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Posts Tagged ‘Flying Saucers’

  1. UFO

    October 2, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    I do a lot of date-specific Google searches to see what was going on exactly 50 years ago, and I’m amazed at how many of the results for the Fall of 1961 concern UFO sightings. Americans either had flying saucers on the brain due to numerous appearances in popular fiction at the time or there were, indeed, a whole lot of unidentifiable objects zipping through America’s airpspace 50 years ago. On the heels of the August, 1961 Betty and Barney Hill “incident” (Right), came this report from a Utah pilot to NICAP (the National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena) about an encounter on October 2, 1961.

    Source: NICAP / Richard Hall (1964) from NICAP case report
    A grayish disc-shaped object which hovered, wobbling on its axis, then evaded pursuit, was sighted October 2, 1961 at Salt Lake City, Utah airport.

    Private pilot Waldo J. Harris, a real estate broker, investigated the object in his light aircraft as 8-10 ground personnel at the airport watched. Mr. Harris signed a NICAP report form on October 10, and later answered additional questions by a NICAP Subcommittee member. His report: “I was preparing to take off in a Mooney Mark 20A from the North- South runway at Utah Central Airport when I noticed a bright spot in the sky over the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley. I began my take-off run without paying much attention to the bright spot as I assumed that it was some aircraft reflecting the sun as it turned. After I was airborne and trimmed for my climb-out, I noticed that the bright spot was still about in the same position as before. I still thought it must be the sun reflecting from an airplane, so I made my turn onto my cross-wind leg of the traffic pattern, and was about to turn downwind when I noticed that the spot was in the same spot still.

    “I turned out of the pattern and proceeded toward the spot to get a better look. As I drew nearer I could see that the object had no wings nor tail nor any other exterior control surfaces protruding from what appeared to be the fuselage. It seemed to be hovering with a little rocking motion. As it rocked up away from me, I could see that it was a disc shaped object. I would guess the diameter at about 50 to 55 feet, the thickness in the middle at about 8 to 10 feet. It had the appearance of sand- blasted aluminum. I could see no windows or doors or any other openings, nor could I see any landing gear doors, etc., protruding, nor showing.

    “I believe at the closest point I was about 2 miles from the object, at the same altitude or a little above the object. It rose abruptly about 1000 feet above me as I closed in, giving me an excellent view of the underneath side, which was exactly like the upper side as far as I could tell. Then it went off on a course of about 170 degrees for about 10 miles where it again hovered with that little rocking motion.

    “I again approached the object, but not so closely this time, when it departed on a course of about 245 degrees climbing at about 18 to 20 degrees above the horizon. It went completely out of sight in 2 or 3 seconds. As you know I can keep our fastest jets in sight for several minutes, so you can see that this object was moving rather rapidly.

    “All the time I was observing the object, after getting visual confirmation from the ground, I was describing what I saw on radio unicom frequency. I was answering questions from the ground both from Utah Central, and Provo. The voice at Provo said that they could not see the object, but at least 8 or 10 people did see it from the ground at Utah Central Airport.

    “As to seeing it again, I was returning to the field after it had departed when I was asked over radio if I still could see the object , and I reported that I could not. They said they had it in sight again. I turned back and saw it at much greater distance only for about a second or two when it completely vanished. The guys on the ground said it went straight up as it finally left, but I didn’t see that departure.”

    On the NICAP report form, Mr. Harris pointed out that the UFO at one time “passed below the horizon in front of mountains to the south.” This fact rules out any astronomical explanation.

  2. The Space People of Anaheim

    September 19, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    When I originally posted the photo on the left in a post about Disneyland’s forgotten ride, Flying Saucers I assumed that the Spaceman and Spacegirl were there only for the grand opening of the ride in 1961. I have since learned that the space couple were regular features in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland from the mid-Fifties to the late Sixties The couple performed the same function as those in Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Snow White costumes; greeting guests and posing for pictures with them. They would sometimes be put to work selling balloons. One of those guests in 1959 was Vice President Richard Nixon. Various “cast members” filled the spacesuits over about a decade. The suits themselves evolved only a little over the years.


  3. Flying Saucers: The Forgotten Ride

    August 3, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In 1961 a new ride was introduced in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. For five years, the bumper-car/hovercraft ride called Flying Saucers was a favorite of park goers and a general pain in the ass for Disneyland staff.

    When a space-hogging boat ride called Phantom Boats was replaced by the Submarine Lagoon in 1960, it was decided that a new passenger steered aquatic ride was necessary, albeit one that took up far less space. The first thought was a ride already employed in other theme parks called a “duck bump”.  These motorized inner-tube shaped boats were equipped with small motors and a rudder that allowed the rider to tool around a small pond and bump into other riders. This ride had the advantage of being confined to a small, compact pond as opposed to the rambling mini-river needed for Phantom Boats, however  imagineers (that’s “designer” in Disneyese) were hard pressed to come up with a way to shoehorn the ride into the futuristic theme of Tomorrowland. The round boats (and the water in the pond) were discarded in favor of similarly shaped hovercraft which would be called flying saucers.

    Original designs called for a gasoline powered, one-man hovercraft that was already being built by a German company, but the razor-sharp, high-speed fan blades were determined to be too risky for use by the general public. The final design took its inspiration from the popular air hockey tables found in nearly every arcade in America in 1961. The motive power would be provided not by motors in each of the individual saucers but by streams of pressurized air from the floor. Each saucer would now have no more than two moving parts: The safety belt clasp and the rider himself. Steering and acceleration could be controlled by the rider simply by shifting his weight. Lean to one side and a wider gap was created on the opposing side, thus releasing more of the air coming from the floor. Whichever direction the rider leaned was the direction the saucer would move.

    As soon as this concept was accepted by imagineers they realized that there wasn’t a blower in the world large enough to power a surface as large as that planned for the Flying Saucers ride, especially if the air cushion had to support 500 pound loaded saucers. The solution was to engineer special valves that would only release air when a saucer was directly above the airhole. These valves were startlingly simple affairs controlled by nothing more than springs. The spring was just strong enough to push a disk up against the bottom of the floor at normal atmospheric pressure and (mostly) seal the hole. When a saucer passed over a hole, it increased the downward pressure just enough to  push the disk down and release air around the edge of the disk. The finished ride had a circular floor measuring 100 feet in diameter.  The floor was bisected by a catwalk that not only provided two separate bumping areas but also served as one side of a “corral” which was formed for loading and unloading. The other sides of the corrals were swinging booms that separated the saucers into two groups per side. There were 64 saucers altogether separated into four groups of 16. Confused? Check out this nifty diagram from FilmFax Magazine (Dec. 2005).

    Flying Saucers opened on August 6, 1961 with appropriate fanfare provided by an astronaut, a spacegirl, and the (at that time) planetary-named Pluto. The price of a ride was one “E” coupon, the most expensive of ride tickets (50 cents). This put Flying Saucers’ prestige on par with rides like the Matterhorn and Submarines.  The ride was a huge hit, in part, because it was the only ride besides Autopia that let the rider steer.

    Unfortunately, even with the simplicity of the valves and (unlike Autopia) no breakdowns of individual saucers, the ride had issues that gave maintenance crews endless headaches. Like a giant pipe organ the holes and saucers would often create a sort of  harmonic convergence which would make all of the holes open up with a load boom that shook windows all over the park. The blowers would then have to be shut off and planks of wood  laid over the open holes to rescue the stranded riders. Resetting the valves and restarting the blowers could take an hour. This occurrence happened, on average, once or twice a day!  On top of the maintenance issues, the ride, with its rapid opening and closing of valves and the hissing of escaping air, was by far the loudest ride ever installed at the park.

    When Tomorrowland prepared for a major redesign in 1966, Disney staff was unanimous in which ride they wouldn’t mind seeing the last of. When Flying Saucers was dismantled, it left a seven-foot deep basement where the blowers were housed. This basement was used for the Tomorrowland stage near the snack bar which would rise from the ground with the performers already on stage. Later, that location would be occupied by the 3D theater showing Michael Jackson’s Captain EO.