Friday, December 7, 2012

Finding Bigfoot by Blimp: Really?

     At first, I thought they were kidding.  When I saw a photo of the aircraft shown above, I was immediately taken aback. It was a dirigible alright (a steerable lighter-than-air ship) but, was it a rigid airship (a zeppelin) or a giant gas bag (a blimp)?  I went to their website and learned that it was a tandem blimp that The Falcon Project is proposing to deploy, with mounted cameras, in hopes of gathering compelling footage of a sasquatch from the sky!  Stunning. 
     First, I should say that I saw on the website that Jason Valenti is one of the two directors of the project, and a nicer guy does not exist on this planet. Jason once asked me to speak at his conference in Bellingham.  I had a spendid time. Jason was a great organizer and a super nice guy. I have fond memories of that conference, especially an afternoon spent driving Bob Gimlin around Bellingham, looking for a set lost of keys (we found them).
      I only know of William Barnes through some Facebook groups and he has always been polite and informative. I wish both gentlemen nothing but success on this venture, and by utilizing the keen mind of Bill Dranginnis, the most knowledgeable and experienced camera expert in the whole Bigfoot biz, I think they are maximizing their chances of technological success.  Still, I can't help but wonder about some HUGE potential problems that come to mind when I ponder such a wild idea.
     Where to begin?  People post photos and videos on YouTube all the time of sasquatches that are taken at lesser distances, and they impress no one.  No matter how genuine  the video appears, it is always dismissed as fake, never gaining traction. I've seen lots and lots of YouTube video that look genuine, and no one ever cares. So, it seems even less likely that any video shot from the air would ever be good enough to impress such a jaded public. Even if the blimp-cam did manage to get video, what will it look like? What possible subject definition could be achieved from above? If ground-level video from the side doesn't impress people, how is it possible to get a picture from above that will look like anything except an undefined blob moving across the landscape?
      Speaking as a guy who has spent a whole lot of time 'squatching' in forests of the Pacific Northwest, I'm pretty sure the favored habitat of the creatures in question is dense forest. What good is any aircraft in finding anything under the canopy of dense forest? Last summer, Bob Faust took me for a ride in his light plane and we flew over areas in the upper reaches of the Clackamas River where I know sasquatches reside. As we circled the steep, forested drainages I suddenly understood why it was so difficult for American forces in Viet Nam to locate the Ho Chi Min Trail and the North Vietnames Army that was using that trail network to resupply and deploy troops. There is no commercially available surveillance system that can penetrate dense jungle canopy.  And the forests of the Pacific Northwest are every bit as dense as the jungles of southeast Asia. After an hour of circling perfect sasquatch habitat, the futility of our plan to spot a sasquatch from the air was utterly apparent.  We kept at it for a while longer if only to justify the trip, but after spending that afternoon surveying potential bigfoot habitat from the air, I can say that the chances of spotting a sasquatch from the air, in forested terrain is zilch.
     I'm not saying it might not work in other places with less forest canopy, but I would emphatically advise my good friends at the Falcon Project to not waste their precious time and blimp gas over the forests of western Wasington, Oregon, British Columbia, or even northern California. Maybe Texas, or parts of Idaho have a more broken forest canopy that would allow them to see the ground.  Fine. Concentrate on those areas, but forget about forested terrain. Period.  FLIR, heat-sensing optics, you say? Ha. The canopy is waaay to thick.  Even if you did get an image, it will be a certified blobsquatch. Remember, if it isn't as good or better than the Patterson-Gimlin footage, no one will be impressed, and, in my view, there is zero chance of approximating the PGF from the air, even if one had the use of a U-2 spy plane.
     Last time I checked, the sasquatch were principally nocturnal. They might move around during the day, but only with the utmost caution. Do the Falcon Project principals really expect that the sasquatch are going to move about with reckless abandon as the dirigible circles overhead? I saw on the Falcon Project website that the tandem blimp was nearly silent. I doubt this.  I've been to golf tournaments where blimps circle overhead. Granted, they're much bigger than the radio-controlled   (R-C) blimp that is being proposed, but the blimps I've seen make so much racket that I don't know how the golfers can concentrate on their shot. The R-C blimp may be smaller, but the wilderness is also a whole lot quieter than a golf course. I see zero chance of achieving stealth with any motorized contraption, not only because of the mechanical noise of the craft, but also because of the obvious visual give-away of a friggin' blimp circling overhead!
     I think my own biases, vis-a-vis the biases of the Falcon Project team members has to be reckoned with. Even before I published The Locals in 2003, I was going around to places like Jason Valenti's conference and saying that the sasquatch were super intelligent.  Based on my own crude field experiments, I concluded that sasquatch intelligence was at least as great as ours. In my field experiemnts, the sasquatch  had demonstrated (to my satisfaction) the ability to generate infrasound, to disable electronics, including cameras, from a distance, to somehow cloak their presence, and even temporarily paralyze people and animals in their tracks. Few agreed with my radical conclusions.  I had no unassailable proof, just some annecdotal data. I'm good with that.
     On the other hand, the text on the Falcon Project website repeatedly refers to the sasquatch as the North American Ape. Yikes! Granted, we are all, technically, apes.  I get that, too. But as a matter of strategic planning, it seems to me a fundamental flaw, a deal breaker, really, to regard the sasquatch as any kind of ape, especially in the intelligence department. Rule number one of any adversarial engagement: Never underestimate your opponent.
      For the sake of the success of the Falcon Project, I hope I am wrong in my assesment of sasquatch intelligence, even though I don't think so.  Still, I have always encouraged each and every bigfoot researcher to develop their own hypothesis about what was going on, and then put it to the test. I know plenty of folks who, even at this late stage of the game, are still trying to 'bait the ape.'  After trying that approach myself for nearly ten years and watching others pursue it for twice that long, I'm pretty sure it won't work, so I'm also pretty sure that a tandem R-C blimp, motors humming, is not going to catch a sasquatch out in the open, in broad daylight for an impromptu photo session. I'm not saying they shouldn't try. In fact, I would love to see them try. I just doubt they will succeed, and the reasons extend well beyond my estimation of sasquatch intelligence.
     I think the biggest unexpected speed-bump on the road to aerial sasquatch photography is the utter vastness of the terrian that would have to be covered. Just the Mount Hood National Forest alone, one insignificant little patch of forest terrain, is a million acres. One could peer into that abyss, taking picutures as you go, for the rest of your life, and not cover all the ground there is to cover. To try and cover even a fraction of the truly vast wild areas on this continent where a sasquatch could reside, seems utterly futile. There's just way to many hiding places out there for a even hundred blimps to survey.
     Then there are the mechanical problems. I spent a large part of my youth building and flying radio-controlled aircraft. No blimps, mind you, just planes. One technical glitch is all it takes to lose your aircraft.  Even over open fields, I lost planes and never found them again. I fear that, when trying to operate over wilderness, the Falcon Project will lose their expensive dirigible in the first week of operation. Foul weather, high winds, steep, mountainous terrain are only the beginning. The FAA may shut them down if they fly too high.  High-tension wires will be a problem if they fly too low. There's rules about flying over designated wilderness.  Juvenile delinquents and even adults on the ground with rifles will find that a slow moving blimp makes an easy target. I don't see any way they will be able to operate the blimp safely at night.  Heaven forbid the thing crashes into transmission lines, automobile traffic, or interferes with other air traffic.  The Falcon Project might want to get some liability coverage on their aircraft before the first launch.
     When people who know of my interest in the subject want to make conversation, they usually say, "Hey Thom, found Bigfoot yet?"  I always answer, "I don't look for Bigfoot. I let Bigfoot find me."
It sounds like a wisecrack and it always has the desired effect of confusing the person doing the asking, but it's actually not as much of a wisecrack as it sounds. All my successes with encountering a sasquatch have come when I wasn't actively pursuing a sasquatch encounter. They have come when I  just put myself in a suitable location and stayed put, trying to project and unassuming, non-threatening profile, and then letting the phenomenon, whatever it entails, come find me.  It's an arogant thought, in a way, but it works.   On the other hand, technological approaches and active purusit has never worked for me.
     Still, I must say, the sheer scope of the project they are proposing is  so audacious that I would love to see them try.  Besides, as much as I have my way of doing things, I have always supported and offered free advice to those who wanted to try it another way.  So, I hope I'm wrong about the Falcon Project.  Heck,  I'm cheering for William, Jason, Bill, Jeff, and the rest.  I hope they get their dirigible in the air and get the high-quality video they're after.  Beyond the fact that  'chasing bigfoot' from the ground or from the air seems futile, I suspect that mechanical problems and unforseen issues relating to terrain and weather will cause their plans, like all the other best-laid plans of mice and men, to go assunder.  Not to mention the fact that I think they are underestimating their opponent.