By: Willie Moseley

In the summer of 1967, I faked a photo of a UFO “buzzing” the WCOV-TV broadcast tower on Adrian Lane in south Montgomery and I almost got away with it.

The image passed magnification scrutiny by an employee at Shop 21, a photography hobby store on Court Square downtown, but a phone call from a television reporter to our house motivated my mother to immediately kibosh my spurious initiative. I called the reporter and fessed up but I had the satisfaction of knowing my ruse had worked. I still have the photo.

In that era, reported sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) were plentiful, and a U.S. Air Force program called Project Blue Book was in charge of investigating such phenomena.

Fiction about space travel, life on other worlds and interplanetary invaders dates back as far as the late 1800s (H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”) and sci-fi pulp magazines have been around for almost a century (Amazing Stories debuted in 1926). Moreover, a 1902 French movie called “A Trip to the Moon” was based on Jules Verne novels.

However, toward the end of World War II, some military pilots began reporting unexplained lights that followed or circled their aircraft. Such phenomena were dubbed “foo fighters” and authorities had various convenient explanations for such sightings.

In the late 1940s, public interest in unexplained encounters with “something in the sky” mushroomed. There was the fabled 1947 Roswell incident (a reported UFO crash in New Mexico) as well as sightings of airborne objects (usually disc-shaped) by veteran airmen. In 1948, a Kentucky Air National Guard pilot was killed when his airplane crashed after he climbed to chase a high-flying UFO.

Hollywood soon picked up on the concept of aliens visiting Earth. Most plots envisioned invasions but 1951’s “The Day The Earth Stood Still” presented a benevolent ambassador named Klaatu who arrived in Washington, D.C., in a giant flying saucer to warn Earthlings against spreading their violence beyond their own plane. That film was arguably one of the greatest movies of all time.

Project Blue Book was initiated in 1952 and continued through 1969. In its 17-year history, the program’s research reportedly didn’t discover any threat to national security or evidence to indicate that UFOs were otherworldly.

The late ‘70s witnessed a brief television series called “Project U.F.O.” which was produced by Jack Webb of “Dragnet” fame. It followed the efforts of two Air Force investigators of unexplained aerial phenomena. The weekly voiceover introduction was memorable, as Webb intoned “Ezekiel saw the wheel …”

Now comes “Project Blue Book” on the History Channel. It, too, is based on the original Air Force initiative and interpolates the exploits of J. Allen Hynek, a real-life investigator who was an advisor to Project Blue Book and two shorter-lived earlier programs.

However, this new series has been about as exciting as stirring a bowl of skim milk. Chock full of cardboard actors and cookie-cutter plotlines, “Project Blue Book” presents a perhaps expected allusion to a big government conspiracy, which includes the deaths of witnesses.

All the military guys in the show are publicly adamant that UFOs don’t exist. Not surprisingly, the cigar-chompin’ generals and their subordinates are maneuvering to keep that perception intact.

While I’ve missed an episode or two, it seems like things have gotten more outlandish on a weekly basis. One plot turn revealed the government is performing mind-research experiments on military pilots who encountered UFOs but those pilots thought the UFOs were communicating with them telepathically, so go figure.

There are also other clichéd facets like a sub-plot involving Soviets spies and Hynek’s unsuspecting wife, atomic testing and a mysterious man in a black outfit who’s shadowing Hynek.

The hype for “Project Blue Book” notes “the cases depicted are based on real events” and each real-life incident that inspired a weekly episode is briefly noted at the conclusion of the program. One would suppose such references are to the credit of the show’s creators but this series isn’t too inspirational.

I’d be willing to bet more people have seen UFOs than might be willing to admit such encounters. That said, “Project Blue Book” isn’t particularly a compelling series, even if a viewer has been there, done that.