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Project Identification Part 2 : Phase 1-Weird Photos, Unnerving Aircraft & Cunning Lights



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A bit more about the Osage Nation before continuing with Part 2 of Project Identification in order as a further introduction to the Piedmont region.


The Osage consider the Ozarks, on either side of the Missouri/Arkansas state line, to be their home ground, their fortress. Some members of the nation participated in the Mississippian Cultures responsible for many of the cities and mound works both east and west of the Ozarks proper. Other members did not.


As those cities began to fade, the last one being occupied sometime in the early 15th century by our reckoning, the Osage still used the old trade roads linking the largest of these cities to travel east to the Mississippi for trade and west out into the plains to hunt for buffalo.


When their hunting and trading was complete, they'd return to the shelter of these ancient Ozark hills. It was difficult to drive them out and some managed to stay. The official "home"of the Osage Nation is now in Oklahoma, but they remember their old homeland in the hills.


This is also part of the background of the Piedmont area as it forms the eastern boundary of the Ozarks, a mountainous formation that is older than Appalachia, older indeed, than the rings of Saturn.


The field work for Project Identification officially “began” on May 21st, 1973 after the college spring session had ended and before summer school commenced. By then funding from the St Louis paper had been procured, Rutledge had assembled his team, reserved motel space and was more or less, ready to go.

He planned on a three-week effort which would enable the team to gather data that could be analyzed later in the summer. He expected some complications, but it would get more interesting than he could have imagined.


His last reconnaissance mission to Piedmont should have been a clue. On May 18, 1973, Rutledge had decided to go back one more time beforehand. By his own accounting he had experienced over a dozen sightings of mysterious lights, in the Piedmont area, by that time.

However, he hadn’t really gotten pictures of anything yet, so he picked up two buddies, John and Robert Adams and the trio set out with Pyle’s Mountain as a vantage point in mind. The three of them had probably over a dozen various cameras and binoculars between them and they set up on a concrete slab that was used by anyone who wanted to enjoy the view.


John saw the amber light first. They had been shooting the breeze with a couple who had also arrived on the mountain in the hopes of seeing something. The light came from the southeast, above the tree line and seemed to be coming pretty much at the group directly, perpendicular to the line of trees in front of them. Rutledge, Robert and John began to take various time exposures of the light using almost all of their cameras in succession.

Suddenly, the light turned 90 degrees and began to move away from them along and just above the tree line. It was relatively close, probably less than 5 miles away (triangulation was impossible with only one station of observers), just above the tree line, maybe about 80 ft up, and completely silent.

The turn was made instantaneously, without seeming hesitation or inertia, and depending on distance, the speed was later calculated at between 166 to about 330 miles per hour. Everyone was able to get some shots of the light before it disappeared into the growing darkness.


The consternation came when the film was developed. All in all, 5 good exposures were obtained. Yet, none of the photographic plates showed the same pattern of light (all were time-lapse) and there was a significant difference between what Bob was able to observe through his high-powered binoculars (a whirling light with shifts), what the observers saw on the ground and then what the photographic plates recorded.

For example, one exposure, taken with Kodachrome, ASA 64 film, showed largely what one might expect of a time-lapse photo of a nocturnal light: there’s basically a semi-solid line, although it exhibited an interesting color variation in the lower trail section of the line.

However, the very same light, taken at the same time by a different camera with a longer exposure, using Kodak 2475, ASA 1000 film, showed instead a pattern of discrete lights that appear to jump around a bit while the light progressed. If anything, the solid line should have been MORE distinct, but instead was less.


There were several other anomalies in the photos, which Rutledge goes into great technical detail to explain (some of which might be lost on individuals who do not, or no longer, understand the specifics of different cameras and film). They accounted for lens flare and other potential artifacts.

As the light moved away from them, the photos appeared to show the light “jiggling” in a manner that was completely undetectable to the naked eye, but might be very familiar to individuals who have seen the photos of Dorothy Wilkenson-Izatt or have tried to photograph close nocturnal lights in Pine Bush, NY.


The photographic evidence was so unusual that Rutledge spends an entire chapter describing the whole story including the minute analysis of several photos in the process.


Given this experience, and in an optimistic mood, Rutledge called the opening phase of Project Identification, Operation Intercept, which began on Monday, May 21, 1973. The first three days, which entailed setting the team up, establishing responsibilities and various reporting procedures, didn’t go as planned.

Although some interesting initial sightings were made, various logistical issues, such as a bizarre miscommunication on the part of someone somewhere on their use of a local airfield, made it difficult for the team to really get anything substantive done.


Days 4 and 5 yielded the best results for the team overall but the sightings were particularly unnerving and unexpected. Observer stations were set up at two locations in Piedmont, one in Farmington, one at Williamsville and one at Sam A Baker State Park, so there was good deployment in the field.

Rutledge decided to travel to Farmington and set up with a colleague on a small local airstrip outside of town. They watched and identified various small aircraft come and go. At 9:21p, an unidentified amber light switched on as soon a small aircraft associated with the area disappeared. They began taking pictures.


A random person approached in a car with headlights on—and they got the person to turn them off. Another small plane approached and the amber light went off. When it had passed, the amber light came on again. The amber light made no sound.


At this point—Rutledge reported that he saw something very strange. He noticed that the night was very still except for the sound of children playing in the distance. Although his attention was focused on the amber light, he suddenly had an impulse to look straight up, directly above.


He saw four lights, red and white, that were obviously attached to a massive aircraft that was passing silently overhead. The lights were in no known configuration and seemed to be attached to a great V shaped wing. It was utterly silent.


Using binoculars, Rutledge was able to see a ribbed or raised structure that was attached to the rear end of the craft, but it was so large overall that he could not actually see the whole thing. The lights appeared to be on only one wing and didn’t reflect in any way off the surface of the object. In fact, no lights, even from the town, reflected off the object.

The cloud ceiling was only 2500 ft and doing some quick calculations, Rutledge determined that, given the dimensions he observed, the aircraft would have had to have been anywhere from 368 ft to ½ mile across, depending on its altitude under the cloud ceiling. This was definitely a Class A sighting. His colleague saw the four lights in formation, but was unsure of their deployment on the wing of the craft. The simple amber light was forgotten.


However, once the two got back into the car, they were to observe another xenon-colored light that appeared to jump from side to side when viewed with binoculars (the movement wasn’t clearly apparent with the naked eye).

When the duo returned to Piedmont, they found that observers there had not only tracked a nocturnal light, but had managed to successfully triangulate it more precisely: it had approached the team’s position on Pyle’s Mountain at 207 mph passing within .25 mile of their location and had blinked off 310 ft above them. Five minutes later it had blinked on again, 300 ft higher than that and slowly drifted to the NE, ascending to 1500 ft before it disappeared. Their radio equipment had registered static for the duration of the sighting.


Day Five brought more mysteries. Rutledge returned to Farmington taking more members of the team with him so that they could set up in two locations there. Over the course of the evening, observers witnessed lights on another large silent craft that couldn’t be identified (they were constantly identifying other aircraft and satellites to rule them out), strobe flashes and triangular formations.


In one instance, he and his colleague observed strange lights flying over the other Farmington team which the latter never saw. More photos with strange effects were taken.


The Piedmont observers were able to procure additional triangulation on another light which approached them on Pyle’s Mountain, even though one of the additional stations they’d hoped to use in another location on Mudlick Mountain (gotta love southerners) had been vandalized and destroyed.

In this instance, an unidentified nocturnal night approached their location after having traveled South at 310 mph; it turned toward them, sped up to 325 mph, before turning again to the SW and blinking out.


In this instance, Drake, who had also seen the light from his airplane, attempted to communicate with the ground, but radio interference garbled his call.

After further investigation, the Piedmont team was able to determine that the kind of radio interference encountered that evening was produced by jamming technology, not naturally occurring. Two other members of the team, located in other stations, also experienced pseudo-star sightings as well.

So, although having started out poorly, week one of Project Identification had ended well and the whole team looked forward to spending another two weeks in the field. There was plenty of data to analyze and almost everyone on the team had seen at least one really odd thing. Unbeknownst to them, this would be the only full week of field investigation in the Piedmont area.

The second week would be filled with tribulation, terrible weather and stories. It was as if an ineffable deluge had decided to engulf the area quite suddenly. The team found itself dodging torrential rains, truly dangerous flash floods and even narrowly missed driving into a tornado. In addition, the team experienced technical issues, not only with their equipment, but with their main vehicle (they were using a car loaned to them by the college) and two flat tires.


To try to compensate for their inability to set up observing stations, Rutledge and his team, those who stayed behind because he sent some of them home, decided to collect various UFO accounts in order to get further information and context.


And there were many to be found including the stories of a local named Floyd White who claimed to have seen so many unusual lights that he had fitted up his property with many antennae to try and hone in on them.

In order to be as complete as possible, Rutledge also stopped by the house of Coach Reggie Bone and found him to be a quiet, generous and well-spoken person, quite different than the media portrayed him. He recorded Bones’s account for the sake of completeness, a version of which can be found here.


There were a couple of indeterminate sightings later in the week during periods when the weather temporarily cleared. One was of the “random flashlight effect” which is a version of the strobing, that Rutledge witnessed through 10x binoculars from one of their viewing stations. He didn’t have camera equipment with him.


Another complex sighting was initiated by James Drake, the Cessna pilot, who had flown in during the one relatively calm evening that week to see if he might be able to help. After landing, the remaining team members did some sky watching and Drake saw an amber light in the distance blink on.

Rutledge and Drake ran to the Cessna and took off. They were never able to re-find that specific amber light, but Rutledge viewed and was able to make record of several lights that appeared in various “guises” around them, including one as a pseudo-star and another, which they were able to chase for a time: it brightened and dimmed as they approached and moved away always keeping ahead of them.


Interestingly, team members on the ground never actually saw these specific lights but only were able to pick up separate, and coming from different directions, aircraft with clearly identifiable FAA lighting. Nothing that Rutledge saw in the Cessna displayed any regulation lighting, despite his studious attempts to check for that.


In many ways, the 2nd week was a complete bust. There had been virtually no time to prepare team members in the field and the motel room that they kept, not only to sleep in, but to store their extra equipment, was costing $100 a day (which in 1973 was pretty expensive).


At the end of the second week, Rutledge decided to call a halt to the Piedmont field search, since, according to the weather service, it appeared as if the terrible weather would continue.


Although all team members actually witnessed unidentified lights that week, all such observations occurred under conditions that rendered it almost impossible for the phenomenon to be photographed, filmed or otherwise permanently recorded.

But there was another reason. According to what Rutledge was learning from his team colleagues who had returned from the field, UFOs were beginning to be reported around Cape Girardeau itself. As we say in the business, the lights had followed him home. Phase 2 of Project Identification would commence soon.

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