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Project Identification Part 3: Phases 2 & 3, Ongoing Uncanny, A Family Affair, Vallee Gets It Wrong

Photo 108918654 / Cape Girardeau © Steven Liveoak |

Link to vlog

Once Cape Girardeau became the base of Project operations, it was much easier for Rutledge to assemble teams quickly and set up observer stations, after all, he could go home to bed every night. He also had the help of the College Astronomy Club, so very quickly, by June 4, 1973, Project members began to deploy throughout the greater Cape area to scan the skies. Thus, Phase 2 of Project Identification began.

The team first set up on Nash Road, a site which would become a favorite vantage point, and is on a flat flood plain about two miles west of the Cape Girardeau airport. It offered a completely unrestricted 360-degree view of the sky. It was also easier at this location to identify the difference between conventional and unidentified aerial lights/objects because there was very little light pollution.

At this point in the book, Rutledge begins talking about their subsequent experiences in more of a thematic than chronological manner. However, Phase 2, which ended roughly by April 1974, definitely had its spectacular moments.

The first happened during these early observation days in June, and it was also then, that Rutledge began to notice that there was a distinct military interest in what they had been seeing in the sky.

On both June 4th and 5th, the Project had viewed several different unidentified white and amber lights, in one instance several in formation that seemed to be separated by only about an estimated10 ft.

After viewing the latter, the airspace above them was suddenly shattered by the sound of several fighter jets apparently in hot pursuit of the lights. As the UFO display in Cape Girardeau increased, so increased the presence of military aircraft. Accordingly, Project members spent much of their time differentiating between military and regular aircraft, and unexplained lights.

Project observers also noticed early on that many of the military jets they observed, seemingly very ostentatiously, did NOT display appropriate FAA light configurations. These configurations are required even on military aircraft if they are flying within civilian air lanes, particularly at lower altitudes. Obviously, Rutledge got no answers for this as he called around to the various military bases in the larger area, from St Louis to Memphis and into Tennessee.

It was also during this time that some of the lights seemed to come closer to the observers, almost egging them on. Some of the teams chased the lights which would lead them on for relatively short distances and then disappear.

The team did get photos during this part of Phase 2, but it was more difficult, so Rutledge resorts to detailed diagrams of these pursuits in his text. Many display the same kinds of energy discharges that had been seen in the Piedmont and Farmington field observations.

At one point he got very good information that the NORAD commander from Colorado Springs had landed, for some reason, in the vicinity. Although he was assured that the landing had nothing to do with the increased UFO display in SE Missouri, he confessed he wondered about it. It just seemed too unusual.

By mid-June, Rutledge was able to set up in his yard, as he and his wife had started to see strobes around their house and Rutledge already had enough experience to know that nocturnal lights were soon to follow The phenomena were literally at his doorstep.

The experience that really changed everything for him permanently occurred on June 19, 1973 at 7:12 p CDT. Rutledge was in his driveway, standing by his car having just packed it for another night in the field. Without thinking he looked to the East and saw a bullet shaped dull gray object slowly making its way in the direction of the Mississippi.

He thought at first it was a plane, but it was going too slowly and he could see it clearly as it was still daylight—it had no wings. It would have been cigar shaped had the rear end not been bluntly cut off. In short, “it was like nothing” he had ever seen before. He decided to frame it with his fingers before reaching for the binoculars on his seat, so he stretched out his arm and framed it between his index finger and thumb so he might be able to estimate its size later.

As soon as he raised his hand to do this, the object instantly changed to a dull olive-green color. Reflexively, Rutledge reached for his binoculars in the front seat which required that he take his eyes off the object for less than two seconds. By the time he looked back up it was gone. He frantically searched for it everywhere in the clear blue sky, and, according to him, a feeling of nausea grew in his stomach.

After this experience, Rutledge began to sense that there was something significant going on, but he was never been able to say exactly what, except that, in his words, it was clear that there was an “interaction” playing out between the phenomenon and the observers.

Blomeyer Road, closer to his home, became another common observation point, and every now and then, the team would mix it up by going further afield in different directions from Cape.

Overall, many of the sightings would follow along the main path of I-55, which runs along the track of what was a major Indigenous trading route running west of the Mississippi.

On July 9, 1973, Rutledge had set up in his yard and a little after 10:30p observed a light almost overhead traveling north northeast. He stepped to where his equipment was in order to try to get his camera and in the process tripped over the chair which held the tape recorder—keeping the light in sight the whole time. It wasn’t until he actually held the camera to his eyes and began focusing that the light went out. He saw it go out.

A few minutes later he watched as a plane with a very strange wing configuration flew the exact path of the earlier light. It passed directly overhead, making a jet sound, but the FAA lights were incorrect, and the wings had an unusual serrated shape that he had never seen before. Additionally, light that hit the body of the craft appeared to be unevenly distributed, and had a “quilted” appearance. He wondered if the military had deployed some kind of new craft.

In still another instance, Rutledge set up to observe with one of his project buddies, Robert. They had a discussion earlier in the evening about reports that some UFOs seem to undulate in motion and they wondered why they never had seen that in the field. Later that night, one of the nocturnal lights appeared and looked like it was heading parallel to the Mississippi.

The two men were able to get some time-lapse photos of the light, but to their amazement, just as it passed beyond some trees which would take it out of sight, it slowed down and began to undulate as it moved. For both men, it was interesting and unnerving in equal measure.

The sightings increased into the early fall, as the summer session began. Rutledge was unable to spend quite as much time in the field himself, but other members of the Project continued their observations and would check back in with information and reports, which he includes in the book.

By August 1973, UFO activity seemed to spread to many parts of the U.S. (to which I can personally attest). The mainstream narrative about the Piedmont UFO display implies that the flap died out by the end of the summer, but, in fact, there were so many UFO reports, that it became difficult for Rutledge to discern the gold from the dross, as it were.

As the resident “expert” on UFOs, Rutledge often got drawn into other controversies and concerns, one of which ended up being fodder for the tabloid press. I remember reading about this story myself at the time, and it concerned a truck driver who claimed that he had been struck in the face by some kind of light or beam that had emanated from a bright object blocking the road in front of him. The beam had apparently melted the frames of his glasses and blinded the driver for a period of time.

It was just the kind of story that the Enquirer might jump on, and run with it the tabloids did. In the Chapter “Physical Evidence,” Rutledge tells the whole story behind the trucker and the glasses, because he was the scientist who was given the glasses to examine and test.

To explain how it was that he came to be involved in this event, Rutledge explained that Project members occasionally would go to sites where the “objects” were said to have landed and collect physical traces to see if anything interesting or different showed up.

Rutledge had read that some scientists had explained the occasional rings left by UFOs when they landed as probably misidentified “fairy ring” mushrooms, a type of fungi that grows in a ring. In an ironic twist, he mentions that a few months after he first read about this, one of those very same mushroom rings grew underneath his office window at the college.

Out of curiosity, Rutledge and other Project members traveled to some locations where it was claimed that UFOs had hovered or landed leaving a ring formation behind. Project members found that some of these accounts were quite reliable. And often, the team did find “ring” like marks on the ground or vegetation. They always took samples which they had tested, but nothing unusual was ever found.

In the case of the trucker whose glasses were melted by a light beam, Rutledge was contacted to help with the investigation because the incident had occurred less than 3 miles from his home on I-55. A regional overview of the incident which mentions Rutledge as an investigator can be found here.

Rutledge was given the frames, which had been bubbled and deformed by heat, and subjected them to various tests, chemical and otherwise. Nothing unusual was found. He looked into the specifics of how the frames were made, asked an organic chemist who worked for the local law enforcement forensics team to conduct an extensive examination of them and even asked some truckers if they knew of anything that could do this to plastic frames such as these.

Several truckers told him that signal flares could do this if the frames were close to it and told Rutledge of instances when truckers had damaged eyegla0sses while putting out flares around their stopped vehicles.

Rutledge attempted to use the same kind of flare to deliberately damage the frame, but could only get the same bubbling effect after prolonged exposure, which would have severely damaged the trucker’s face had he been wearing them as he said. According to doctors, the trucker had not sustained any permanent damage to his face or eyes, although the trucker disputed that.

There was something about the situation that didn’t add up, so either the trucker was not telling the whole truth, or something very strange had indeed happened to him. Rutledge could not decide. So, when asked for his opinion, Rutledge said that it was either an unknown situation, or a possible hoax. Of course, depending on which headline the media wanted to run, the press took his statement both ways.

The mainstream press chose the “hoax” angle and Rutledge was quoted as saying that the whole thing was a hoax and this story was thus used to throw cold water on the entire Piedmont UFO flap entirely. This was very upsetting to UFO investigators who had been avidly snatching up sensational stories in order to make the 1973 nationwide flap even more spectacular.

Even Jacques Vallee issued his opinion about the incident by dissing Rutledge as a confused local scientist who examined the glasses and issued an incorrect opinion because he didn’t know the greater “context” of UFO reports generally (page 16 of Invisible College, 1st edition). [I read from Vallee's text illustrating his misunderstanding of the situation at 28:59 in the vlog-link above].

In fact, as we understand, Rutledge knew a great deal about not only the national context of UFO sightings, but the specific local context of them as well. He probably had seen more unusual things already than Vallee had up to that point.

Rutledge was doing with potential physical evidence precisely what Vallee is trying to do with some traces of so-called physical evidence himself. What does one do when prosaic physical objects show traces of something potentially unusual?

Vallee missed an opportunity here, and in retrospect, probably should be embarrassed—but then, his mentor Dr Hynek missed the boat in Piedmont too. Having Rutledge tell the whole story here is extremely important, for it is a part of UFO lore that has long been missed and misunderstood.

Phase 3 of Project Identification can roughly be said to begin in April 1974, a complete year after Phase 1 began. Rutledge and Project members set up throughout the winter on Nash and Blomeyer Rd as well as from his front yard, whenever the weather permitted.

More often than not they were successful in recording at least one unusual light, strobes or display of pseudo-stars. However, Rutledge said that he just “kind of felt” that the flap, as such, would probably slow down considerably by spring.

Still, Rutledge and Project members tracked unusual sightings through 1974. By the end of that year, all of Rutledge’s children had personally witnessed at least one strange unidentified light from the vantage point of their front yard.

Many of the Project members had to go on to other parts of their lives, but Rutledge felt that there was still enough happening to warrant his purchase of some better equipment to keep at home.

Rutledge lists the years of 1975-1980 as the time of ‘accidental sightings,” by which he means sightings which occurred spontaneously and not during a planned observation. It was during this five-year period that some of his most significant experiences occurred, although the sightings in general were far less frequent.

In January of 1975 (he doesn’t have exact date) both he and his wife saw a glowing disc shaped object near their home as they were returning from errands. Although they both saw a disc shape, the details were different. Rutledge’s son Mark began to accompany him and other Project members into the field because of a sighting he had with his father in their front yard.

In August of 1976 while visiting family in Iowa, Rutledge discovered that the phenomena had seemingly followed him to his parent’s home. Less than a month later, he watched from his college office window, as a silver disc, in broad daylight, shot into the sky and disappeared.

In Sept of 1976, Rutledge saw a clearly defined disc shaped object from his office window on campus. He had just pushed back from his desk to rest his eyes from some work and looked outside to clear his head. The disc seemed to be waiting there for him, and as soon as his eyes registered it, it shot out of sight at a steep angle and disappeared.

By 1978, Mark Rutledge had several of his own sightings from their front yard. It was during this latter period that the Rutledge family and several Project members experienced the “fear” reaction, that Uncanny Valley feeling when something seems to fly overhead but one cannot see anything. Ruth, Rutledge’s wife, in particular, seems to have had this experience strongly several times.

1979 was the last full year of Project Identification and it was also the year that the phenomenon demonstrated that it would/could react to most members of the Rutledge family if they observed it from their home. Essentially, every family member would have some kind of interaction with the phenomenon during that time. It was almost as if it had become part of them.

The last sightings recorded in the book, and this is what Rutledge actually says, because he fully expects that sightings and interactions will periodically continue, were reddish strobes that occurred close to his house on November 9, 1979. As he puts it, “I watch…and I wait.”

The Project officially closed in January 1980 and he began to correlate his data which constitutes the remainder of the book. The text, Project Identification was published in 1981.

Rutledge’s remaining chapters are valuable data entries in the field of ufology that few have bothered to plumb, apply or really reckon with. He produces a map which breaks down the total of UFOs seen by Project members by location, over time. His statistics show that most unidentified sightings occurred at dusk, and then later on at night (a pattern similar to that at Pine Bush, NY during the height of display there in 1990s).

Most objects/lights also displayed on Thursday and Friday, rather than Wednesday, as some other experts (such as Keel, following Aime Michel) had indicated. Rutledge had come to the conclusion that lots of phenomena were probably always flying around in the sky, but most humans didn’t look up to see it.

The lights/objects exhibited a wide range of colors, shapes, sizes and behaviors, all of which he breaks down, although he has explanations for none of it.

He also speculated on the possible reasons for why the Piedmont area had become a display region. One explanation I hadn’t thought of is that, at least at the time, the entirety of SE Missouri was kind of a radar blackhole. Local airports used Kansas City, St Louis or Memphis radar systems which overlapped at the edge of their respective ranges right in the Piedmont area.

Rutledge had noticed that the lights seemed to try to avoid planes, blinking out as they approached and then blinking back on again. In such a radar poor area it would also be easier for the military to conduct activities, including their own equipment tests and investigations without registering on FAA radar posts. I’m sure this situation has changed in the intervening years, but it certainly is an idea I hadn’t thought of.

In the end, it was the behavior of the objects/lights that shocked Rutledge more than anything else. With Project Identification, Rutledge hoped to prove something definitive about UFOs; if nothing else, they are worth studying on their own merit.

In the end, as he became convinced that they responded to human activity, and even human thoughts, in ways that could not be coincidence, he realized he was dealing with the deepest of mysteries.

The only thing he could come up with was that they acted like a feedback system composed of intelligently and remotely controlled plasmas. Given what Keel and Vallee has surmised, this is probably just about as good as they have ever gotten. To what end that feedback system might exist, Rutledge had no idea.

Very little of what has been described in these blog posts is unknown to regular field observers of UFOs. The point is that project identification attempted to actually intercept, record and measure these phenomena.

And, to some degree, the team accomplished their task. Instruments did record discrete unknown or usual lights or objects approaching observers, measure speed, altitude, distance. This is not pretend or pretense. This is, in fact, the basis of all science. Curiosity, Measurement, Attempted Hypothesis, More Observation as needed, at infinitum. Will we, can we, follow in their footsteps?

I ended the Pine Bush Chapter in Mysterious Beauty with the passage that concludes the official findings of Project Identification. It is still good to quote here, keeping in mind that Harley Rutledge was a man trained in science, seeking rational explanations for the mysteries of the world around him:

“In this research, more was involved than the measurement of physical properties of UFOs by dispassionate observers. A relationship, a cognizance, between us and the UFO intelligence evolved. A game was played. In my opinion, this additional consideration is more important than the measurements of establishing that the phenomenon exists. This facet of the UFO phenomenon perturbed me as much as the advanced technology that we observed. It is a facet I cannot really fathom---and I have thought about it every day for more than seven years.”

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