pacific Ocean. That changed in the summer of 1957 with Operation Plumbbob.
Because Groom Lake was downwind of the proving ground, Watertown personnel were required to evacuate the base prior to each detonation. The AEC, in turn, tried to ensure that expected fallout from any given shot would be limited so as to permit re-entry of personnel within three to four weeks. Evacuation plans included notification procedures, adequate security for classified areas, means to inform evacuees when they might return, and radiation monitoring. If a nuclear test was postponed, which occurred frequently, Watertown personnel were required to evacuate prior to each new shot date.
All personnel at the base were required to wear radiation badges to measure their exposure to fallout. AEC Radiological Safety (Rad-Safe) officers briefed Watertown personnel on nuclear testing activities and radiation safety, and presented a film called Atomic Tests In Nevada. They also made arrangements for radiation monitors to visit the airbase whenever fallout was anticipated in the Watertown area.
Project 57, the first shot of the new series, took place on Watertown's doorstep. On 24 April 1957, the AEC conducted a safety experiment with an XW-25 warhead just five miles northwest of Groom Lake in Area 13. Only the bottom detonator of the device was fired, simulating an accident not involving a nuclear detonation. The test was designed to disperse a known quantity of plutonium over a defined area to develop effective monitoring and decontamination procedures.
Following several delays, full-scale nuclear detonations began on 28 May. Shot BOLTZMANN, a 12-kiloton blast, was fired from a 500-foot tower on northern Yucca Flat. After more delays, two minor blasts, FRANKLIN and LASSEN, were fired during the first week of June. These tests came near the intended end of Watertown's existence as an active installation.
The base had always been considered a temporary facility. As U-2 testing began to wind down and CIA pilot classes finished their training, Watertown became a virtual ghost town. By mid-June 1957, the U-2 test operation had moved to Edwards and operational U-2 aircraft were assigned to the 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron at Laughlin, Texas.
On 18 June 1957, a test code-named WILSON deposited fallout on Watertown. The AEC measured radiation exposure inside the evacuated buildings and vehicles at the base to study the effectiveness of various materials in shielding against fallout. In effect, Watertown served as a laboratory to determine the shielding qualities of typical building materials that might be found in any American town. WILSON was followed by the 37-kiloton PRISCILLA shot at Frenchman Flat on 24 June.
HOOD, the sixth nuclear shot of Plumbbob, was truly spectacular. It also caused substantial damage to the Groom Lake airbase. The device was lofted by balloon to a height of 1,500 feet over Yucca Flat, about 14 miles southwest of Watertown. On 5 July 1957, HOOD exploded with a yield of 74 kilotons. It was the most powerful airburst ever detonated within the continental United States. HOOD's shockwave shattered windows on two buildings at Watertown, and broke a ventilator panel on one of the dormitories. A maintenance building on the west side of the base and the supply warehouse west of the hangars suffered serious damage as their metal roll-up doors buckled.
Despite the end of U-2 operations and the near constant rain of fallout, security at the Watertown facility remained tight. On 28 July 1957, a civilian pilot was detained after making an emergency landing at Watertown airstrip. Edward K. Current Jr., an employee of Douglas Aircraft Company, had been on a cross-country training flight when he became lost, ran low on fuel, and decided to land at Groom Lake. He was held overnight and questioned before being released.
On 20 June 1958, 38,400 acres of land encompassing the Watertown base was officially withdrawn from public access under Public Land Order 1662. This rectangular addition to the Nevada Test Site was designated Area 51. Shortly after this, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) secured permission to designate Groom Lake as a contingency landing site for the X-15 rocket plane. It was, however, never needed for this purpose. For two years following the departure of the U-2 fleet from Watertown, the base was fairly quiet.

New Lease on Life

Dramatic changes came to Area 51 with the advent of Project OXCART, through which Lockheed's proposed successor to the U-2 was developed. The OXCART aircraft was a sleek, powerful looking aircraft with a long tapered forward fuselage with blended chines. A rounded delta wing supported two turbo-ramjet engines capable of boosting the aircraft to Mach 3.2 at altitudes in excess of 90,000 feet. Twin, inwardly canted tails and a sawtooth internal structure in the wing edges contributed to a low overall RCS. The airframe was constructed mostly of titanium, with asbestos-fiberglass and phenyl silane composites in the leading and trailing edges, chines, and tails for RCS reduction. The final designation for the OXCART aircraft was A-12, with the "A" standing for "Archangel."
The Skunk Works team in Burbank built a full-scale mock-up of the A-12 during the spring of 1959 for RCS tests to be performed by Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier (EG&G) of Las Vegas. On 10 September, EG&G agreed to move its radar test facility from Indian Springs, Nevada, to Groom Lake for security reasons. A special pylon was constructed on a paved loop road on the west side of the lakebed. The A-12 mock-up was moved from Burbank to the test site on a specially designed trailer truck. By 18 November, the model was in place. It took 18 months of testing and adjustment before the A-12 achieved a satisfactory RCS.
Naturally, a secret location was needed for testing the triple-sonic A-12. Ten U.S. Air Force bases programmed for closure were considered, but none provided adequate security, and annual operating costs were prohibitive for most. Groom Lake was selected although it lacked personnel accommodations, fuel storage, and an adequate runway. Lockheed planners estimated cost requirements for monthly fuel consumption, hangars, maintenance facilities, housing, and runway specifications. The CIA then produced a plan for construction and engineering. A CIA cover story stated that the facilities were being prepared for radar studies to be conducted by an engineering firm with USAF support. Construction at the site, referred to as Project 51, was performed by Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Company (REECo).
Base construction began on 1 September 1960 and continued on a double-shift schedule until 1 June 1964. Workers were ferried in from Burbank and Las Vegas on C-54 aircraft. Since the existing 5,000-foot runway was incapable of supporting the weight of the A-12, a new airstrip (runway 14/32) was constructed between 7 September and 15 November 1960. The A-12 required a runway at least 8,500 feet long. About 25,000 cubic yards of concrete were poured to make the airstrip. A 10,000-foot asphalt extension, for emergency use, cut diagonally across the southwest corner of the lakebed. An Archimedes curve approximately two miles across was marked on the dry lake so that an A-12 pilot approaching the end of the overrun could abort to the playa instead of plunging the aircraft into the sagebrush. Area 51 pilots called it "The Hook." For crosswind landings two unpaved airstrips (runways 9/27 and 03/21) were marked on the dry lakebed.
Kelly Johnson had been reluctant to construct a standard Air Force runway, with expansion joints every 25-feet, because he feared the joints would set up undesirable vibrations in the OXCART aircraft. At his suggestion, the 150-foot-wide runway was constructed in segments, each made up of six 25-foot-wide longitudinal sections. The sections were 150 feet long and staggered. This layout put most of the expansion joints parallel to the direction of aircraft roll, and reduced the frequency of the joints.
Essential facilities were completed by August 1961. Three surplus U.S. Navy hangars were obtained, dismantled, and erected on the base's north side. They were designated as Hangar 4, 5, and 6. A fourth, Hangar 7, was built new. More than 130 U.S. Navy surplus Babbitt duplex housing units were transported to the base and made ready for occupancy. The original U-2 hangars were converted to maintenance and machine shops. Facilities in the main cantonment area included workshops and buildings for storage and administration, a commissary, control tower, fire station, and housing.
It was determined that 500,000 gallons of JP-7 fuel would be needed monthly to support the OXCART program. By early 1962 a fuel farm, including seven tanks 1,320,000-gallon capacity was complete. Older buildings were repaired, and additional facilities were constructed as necessary. A reservoir pond, surrounded by trees, served as a recreational area one mile north of the base. Other recreational facilities included a gymnasium, movie theatre, and a baseball diamond. On 15 November 1961, USAF Col. Robert J. Holbury was named commander of the secret base, with the CIA's Werner Weiss as his deputy. The base was still a CIA facility, and would remain so for another 18 years.

OXCART and the Roadrunners

Support aircraft began arriving in the spring of 1962. These included eight McDonnell F-101B/F Voodoos for training and chase, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules for cargo transport, U-8A for administrative use, Cessna 180 for liaison use, and Kaman HH-43 helicopter for search and rescue. A Lockheed F-104A/G (56-0801) was supplied as a chase plane during the OXCART flight test period.
In January 1962, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expanded the restricted airspace in the vicinity of Groom Lake. The lakebed became the center of a 600-square-mile addition to restricted area R-4808N. Restricted continuously at all altitudes, the airspace occupies the center of the Nellis Air Force Range.
The prototype A-12 (60-6924) made its unofficial first flight on 25 April 1962 with Louis W. Schalk at the controls. He flew the aircraft less than two miles at an altitude of about 20 feet. The following day, Schalk made a 40-minute flight. An official "first flight" on 30 April was witnessed by a number of dignitaries including Richard Bissell (even though he had resigned from the CIA in February) and FAA chief Najeeb Halaby.
OXCART pilot Jack Weeks nicknamed the A-12 Cygnus after the constellation of the swan. Initially, all 15 A-12 aircraft were based at Groom Lake and operated by the 1129th Special Activities Squadron Roadrunners, commanded by Col. Hugh "Slip" Slater. A-12 test aircraft (60-6924, 60-6925, 60-6928), and the TA-12 trainer (60-6927) were housed in hangars at the north end of the flightline. Operational aircraft were kept in Hangars 9 through 16 at the southern end of the base. Security was paramount. Even the existence of the A-12 was a closely guarded secret.
With the assistance of the CIA, the U.S. Air Force entered into an agreement with Lockheed to build three prototypes of an interceptor version of the A-12 under project KEDLOCK. Known as the AF-12 (later changed to YF-12A), the design included a second crew position, air-to-air missiles, and fire-control radar in the nose. The first YF-12A (60-6934) made its maiden flight on 7 August 1963 with James Eastham at the controls. After President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the existence of the aircraft in March 1964, the YF-12A test was program moved to Edwards.


Construction of the Area 51 facility was completed in 1965. The site population had grown to 1,835, and contractors were working three shifts a day. Lockheed-owned Constellation and C-47 aircraft made several flights a day ferrying personnel from Burbank and Las Vegas to Groom Lake. Hughes and Honeywell had facilities on site, and Pratt & Whitney operated an engine test stand. Perkin-Elmer set up a special building in which to work on the equipment bays in the nose of the A-12.
During the course of the OXCART program, Kelly Johnson developed an unmanned reconnaissance drone that could be launched from a modified version of the A-12. Codenamed TAGBOARD, the drone was a ramjet-powered vehicle capable of reaching 90,000 feet at Mach 3.3. Two OXCART-type aircraft (60-6940 and 60-6941) were purpose-built to launch TAGBOARD. Each was equipped with a rear seat for a Launch Systems Operator (LSO), and a dorsal launch pylon. The TAGBOARD was designated D-21 and the launch aircraft were given the unusual designation M-21. The first D-21 was launched 5 March 1966.
Unfortunately, the second M-21 was lost during the fourth TAGBOARD launch, when the drone collided with the launch aircraft. Pilot Bill Park ejected safely and was rescued 150 miles off Point Mugu, California. His LSO Ray Torick ejected but drowned before he could be rescued. The tragic loss of an aircraft and crewmember ended the use of OXCART as a launch aircraft, but it did not spell the end of TAGBOARD.
In 1967, the D-21 received a new lease on life. Under the SENIOR BOWL program, the drone was reconfigured for launch from a B-52 and redesignated D-21B. It was reconfigured for launch from inboard wing pylons and propelled to ramjet-ignition speed by a rocket booster. Two B-52H aircraft (60-0036 and 61-0021) from the 4200th Support Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California, were sent to Groom Lake for the test program. The unofficial first flight occurred on 28 September 1967, when a D-21B was accidentally dropped due to a mechanical failure. The first actual launch attempt took place 6 November. Flight-testing continued through July 1969. The program was terminated in 1971 after only four operational flights.
At some point during the late 1960s, Area 51 gained a new nickname: DREAMLAND. This purportedly was derived from DREAM-LAND, a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. It describes lakes that "endlessly outspread" with waters "lone and dead." More to the point, Poe admonishes that "the traveler, traveling through it, may not-dare not openly view it; Never its mysteries are exposed, to the weak human eye unclosed." Coincidence or not, it is certainly an apt description of Area 51.
Several A-12 airplanes were deployed from Area 51 to Kadena, Japan, for Operation Black Shield reconnaissance flights over Southeast Asia in 1967. One of the airplanes was lost during a training mission and the pilot presumed killed. Four A-12s had been lost in accidents at or near Area 51, but only one of these was fatal. The surviving airframes were retired in June 1968 and placed in storage at a Lockheed facility in Palmdale. The A-12 remained unknown to the public for 12 more years while the YF-12A and later SR-71 became some of the most famous airplanes in the world.

Red Hats

Beginning in the late 1960s, and for several decades, DREAMLAND played host to a motley assortment of Soviet-built aircraft. The first such program, in 1968, involved technical and tactical evaluations of a MiG-21F-13 that the Israeli Defense Forces had acquired from an Iraqi defector. Called HAVE DOUGHNUT, the project was a joint effort of the U.S. Air Force Systems Command, Tactical Air Command, and the U.S. Navy's Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four (VX-4). The MiG-21 was flown against nearly all U.S. combat aircraft types, allowing Air Force and Navy pilots to develop improved tactics for combating Eastern bloc aircraft.
A similar evaluation program in 1969, called HAVE DRILL/HAVE FERRY, involved two Syrian MiG-17F fighters. As in the earlier program, a small group of Air Force and Navy pilots conducted mock dogfights with the MiG-17. Selected instructors from the Navy's Top Gun school at NAS Miramar, California, were chosen to fly against the MiGs for familiarization purposes.
Testing of foreign technology aircraft continued and expanded throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Additional MiG-17, MiG-21, MiG-23, Su-7B, Su-22 and other aircraft underwent intensive evaluations. The 6513th Test Squadron Red Hats from the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards conducted technical evaluation sorties. The 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron Red Eagles, headquartered at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, performed tactical evaluations. In April 1984 Lt. Gen. Robert M. Bond, Vice Commander of Air Force Systems Command, lost his life in the crash of a MiG-23 during an orientation flight.
Area 51 also hosted another foreign materiel evaluation program called HAVE GLIB. This involved testing Soviet tracking and missile control radar systems. A complex of actual and replica Soviet-type threat systems began to grow around "Slater Lake" (the pond, which had been named after the former Roadrunners commander), a mile northwest of the main base. They were arranged to simulate a Soviet-style air defense complex.
The Air Force began funding improvements to Area 51 in 1977 under project SCORE EVENT. In 1979, the CIA transferred control of the test site to the AFFTC at Edwards. It was now a remote operating location of the Center, and was designated Detachment 3, AFFTC. Sam Mitchell, the last CIA commander of Area 51, relinquished command to Lt. Col. Larry D. McClain.

Pioneers of Stealth

In November 1977, a C-5 arrived at Groom Lake carrying the Lockheed HAVE BLUE prototype. HAVE BLUE was the first airplane designed to be virtually invisible to radar. The single-seat jet looked like a faceted arrowhead with two inwardly canted tail fins. Its boxy, angular fuselage and wings contributed to its low RCS. It was eventually covered with radar absorbent material (RAM). Such shaping and material treatments rendered the airplane "low observable" or "stealthy."
The first HAVE BLUE vehicle, Article 1001, was flown to demonstrate handling characteristics. The second was scheduled to carry out tests of the low observable (L.O.) characteristics. After arriving at the test site, Article 1001 underwent a few weeks of flight control, engine, and taxi tests. Every time HAVE BLUE was rolled out of its hangar, uncleared personnel at the base were sequestered to prevent them from seeing the aircraft.
HAVE BLUE first flew on 1 December 1977 with Lockheed test pilot Bill Park at the controls. Skunkworks chief Ben Rich, his predecessor "Kelly" Johnson, and Ken Perko of the Advanced Research Projects Agency were on hand to witness the event. The flight was also monitored by the White House Situation Room and Tactical Air Command Headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. Article 1001 completed 36 flights before being lost in a non-fatal accident.
Article 1002, the low observables technology demonstrator, made its first flight on 20 July 1978 piloted by Lt. Col. Norman "Ken" Dyson. It made 52 flights against sophisticated U.S. and Soviet ground-based radars, and the E-3 Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS). Article 1002 was lost on 11 July 1979 due to an engine fire. At the time of the accident only one final test flight had been scheduled for the HAVE BLUE program.
In October 1978, Lockheed conducted the first test of its stealth cruise missile, code named SENIOR PROM. Six prototypes were built. They somewhat resembled a subscale, unmanned version of the HAVE BLUE, but with outwardly-canted tails, narrow wings, and a single jet intake located where the cockpit would have been. The demonstrator models were launched from a DC-130. Thirteen test flights were made, and all six vehicles recovered. The recovery method involved deploying a ballistic parachute and inflating a ventral landing bag. Although the SENIOR PROM tests were successful, the contract for production of a stealthy Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM) went to the less expensive General Dynamics AGM-129A. SENIOR PROM was cancelled in 1981.
On 17 January 1981 the Lockheed test team at Groom Lake accepted delivery of the first SENIOR TREND Full Scale Development (FSD) prototype, Ship 780, designated YF-117A. Like the HAVE BLUE, it too resembled a faceted arrowhead, except that the tails were canted outward in a "V" shape. Ship 780 first flew on 18 June 1981 with Lockheed test pilot Hal Farley at the controls.
By early 1982, four more YF-117A airplanes were operating out of the southern end of the base, known as the "Southend" or "Baja Groom Lake." After finding a large scorpion in their offices, the test team adopted it as their mascot and dubbed themselves the "Baja Scorpions."
As the Baja Scorpions tested the FSD airframes, production F-117A aircraft were shipped to DREAMLAND for acceptance testing. Following functional check flights and L.O. verification, the operational airplanes were deployed to the 4450th Tactical Group at Tonopah Test Range, in the northwest corner of the Nellis Range.
While HAVE BLUE and SENIOR TREND were being put through their paces in Nevada, the Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Northrop Aircraft Corporation teamed up to develop a new aircraft. Code-named TACIT BLUE, it was originally designed as a technology demonstrator for a low-observable surveillance aircraft with a low-probability-of-intercept radar, and other sensors, that could operate close to the front line of battle with a high degree of survivability. Although plans for a stealthy surveillance aircraft were abandoned, TACIT BLUE provided important data that aided in the development of several other weapons systems. These included the B-2 advanced technology bomber, the AGM-137 Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile (TSSAM), and the PAVE MOVER program (which led to the development of the E-8 Joint-STARS aircraft). TACIT BLUE was the first aircraft to demonstrate a low RCS using curved surfaces.
Only one complete TACIT BLUE prototype was constructed. A second, partially completed, shell was built as a back up. The aircraft featured a curved upper surface with a flush dorsal intake. Twin turbofan engines gave it a cruising speed of about 260 miles per hour. TACIT BLUE sported tapered straight wings and two square fins in a widely spaced V-tail configuration. Flat, squared "platypus bills" on the nose and tail gave it a nearly rectangular planform. From the side, TACIT BLUE resembled a whale, complete with a blowhole. In fact, the TACIT BLUE team members nicknamed it "The Whale," and referred to themselves as "Whalers."
The nearly complete TACIT BLUE aircraft was trucked to the test site in several large crates for final assembly in Hangar 8. Northrop test pilot Richard G. Thomas, made the first flight of TACIT BLUE on 5 February 1982. TACIT BLUE made a total of 135 sorties, flown by a team of one contractor and four Air Force pilots. Thomas made 70 of the flights, including the 100th sortie on 27 April 1984. The final flight took place on 14 February 1985. Following a highly successful test program, the one-of-a-kind aircraft was stored in the Area 51 "boneyard." In April 1996, it was declassified and delivered to the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio for permanent display.

Expansion and Acquisition

Because Groom Lake's site population had grown substantially, the C-54 aircraft had become inadequate to transport all the personnel. The Air Force contracted EG&G Special Projects, McCarran Operations, in Las Vegas to transport commuters to DREAMLAND in a fleet of six Boeing 737-200s. These flights, using the call sign JANET, carried personnel and freight daily from Las Vegas, Palmdale, and Burbank to Groom Lake, and later Tonopah Test Range.
Beginning in 1979, the Air Force began actively discouraging, and at times preventing, any public or private entry to the Groom Mountains, north of Groom Lake. Air Force personnel claimed it was "in the interest of public safety and national defense." This was about the time the Air Force took control of the Groom Lake facility from the CIA. Not only were hunters and hikers excluded from the mountains north of Groom Lake, but also citizens with mining claims in the area. In 1981, the Air Force discreetly requested that 89,600 acres of land encompassing the range be legally withdrawn from public use. The process of approving this request took several years. It also resulted in a battle between the government, citizens, and various special interest groups (such as the Sierra Club). In the end, the government won.
By March 1984, government security personnel prohibited travel and controlled access along the Groom Lake road northeast of the lakebed. In August, the Groom Mountains withdrawal was approved subject to an environmental impact statement (EIS) and public hearings. Congress officially authorized the withdrawal in 1987, and the following year President Ronald Reagan signed legislation making the Groom Mountains part of the Nellis Air Force Range until 2003. None of the documentation (EIS, archeological surveys, etc.) mentioned Area 51 or the Groom Lake test facility.
As public access became increasingly restricted, facilities in the DREAMLAND complex increased dramatically in number and size. During the mid-1980s new dormitories were constructed to replace the Babbitt housing. Several large water tanks were added to supply the base. Hangar 18 was built near the south ramp. Four "Rubber Duck" temporary aircraft shelters were erected near the Southend for use by TAC personnel during F-117A acceptance tests. Many new facilities were built and, by the end of the decade the "Rubber Duck" shelters were replaced with metal hangars (Hangars 20 through 23). Recreational facilities expanded to include the softball diamond and movie theatre, as well as a swimming pool and tennis courts. The latter are located adjacent to Sam's Place, the local saloon and recreation center.
Runway 14/32 was extended 4,600 feet further southeast of the lakebed because the north end was subject to flooding during the rainy season. The runway now consisted of a 13,530-foot strip of concrete, 150 feet wide. The 10,000-foot hard asphalt extension and lakebed abort curve remained, but fell into disuse. The cost of maintaining the concrete runway became increasingly prohibitive. AFFTC leadership determined that the most cost effective solution would be to keep the southern half of the airstrip open until a new, parallel paved strip (runway 14L/32R) could be completed. The new concrete strip was constructed in 1991. It does not extend out onto the lakebed, but a lead-in line to the abort curve was marked on the lakebed. The northern half of the original runway (14R/32L) was closed, reducing its length to about 10,000 feet. It was finally closed along its entire length. In 2001 the South Delta Taxiway was marked as runway 12/30. It is approximately 5,420-feet-long and 150-feet-wide, with convenient access to the Southend ramp. A new central taxiway was constructed in 2003 to support runway 14L/32R.
The Groom Lake base received some unwanted publicity in 1994 when a number of former workers from the site sued the government. They claimed their health had been damaged by inhaling toxic fumes from the burning of waste materials in open trenches near the main base. For four months after the suit was filed, the government determinedly denied the existence of the base itself. Finally, however, it was forced to acknowledge that there was "an operating location at Groom Lake," but refused to provide a legal name for it citing "national security" concerns.
Air Force secretary Sheila Widnall declared that the facility "has no actual operating name per se." This was partially true. Since the Air Force had taken control of the facility in 1979 they had not used the name "Area 51," but instead simply referred to the operating location as DET 3, AFFTC,. Attorney Jonathan Turley tried on behalf of the plaintiffs to get the government to provide a legal name for the site, but was stymied at every turn.
The lawsuit forced the government to formally acknowledge the Groom Lake facility in order to keep its secrets. On 29 September 1995, President Bill Clinton signed Presidential Determination No. 95-45, which stated in part: "I find that it is in the paramount interest of the United States to exempt the United States Air Force's operating location near Groom Lake, Nevada from any applicable requirement for the disclosure to unauthorized persons of classified information concerning that operating location."

Space Invaders

Area 51's secret nature has bred rumor and speculation among fringe groups that believe the U.S. government is hiding captured extraterrestrial spacecraft, or even aliens (dead or alive) at the site. Such stories have been circulating since at least the late 1970s. Starting in 1989, groups of UFO believers began to camp out near the Nellis Range boundaries near Groom Lake to watch for "flying saucers."
As the news media caught wind of these "saucer base expeditions," print and television publicity was met with stony silence and terse denials from Air Force officials. This further fueled public speculation, spawned new rumors, and attracted still more publicity. Camera crews from around the world descended on the remote and forbidding Nevada desert. Local entrepreneurs capitalized on the situation by selling all manner of Area 51 souvenirs, videos, and visitor's guides.
The DET 3 security force, comprised of Air Force and civilian contractor personnel, worked overtime to intercept the "alien" invaders. A few civilians discovered that some nearby hilltops with a bird's-eye view of the secret base had been overlooked in the government's Groom Range land grab. Word quickly spread. Tourists sometimes camped on the hilltops 24 hours a day for days at a time. Flight test operations and even ground activities had to be postponed or cancelled. In April 1995, the Air Force seized 5,000 more acres of public land to prevent civilians from viewing the base.

Out of the Black, Into the Blue

While many current and historic programs at Dreamland remain classified, some information has been released to the public. Formal announcements, published technical papers, and official personnel biographies often reveal details of previously "black" projects. In the absence of official information, rumors abound.
The Northrop B-2 Spirit Advanced Technology Bomber has frequently been seen over DREAMLAND. Prototypes from the B-2 Combined Test Force at Edwards AFB and operational aircraft from a detachment of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, Missouri have flown against Soviet-type radar systems and the Dynamic Coherent Measurement System (DYCOMS). Known on-site as Project 100, this airborne RCS range has been used to measure the L.O. characteristics of all U.S. stealth aircraft from the F-117A to the F/A-22A.
Project HAVE GLASS was undertaken in 1982 to significantly reduce the RCS of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. A series of modifications included RAM coatings and fillings, reflective materials, and component shape changes. The results were verified using the DYCOMS.
In 1983 AeroVironment received CIA sponsorship to build a proof-of-concept high-altitude, solar-powered, radio-controlled UAV called HALSOL. It was essentially a rectangular flying wing made from lightweight materials. Initial test flights were powered by eight electric motors using silver-zinc batteries. HALSOL made nine test flights.
Maj. Frank T. Birk piloted the first flight of a "classified technology advanced demonstration prototype" at Groom Lake in 1983. He made the first flight and two additional flights for handling qualities evaluation and performance envelope expansion testing.
On 2 October 1992, the 413th Flight Test Squadron was activated at Edwards to provide test and evaluation capability for electronic warfare (EW) systems. This change supported a consolidation of all Air Force electronic combat assets in the western United States. The mission of the 413th included planning, providing for, and organizing worldwide ground and flight tests of EW systems and equipment. A detachment of the 413th FLTS conducted EW testing at Groom Lake. In May 2004 the 413th Flight Test Squadron was inactivated as part of another consolidation and realignment of EW assets that were then absorbed by the EW Directorate at Edwards.
In the early 1990s Dennis F. "Bones" Sager was handpicked to lead a "classified prototype aircraft" called the YF-113G from design to first flight. As a fighter pilot and experimental test pilot, Sager accumulated over 2,900 flight hours in 54 aircraft types including Soviet fighters at Groom Lake. He was first Air Force pilot to fly the YF-113G.
On October 18, 2002, Boeing uncloaked its secret Bird of Prey technology demonstrator that was used to pioneer revolutionary advances in low-observables, aircraft design, and rapid prototyping. The project, initiated in 1992, remained highly classified even after its conclusion in 1999. A Boeing spokesman announced that it had been declassified "because the technologies and capabilities developed [during the program] have become industry standards, and it is no longer necessary to conceal the aircraft's existence." Phantom Works chief test pilot Rudy Haug piloted the maiden flight of Bird of Prey in the fall of 1996. After McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing on August 1, 1997, The Boeing Company continued to fund the project. Three pilots flew only 38 missions between 1996and 1999.
Doug Benjamin, assigned to the Special Projects Flight Test Squadron, was the only Air Force pilot to fly the Bird of Prey. He flew 21 test flights including envelope expansion, mission utility, and tactical applications sorties. Following Benjamin's retirement from the military service in 2000, it was revealed that he had flown three other classified aircraft.
Joseph A. "Broadway Joe" Lanni flew first flights of two classified prototypes during the 1990s. One of them was designated YF-24. Between 1992 and 1997 he flew hundreds of sorties in 10 different classified aircraft to evaluate performance, flying qualities, avionics, and military utility. His assignment to the "Red Hats" during this time suggests that many of these aircraft were foreign types but some may have been entirely new aircraft.
There have also been reports of Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator (ACTD) projects undergoing flight tests at Groom Lake. Other projects at the site may include stealth helicopters, weapons development, unmanned aerial vehicles, and avionics testing.

Silent Service

For half a century, the Groom Lake test site has been a valuable asset for the development of aerospace vehicles and weapon systems. There, workers toil in relative isolation and inhospitable conditions to prove revolutionary technologies and enhance the readiness of today's warfighter and support national requirements.
Most non-permanent base residents commute to Groom Lake an Mondays, and often stay at the base until Thursday or Friday. Because of the sensitive nature of their work, they can't share their accomplishments with friends and family. Former base commander Col. Larry McClain summarized this burden of silence: "For it is the lot of some men to be assigned duties about which they may not speak. Such work is not for every man. But those who accept the burdens implicit in this silent labor realize a camaraderie and sense of value known to few. These memories cannot be stolen. They will last always, untarnished, ever better."
In his poem, "A Tribute to All the Whalers," J. E. Coleman describes DREAMLAND in this way:
Many projects tested at Groom Lake over the last five decades are still classified. The full story of this unique national asset may never be known. Nevertheless, DREAMLAND is beginning to yield its secrets at last.

Secret U.S. Aircraft Projects at Groom Lake

This article summarizes various rumors about secret U.S. air vehicles, which were possibly tested at the Groom Lake facility (a.k.a. "Area 51", and possibly officially known as "Watertown"). The data has been provided by sources, who claim to have inside information on Groom operations and have allegedly decided to lift the lid of secrecy a bit. However, the reader should always keep in mind, that the information is unverified and quite possibly distorted or plain wrong! To make this clear, every section is divided into two parts: Rumors, where the various claims are presented essentially "as is",  where I try to evaluate the plausibility of the claims. In this context, it must be noted that the major source for many projects on this page (Sentinel, Astra, Bright Star, COPPER COAST) made a brief statement in the past about the "Bird of Prey" program, calling it a "modified F-15". This has been proven wrong by the revelation of the Boeing "Bird of Prey" stealth technology testbed. This mistake (or deliberate disinformation?) casts further doubt on the other claims by this source.
For information about programs, for which more substantial evidence exists, see the excellent article "Black Projects at Groom Lake: Into the 21st Century" by Peter W. Merlin.

F-121 Sentinel


This aircraft was built by General Dynamics (Fort Worth), now part of Lockheed Martin, and first flew in 1986. It is a single-seat Mach 3+ reconnaissance aircraft for NRO, and significantly more stealthy than the SR-71A. It is of almost perfect delta planform with 65° leading edge sweep, and its ventral air intake is highly blended into the fuselage. As of 2001, four of these aircraft were operationally based at Groom in hangars 20 through 23.
The unofficial F-121 designator was allocated after Lockheed Martin took over the GD Fort Worth assets, and the 121 is said to honor the Lockheed article number of the first A-12 Blackbird aircraft. The F prefix is widely used for bogus designations of secret aircraft, and is not meant to designate the Sentinel as a "Fighter". The code name "Centennial" was also mentioned for this aircraft.
Image: Hughes Electronics

The above image is part of a Hughes Electronics artwork showing various systems for which Hughes provided electronic and/or reconnaissance equipment. The large outlined delta shape is the F-121. The aircraft has been sighted on several occasions. The most widely publicized events were a sighting by Chris Gibson over the North Sea in 1989, and by Meinrad Eberle (a.k.a. Swiss Montain Bat) on 8 September 1999 from Tikaboo Peak.
Photo: NASA/Langley via Dreamland Resort
NASA wind tunnel model of a 65° delta

Below are pictures of a model of the F-121, which was built by Byron Salisbury based on sighting reports. The model has a fair number of inaccuracies (e.g., the F-121 has no overwing engine housings and ventral fins), but illustrates the basic design relatively well.

Photos: via FAS

If the Hughes graphic is genuine, this aircraft was at least on the drawing boards. If it was actually built, it is definitely an excellent candidate to explain sightings of "large triangular" unknown aircraft. However, there are many major problems with the story: the timeline, a whole group of operational aircraft at Groom Lake, and last but not least the statement that the F-121 was "for NRO" - the National Reconnaissance Office operates spy satellites, but no aircraft!
The alleged names and designations also look rather suspicious. The "F-121" label and its background is highly dubious, and the reported names "Centennial" and "Sentinel" sound rather similar - one of them is probably just a garbled variant of the other one.
Although it is quite possible that one (or more) large delta-winged aircraft were/are flying in secret (because of various unconfirmed sightings), any actual names and configurations are still completely unknown (see also Snow Bird). All said, I think it's highly unlikely that the rumored story of the "F-121" comes anywhere near the truth.

A-11 Astra


The A-11 Astra is a stealthy replacement for the F-111 Aardvark. It is described as a long highly-swept delta with a serrated trailing edge. Forward-swept rudders are mounted on articulated pylons extending from the trailing edge, and flush ventral air intakes are located near the leading edge. The design is less faceted than the F-117. Characteristics are similar to those quoted for the ATA-B proposal of 1978. The Astra was still in production in 2001, and three aircraft were at Groom at that time for continued developmental testing.

There are some indications, including sighting reports, that an aircraft with the claimed characteristics could actually exist. However, it is also said that the aircraft looks very similar to an F-117A (from some angles, at least) except for its size. Because it is almost impossible to estimate the dimensions of an aircraft in the sky without a known reference, any sighting might easily have been just a mis-identification of an F-117A. Also, the claims that (a) the "A-11" is essentially using 1980s stealth technology, (b) was still in production in 2001, and (c) has not been made public, simply don't add up.
Finally, the "A-11" designation (filling the gap between the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the cancelled A-12 Avenger II) and "Astra" name are very dubious. In the past, the USAF has never allocated a standard aircraft designator to a classified aircraft (for obvious reasons), and the "Astra" label has been associated by Black Projects researchers and the "UFO community" to all sorts of claims, including rather outlandish ones.
The "A-11 Astra" rumors are probably a medley of various more or less unfounded claims, which someone has unsuccessfully tried to connect into a coherent story.

Bright Star


The Bright Star is a private venture of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. It is a Mach 2+ supersonic cruise/sonic boom research aircraft, which was used by the Skunk Works to raise DARPA's interest in QSP (Quiet Supersonic Platform) research. Although it is not a DOD project, the USAF provides some support (at least by providing a secret flight test location). The Bright Star has been flying for many years, and was the cause of some of the unexplained sonic booms over the western USA. The Bright Star is the most plausible cause for many so-called "Aurora" sightings.
The aircraft was photographed at least twice, at Groom Lake by Andreas von Retyi in 1995 from Tikaboo Peak, and by an unidentified source who made this long distance photograph:
Photo: ???

Bright Star is said to be the cause for the famous "Donuts-On-A-Rope" contrails (for photos, see this page), often reported together with a "rumbling" sound. The rumbling is generated by the vehicle in the transoinc speed region, and is essentially a series of low-amplitude sonic booms at a frequency of 1 to 3 Hz. The "donut" contrail is formed by water vapor captured in the shock wave. The "pulsating" sonic boom is directly responsible for both the characteristic sound of the aircraft, and the "strange-looking" contrails.

The photo of unknown origin is inconclusive at best, and might just as well show another delta-winged aircraft (e.g. a QF-106 drone). The "Donuts-On-A-Rope" contrails are highly controversial, and it is far from certain that they have been produced by an undisclosed type of propulsion system. However, the von Retyi photo does indeed show a large white aircraft. So even if the background story and name of Bright Star is all made up (which it may or may not be), we have at least one genuine unidentified aircraft.

HGV (Hypersonic Glide Vehicle)


The HGV was a recoverable unmanned rocket-powered hypersonic vehicle, contracted in 1979/80 to the UAB (Unmanned Aircraft Bureau) of the Lockheed Skunk Works. It could achieve a speed of Mach 18 and a range of 8000 km (5000 miles) when launched from 20000 m (68000 ft) by a highly modified B-52H. At one time it was planned to develop the HGV into a survivable quick reaction nuclear strike weapon with a payload of two or three nuclear warheads. Some sightings of HGV flight tests were reported during 1989/90. The HGV was about 9 m (30 ft) long, had 75° delta wings, and four vertical tails. It also featured an extendable aero-spike (similar to the Trident SLBM) to reduce hypersonic drag.

It is certain, that the HGV existed as a project, but actual flights were never officially announced. For additional information on the HGV program, including an unofficial image, see this page.



Snow Bird is a very high-speed (Mach 3.5+ cruise) reconnaissance aircraft, which was developed out of the so-called BRILLIANT BUZZARD as a replacement for the SR-71. The name apparently refers to its color (white thermal protection tiles). BRILLIANT BUZZARD (possibly not the real code name) resembled a flying wedge with twin vertical stabilizers. Snow Bird is somewhat similar, but is possibly slightly more rounded externally. It's delta wing planform is roughly similar to that of the Concorde, and it has ventral intakes and inward-canted twin vertical tails. It was flying in late 1999.

This is yet another claim about fast delta-winged aircraft (see also Sentinel). Although it is quite possible that one (or more) large delta-winged aircraft were/are flying in secret (because of various unconfirmed sightings), any actual names and configurations are still completely unknown. The Snow Bird story appears to be just another variation of the "secret SR-71 replacement" theme, although in this case no claims are made about actual operational aircraft (which is more realistic, therefore slightly adding to the otherwise marginal credibility of the rumors).


In the mid-1970s, NASA studied hypersonic vehicles as follow-on projects to the X-24B lifting body under the general "X-24C" designation. Lockheed Skunk Works' concept for the X-24C was the L301 design. The L301 was to be rocket and/or scramjet powered, and was designed for speeds of up to Mach 6.65 at 28000 m (92000 ft) altitude. In September 1977, the X-24C/L301 project was officially cancelled for lack of funding, thus ending the documented history of the L301 in the "white world".
Photo: NASA

Drawings: Lockheed
Lockheed X-24C/L301 design


After official cancellation, the DOD took over the L301, and development was continued under the highly classified project COPPER COAST. Lockheed also studied operational derivatives of the L301 as potential successors to the SR-71. These studies included designs for Mach 4 at 60 km (200,000 ft) and Mach 7 at 75 km (250,000 feet). An L301/COPPER COAST test vehicle, slightly different from the published configuration shown in the drawings, was actually built, and it first flew in 1981. The planned operational derivatives of the COPPER COAST vehicle were cancelled, however, because the contract for the SR-71 successor went to General Dynamics with their Sentinel design (see F-121).
The L301/COPPER COAST flight test program was run by NASA-Dryden, and in the later flight test phase the NASA referred to the vehicle as SYNCON (Synergetic Configuration). NASA also planned waverider designs as follow-on projects to the L301. The photo below is said to show a wind tunnel model of such a design.
Photo: NASA via FAS

There are no hints whatsoever in open references, that the X-24C/L301 project was continued in any way after its official cancellation. And the notion that NASA runs a flight test program so secret, that even its existence is classified, also doesn't sound very plausible. Therefore the credibility of the L301/COPPER COAST rumors is close to zero.

Was the “First Photographed UFO” a Comet?

First photograph of a UFO sighting, taken 12 August 1883 by Jose Bonilla.
First photograph of a UFO sighting, taken 12 August 1883 by Jose Bonilla.
On August 12th, 1883, Mexican astronomer José Bonilla was preparing to study the Sun at the recently opened Zacatecas Observatory. However, the Sun’s surface was marred by numerous objects quickly travelling across its disk. Over the course of the day and the next, Bonilla exposed several wet plates to take images of the 447 objects he would observe. They weren’t released publicly until January 1st, 1886 when they were published in the magazine L’Astronomie. Since then, UFOlogists have crowed these photographs as the first photographic evidence of UFOs. The chief editor of L’Astronomie passed the observations off as migrating animals, but a new study proposes the observation was due to the breakup of a comet that nearly hit us.

The only piece of evidence the authors, led by Hector Manterola at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, use to suggest that this was a comet in the process of breaking up, was the descriptions of the objects as being “fuzzy” in nature and leaving dark trails behind them. Assuming this were the case, the authors consider how close the object would have been. Since astronomers at observatories in Mexico City, or Puebla had not reported the objects, this would imply that they did not cross the disc of the Sun from these locations due to parallax. As such, the maximum distance the object could have been is roughly 80,000 km, roughly 1/5th the distance to the moon.
But the team suggests the fragments may have passed even closer. By the time comets reach the inner solar system, they have a significant velocity of some tens of kilometers per second. In such a case, to transverse the disc of the Sun in the time reported by Bonilla (a third to a full second), the object would have been, at most, at a distance of ~8,000km.
At such distances, the overall size of the fragments would be in rough agreement of sizes of other fragmented comets such as 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, which gave off several fragments in 2006. Based on the number of fragments, estimated sizes, and density of an average comet, the authors estimate that the mass may be anywhere between 2 x 1012 and 8 x 1015 kg. While this is a very large range (three orders of magnitude), it roughly brackets the range of known comets, again making it plausible. The upper range of this mass estimate is on par with Mars’ moon Deimos, which is generally held to be similar in mass to the progenitor of the impact that killed the dinosaurs.
One oddity is that one would likely expect such a close breakup to result in a meteor storm. The timing of these events is just before the annual Perseid meteor shower, but reports for that year, such as this one, do not depict it as being exceptional, or having a different radiant than should be expected. Instead, it notes that 157 of the 186 meteors observed on the 11th were definitively Perseids, and that the “year’s display cannot be reckoned as a fine one by any means.” Meanwhile, the Leonid meteor shower (peaking in November), was exceptional that year, generating an estimated 1,000 meteors an hour, but again, no records seem to indicate an unusual origin.
In total, I find the characterization of Bonilla’s observation as a comet plausible, but generally unconvincing. However, if it were a fragmented comet, we’re very lucky it wasn’t any closer.

Night of the Wicked Priest

It was late when Valery Denny left work to board the commuter train.
“I just wanted to go home,” she said aloud to herself as she stepped out of her office door that early October San Francisco night. It was 8 p.m. Working on emails through her cell phone as Denny, thirty-four, boarded the train, she didn’t know she walked onto the wrong one. “I noticed immediately when the train departed and the driver announced which line we were on,” she said. “I began to make my way to the doors to exit the train at its next stop. It was then that I noticed a man who was sitting a couple of rows away.”
She immediately sensed something was wrong with that man. “This being public transportation, you get all sorts of perverts, weirdoes and colorful folks,” she said. “It becomes commonplace to see strange people. For some reason, this man sent a chill up my spine.”
The man wore a black priest’s habit, which wasn’t unusual. Denny had seen plenty of priests, nuns and monks on the train. “But something about him frightened me,” she said. “His skin was impossibly pale and wet looking, as though he was sick. He had a strange smile on his face that I can only describe as menacing.”
She studied the staring man from the corner of her eye. A large, dark birthmark covered a quarter of the man’s face and ran down his neck. Wispy hair lightly decorated his head. As the train approached the station, Denny caught her breath. The man had noticed her watching him.
“Before I stepped off the train he puckered up his lips as though blowing me a kiss,” Denny said. “I brushed it off as just some crazy person on the train and waited at the platform for the next train.” Her train soon pulled to a stop at the platform; Denny boarded and took a seat in the back. Few people dotted the seats in the car. “Mentally exhausted after a long day, I opted not to read my book or go back to email, but to instead sit and relax,” she said. “No one came into my car at any of the stops along the way, nor did anyone already on the train enter my car.”
But suddenly someone was there – someone who shouldn’t be. “As we traveled through the Transbay tube heading out to Oakland, I leaned down to dig around in my bag for my bottle of
water,” she said. “When I righted myself, I saw the man in the priest robe sitting five or six rows away from me. I was stunned.” The man hadn’t exited the original train behind Denny and he didn’t get on this car behind her.
“I knew for a fact that he hadn’t been there moments earlier because from where I was sitting,” she said. “I could see, literally, everyone there. He could not have entered through the opposite connecting doors and gotten to where he was sitting in the amount of time it took for me to lean down, open my bag, grab my bottle and sit back up. I was absolutely stunned.”
And he was staring at her.
“I tried to ignore him, drank my water, looked out the window and fiddled with my phone,” she said. “Every time I glanced up, he was still staring at me.”
Stop after stop the few people in Denny’s car trickled out, leaving her with the “priest.” As her stop approached, thoughts of this man stepping off the train after her, and following her home filled her with terror. “I waited until the last possible second when I was sure that he wasn’t standing to leave before I ran off the train,” she said. “To my relief, he didn’t follow.”
Denny jogged up the stairs from the platform toward the exit, stopping only to buy a transit card for the next day. She turned. The man hadn’t followed her.
“As I was finishing up, I heard a man’s voice asking for change,” she said. “I turned toward the exit and saw a homeless person sitting on the ground with a blanket wrapped around him.
As I passed by, he said ‘I just want to go home.’”
The homeless man’s words slowed her step and dragged her attention towards him. She’d said those exact words herself as she left work almost an hour ago, right before the “priest” invaded her night. “I glanced down. Staring up at me from the blanket was the face of the priest, only wearing a dirty sweatshirt instead of the robes,” Denny said. “It was identical. The same eerie, waxy skin, the same birthmark, the same thin hair – everything.”
The homeless man looked up into Denny’s eyes, his own eyes blue; a blue so pale the entire surface of the eye seemed white. Again he said, “I just want to go home.”
“I backed away absolutely shocked and horrified,” Denny said. “He puckered up his lips as if to blow me a kiss.” Denny turned and ran, not stopping until she locked her apartment door behind her. “To this day, I have no idea what happened,” she said. “If the priest had not been so distinct looking, I could have passed this off as my tired brain playing tricks on me. But not only was he the same person, he repeated a phrase I had said to myself earlier that evening and did the same kiss blowing gesture.”
Denny car pooled to work the next week, avoiding public transportation. “It was a truly upsetting, unexplained and frightening experience,” she said.
Who or what was this waxy-faced priest who followed Denny that night in October, masquerading as a homeless man, and repeating the last words she spoke aloud, only to herself?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Murphysboro Mud Monster

Around midnight on June 25, 1973, a young couple was parked by a desolate riverside for a romantic interlude when they came face to face with a huge, wet, hairy, mud-slathered monstrosity with a penchant for disturbing teenage lovers.

During two harrowing weeks in the summer of 1973, the rural town of Murphysboro, Illinois became the epicenter of a terrifying series of encounters with a huge, albino beast, which would come to be known as the “Murphysboro Mud Monster” or the “Big Muddy Monster.”

This bizarre beast tormented the citizens of this small community for approximately fourteen days before its reign of terror abruptly ended, resulting in one of the strangest and, in some ways, most frightening cases in the history of hairy hominid research.

The first official encounter with this decidedly unhygienic beast occurred at approximately midnight on the on June 25th, 1973. A youthful couple, Randy Needham and Judy Johnson, who were parked at the foot of 23rd Street, in Riverside Park, near the town’s old boat ramp overlooking the Big Muddy River.

According to their account, Johnson claimed that they were listening to the radio, engaged in a debate about when they should leave and, presumably, doing what couples are want to do, when they heard a piercing roar (which Needham compared to an “eagle shrieking into a microphone”) that seemed to emanate from the thick underbrush not far from his car. Needham quickly snapped off the radio and scanned the area, listening intently.

Suddenly, another horrific shriek echoed through the night accompanied by a rattling of the brushwood in front of them. Needham flicked on his headlights and Johnson gasped as they both saw a huge, foul scented creature lumbering toward them...a creature whose very existence would tax the limits of their imaginations.

Needham wasted no time in starting his car and accelerating away from the scene with his frightened girlfriend. As the pair entered more civilized territory they made a beeline for the Murphysboro Police Station.

Monsters of Illinois: Mysterious Creatures in the Prairie State

The couple arrived at the station and made out what is known as an “unknown creature” report, describing a beast that looked like an “over-sized gorilla,” which they estimated to be almost 8-feet tall, with matted, mud streaked, white hair. Former patrolman, now retired Murphysboro police Chief, Ron Manwaring, was still able to recite the facts of this strange incident from memory almost three decades later:

“The first report came in just before midnight on June 25. A couple had been ‘parked’ near the boat dock on the southwestern edge of Riverside Park, next to the woods.”

“The two, who were not married, said they were in the car when they heard a loud screaming sound in the wooded area and observed a large creature approximately 7- feet tall. The creature appeared to have light-colored hair matted with mud. The creature appeared to be walking on two legs and was proceeding toward his car.”

Manwaring felt that the couple’s account was lent credibility due to the fact they risked exposing their alleged indiscretions...which would no doubt bring them public ridicule and, even more alarmingly, Johnson’s father’s wrath. They were so frightened by what they had seen by the river: “There was no advantage for them to come up and report this.”

While the officers who took down Needham and Johnson’s statement were understandably skeptical of the event, they dutifully sent out two patrolmen, Meryl Lindsay and Jimmie Nash, to investigate their report. Within minutes of the sighting the officers arrived at the boat ramp in the Riverside Park area to inspect the scene.

History, Mystery, and Hauntings of Southern Illinois

Officer Nash was the first to discover a plethora of “peculiar” tracks, “approximately 10 to 12-inches long and approximately three inches wide”, deeply impressed in the mud by the riverbank. Nash claimed that as he bent over to inspect the prints from a closer vantage point he was shocked to hear a horrifyingly shrill screech nearby. Nash took off posthaste, accidentally dropping his revolver in his panic.

The officer, who admitted that he initially thought the story to be little more than hogwash, described the hideous sound as: “The most incredible shriek I’ve ever heard. It was in those bushes. It was no bobcat or screech owl. We hightailed it out of there.”

Nash and Lindsay quickly went back to the station to report their findings and gather more men for a search party. The officers later estimated that whatever had made that sharp cry was no more than 300-feet away from them.

Approximately two hours later, at 2:00 am. on the 26th of June, officers Nash and Lindsay returned to the scene accompanied by officer Bob Scott and Needham. The quartet swiftly discovered another spate of tracks near the river. As Lindsay ran back to the patrol car to retrieve a camera the rest of the group intrepidly followed the prints along the bank.

Without warning, the stillness of the black night was shattered by the same horrible scream that Needham and Nash had heard earlier. Fear rapidly usurped curiosity as the trio of men summarily abandoned their search and raced back to the patrol car for safety.

Tales and Trails of Illinois

After huddling in the car for what must have felt like an eternity. No doubt waiting for the beast to attack, the men managed to regain their courage and continued their pursuit of this enigmatic monster once more. This mini-posse worked until dawn trying to track down the “splashing” sounds, which they described as being like a large creature rushing through the knee-deep water in the no avail.

As the sun rose, the officers felt that this so-called “monster” would evaporate with the rest of the night-shadows, never to be seen again, but this presumably nocturnal fiend had a surprise in store for them.

At approximately 10:30 pm. on the evening of June 26th, 5 year-old Christian Baril was playing in his backyard, which was located relatively close to the Big Muddy River, attempting to catch fireflies in the glass jar his mother had given him.

The child frolicked about delightedly when he spied a colossal, white shape looming up from behind the fence that separated his yard from the neighbor’s property...the Ray family.

The terrified Baril dropped his jar and raced inside, crying out: “Daddy, Daddy! There’s a big ghost in the backyard!” The child’s father was understandably dubious of his son’s story, that was, until, his neighbors corroborated the tale.

This account of a terrifying backyard encounter is uncannily similar to one that befell another young Illinois boy named Greg Garrett just a few months earlier on April 25th, 1973.

Garrett claimed to have been attacked while playing in his backyard by a truly bizarre, slimy, three-legged beast known as the 'Enfield Horror'. Like Baril, Garrett immediately retreated to the relative safety of his parent’s house.

While Baril was sobbing in his father’s arms, teenager Cheryl Ray was sitting on her darkened back porch next door with her young suitor, Randy Creath. The pair claimed that they were talking and looking at the stars when they heard a rustling in the bushes about 15-feet away from the porch.

Assuming that is was neighborhood kids come to spy on them; an enraged Ray went inside to turn on the porch light, while Creath, the son of a state trooper, now a minister at the First Baptish Church in Sheffield, Iowa, leapt to his feet and opened the door. This intention vanished the moment that the light came on revealing the same appalling apparition that had terrified Baril just minutes before — as well as Needham and Johnson the previous night. Ray recounted the scene:

“Randy and I were sitting in my parents’ breezeway when we heard something in the woods. We both went down, but Randy was walking a little bit ahead. Then he said ‘Come here,’ and there it was. We stood there looking at it.”

Creath and Ray stood frozen with shock as this filthy, white monstrosity seemed to stare back at them. Creath recalled the moment vividly:

“The thing I remember was the bulk of it, the shape, the human form, and the stench of the river slime it apparently had on it. It was about eight feet tall, and at least as stocky as NY football player. We were within 15-feet of it, close enough to see the body, the texture of the fur, long and hairy, like an English sheepdog.”

Ray also described the beast, which she claimed bore inhuman features and stood more erect than an ape:

“It was real tall, hairy. I think it was white, but it was dirty, matted. It had a real bad odor. It was really rank. I never smelled anything like it. It seemed like an eternity we stood there, and then it just turned around and walked off into the woods. We could hear it trampling through the woods.”

Creath claimed that the “animal” stared at them for what felt like a long time, although he later estimated that the incident lasted only about 30 seconds. Both agreed that the creature had “glowing red eyes,” which Creath accredited to the glow of a distant streetlight.

This description of the eyes is significant if one is to assume that the Murphysboro Mud Monster is actually a prototypical Bigfoot-like creature that just happens to be albino. While pink eyes are a common trait in animals lacking pigmentation, Ray would insist that this beast’s eyes were actually “glowing” and were not reflecting light from some other source.

After this strange interaction, the couple claimed that the shaggy beast simply turned and pushed through the shrubbery, thrashing its way back to the nearby river.

Creath and Ray testified that the creature they saw weighed at least 350-pounds, stood about 7-feet tall. They also stated that it had a “roundish” head and long, gorilla-like arms. Officers Nash and Manwaring were swiftly dispatched to the scene, where they noticed a powerful odor that quickly dissipated. They also found a cluster of footprints where the creature had been lurking.

Following the officer’s discovery, Chief Toby Berger immediately dispatched the rest of his men to the scene then sent for an officer and trained dog handler with the nearby Carbondale Police Department, a man named Jerry Nellis.

Nellis was the owner of a tough German Shepard named “Reb,” who had assisted the Murphysboro police in the past as a search and rescue, attack dog and, most pertinently, as a tracker.

The officers discovered a trail of unidentified “black slime” that seemed to lead directly from the Ray’s back porch to the river. Officer Manwaring confirmed the existence of this still unknown material:

“I saw this substance and smelled the smell myself.”

Almost instantly, Reb picked up the scent of his prey and took off. The men then followed the dog down the recently forged path of broken tree limbs and trampled underbrush toward their bizarre quarry.

The dog managed to track the monster through the dense forest and down a steep embankment toward a small pond, but the brush became too thick for it to continue. The officers began searching the area with flashlights for clues as to where this creature might have escaped, but in no time Reb picked up the scent again.

The determined dog darted toward an abandoned barn on the Bullar property, which was located just east of the Ray’s house and a little north of the river, but once he got to the decaying door the usually courageous canine began trembling and yelping with fear.

This mystified both Nellis and the officers who had noted over the years that Reb was the most relentless tracking dog in the county. Nellis attempted to grab the dog by the scruff of his neck and thrust him through the open door of the barn, but Reb just dropped to his belly and scampered backwards, whimpering.

The usually bold Reb’s terrified reaction to whatever lurked within the barn was enough to convince Chief Berger to call in the “troops.”

He radioed for help from neighboring police departments and within hours a dozen patrol cars had responded to his call.

Unfortunately, in the time that had elapsed between Reb’s fearful display the arrival of backup, whatever it was that had hidden in the barn managed to slip out through the back. Not long after, the search was called off for the night and the disappointed officers returned to their home bases.

But this would not mark the end of the Murphysboro Mud Monster saga as sightings of this mysterious man-beast were reported two more times during the next week and a half. Berger claims that during this period he was worried less about the monster and more about one of the 10,000 Murphysboro residents shooting another in one of the many armed posses that seemed to spring up like wildfire.

The next reported encounter with the beast occurred approximately 10 days later after a traveling carnival set up camp in Riverside Park. The carnival workers chose a pleasant glade near the river between the boat ramp and the sewage treatment plant located below the Ray house.

Haunted Places: The National Directory: Ghostly Abodes, Sacred Sites, UFO Landings and Other Supernatural Locations

At 2:00 am. on July 7th, long after the carnival had closed up for the night, three carnies, Otis Norris, Ray Adkerson and Wesley Lavender, where sitting behind one of the carnival trucks discussing the day’s receipts when they heard a series of whinnies coming from the Shetland ponies that were tied to the bramble on the other side of the truck.

The men quickly got up to see what the commotion was all about and were shocked to find the usually docile ponies where in a tizzy with their eyes rolling in terror, furiously tugging at their ropes in a desperate bid to free themselves from their constraints. It wasn’t long before the carnies would see what the frenzy was all about.

The men maintained that they spied an 8-foot, 400 lbs. creature that seemed to be “calmly” watching the ponies. The men decided not to wait around to see what happened next and immediately ran for help, claiming that the monster also ran in the opposite direction.

About an hour later, one of the carnival workers called in to help deal with this beast, Charles Kimbal, claimed that he saw the creature once again staring at ponies with its head cocked to the side in what was described as a “deeply curious” pose.

While this would prove to be the last “eyewitness” report of the creature, its reign of fear was not quite complete. Later that same night a woman named Nedra Green asserted that she heard a screaming sound coming from a shed on her rural farm. She chose to remain inside her home rather than go out to investigate.

Berger’s concerns for the townsfolk’s safety led to a request from the town fathers to bring in “expert” help.

The man they chose for the job was St. Louis insurance agent and serious researcher of Sasquatch reports Harkan Sorkin. Sorkin led a group of five men, including reporters from the Kansas City Star and a lawyer, into the woods near Murphysboro in the fall of 1973, in an effort to track and possibly capture the Murphysboro Mud Monster.

Sorkin claimed that private groups had offered as much as $2.5 million for the creature’s capture. With that in mind this small expedition came armed with a stun gun with the capacity to take down a for a 500-pound animal, as well as chocolate and bananas, which Sorkin stated they would use to pacify the beast.

They also carried loaded shotguns, which they claimed would only be used if their safety were threatened. Sorkin further claimed that they had local zoos standing by and that arrangements had been made for a cage to be flown in by helicopter should they get lucky and manage to imprison the monster.

Needless to say, this mini-expedition met with very little success. Sorkin asserted that they heard “a very loud yell or guttural sound, between a roar and a bellow” and saw huge footprints and found two-inch saplings pulled out of the ground.

Of course, it wasn’t long before the press got their talons into this tale of a colossal, mud-caked critter. The local paper, The Southern Illinoisan, ran a small story on the search, which was eventually picked up by the New York Times.

Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman investigated the sightings in the 1970s and came to the conclusion that the Mud Monster was a Bigfoot-type creature, stating: “I think it’s within the context of other reports of a Bigfoot.”

Coleman also felt that the Murphysboro Mud Monster represented a distinct type of ape-like creature distinct from its west coast counterparts in that they are known to be more aggressive: “There’s something very unique about this eastern-midwestern Bigfoot. From the reports from the Mud Monster it seemed to frighten people the way it didn’t in the west.”

Over the next three years there were sporadic reports throughout the area of animals that resembled the Mud Monster. Perhaps the most intriguing of these sightings occurred on January 26th, 1975, when four truckers, all of whom were traveling separately, radioed in reports of seeing a bizarre “bear-like” creature near the Illinois 149 junction west of Murphysboro.

On July 7th, 1975, two Murphysboro men reported a sighting of a strange creature that they believed may have been the Big Muddy Monster near a pond in the Harrison community, north of Murphysboro. Needless to say these isolated events in no way compared to the tremendous flap of encounters that had plagued the community in the summer of ’73.

The case of the Mud Monster is just one of two cases that remain unsolved in the history of the Murphysboro Police Department. Police Chief Berger puts it most succinctly when he said: “A lot of things in life are unexplained, and this is another one. We don’t know what the creature is, but we do believe what these people saw was real.” - - -