Blimp or UFO?
By David E. Twichell
Michigan MUFON’s Chief Investigator, Lisa Shiel was assigned the case of a UFO sighting that occurred on August 16, 2006 at 9:43 PM. She then passed it onto State Section Director, Gary Golem and I for further investigation. S. W., the witness, observed a typical disk-shaped object in the night sky for about eight minutes before it departed and was able to take at least one excellent picture of it.
Below is the picture (untouched) and her report to MUFON.
“I was driving home after having been to a circus in the town of Plymouth, Michigan. I was crossing a RR track near my home while looking to be sure the tracks were clear, I noticed it to my right hovering above the tracks in the distance. I decided to see what it was, so I drove towards it hoping to get a better look at it while calling my sister to tell her what I was seeing. I had taken my camera with me to the circus, so I grabbed it and started taking pictures, the sky was very dark and I at first couldn't get it to show up (although the object itself was illuminated).
“I stopped in a parking lot where I had a clear view, there were no sounds coming from it at all. I continued to take pictures while talking to my sister. I looked at my camera to try and change the settings and when I looked back it was moving away from where I had been watching it. I got in my truck and started following it.
“As I was driving down Plymouth Rd., I keep wondering why no one else was stopping to see it. I was very alarmed yet curious and somewhat scared at what I was seeing.
“As I came around a bend in the road I saw airplanes, approx. 4-5, and also a helicopter. I noticed that it had stopped again and was hovering just above the treetops. I couldn't get over the enormous size of it. It appeared to be at least the size of a house. All the while I was taking pictures, hoping to get at least one good picture while talking to my sister, who I had put on speakerphone. Then I heard the helicopter and I looked to my right to see it. When I looked back to my left where the object had been hovering, it was no longer there.
“I was very nervous and excited the entire time. I gave my sister a play-by-play as the events unfolded. She kept asking me exactly where I was just in case something was to happen. The object appeared to be translucent and very, very bright. The entire thing lasted about ten minutes, although it seemed a lot longer. I watched the local news that night and checked the newspapers and was very shocked to see no mention of it. I can't believe that I was the only who saw this.”
Gary Golem asked the witness in a telephone interview how high the object was. She stated that the object was approx. 6-8 poles in height over the tracks. She also stated that she believed the object to have headed in a Southeasterly direction.
The event obviously aroused the interest of the witness’ sister, L.W., who, a couple days later, scoured the internet for similar sightings in that area around the same time that evening. She found three reports at www.ufoevidence.com and immediately alerted her sister. A twenty-four year old man, traveling with two other witnesses observed a similar object while traveling from downtown Detroit to Southgate, Michigan along the Detroit River. The witness states:
“Approximately 10:35 PM (August 16, 2006) my mother, sister and I left the Joe Louis Arena parking garage in downtown Detroit and headed south on Fort Street towards the "downriver" area. We spotted an object over the Detroit River that resembled a blimp but it was glowing with a bright light and was keeping the same pace as us (about 45 MPH). We continued down Fort Street keeping sight of the object for about 20 minutes. We lost sight of the object for about 10 minutes while stopped at my parent’s house. When I got back on the road and headed towards my house, I spotted the object above me in the area of Dix and Northline. The object was glowing with a bright almost white light and a small blinking red light was in the bottom center of the object. It was rounded on top and flat on the bottom. It was moving at a pretty fast speed. It continued to move around in this area for another half hour before I lost sight of it. There was a man in the car next to me who was looking up at it also, so I am certain other people saw it. I tried to take a picture with my digital camera but because it was so dark they didn't come out very well. I checked around with people the next couple days but no one else saw anything but the roads were pretty light with traffic being 11 at night on a Wednesday.
“However, a few days later a co-worker said she saw a report on channel 4 news that a man reported strange activity in the sky on Wednesday the 16th. This would have been the Thursday the 17th 11 pm news. I could not find any reports on their website and came across this website by searching Google for UFO sightings in Detroit.
“It was definitely not a natural object. I highly doubt it was a blimp due to the bright light and speed of the object. I would think a satellite would have been higher but I have never seen a weather balloon so I have no explanation for the strange object.
“I really never thought much about UFO sightings until now. I wish I could find an explanation for this but I'm glad I came across this website and found other proof that someone else saw the object.”
At 10:30 PM, two witnesses in Windsor, Ontario, Canada reported a similar object for less than five minutes. The report states:
“My friend and I had decided to drive towards the Detroit River when we noticed a huge bright saucer-like object in the sky. At first we thought it was a blimp but at 10:30 on Tuesday in the suburb/rich part of Windsor that seemed very unlikely. It was shaped too circular to be a blimp and was very florescent with blinking lights. We drove up an over pass and could still see the figure. We continued to drive to the river (about 2 minutes not even) and turned back around to find it again but it had disappeared. We drove around for another 15 minutes or so and still couldn't find it in the sky. Very scary.”
The witness also reported his sighting to local TV and newspapers.
In a separate report from Windsor to ufoevidence.com, four people witnessed the same or similar object. She reported:
“It was around 10.30 PM when my husband went to the windows to close the blinds for the night. He spotted a well-lit flying object and woke me up to show it. It was not an airplane shaped object, but something of a different shape, sometimes looked octagonal, sometimes like huge saucer, well-lit, luminous object, moving not too fast but occasionally lost from view as they were passing tall trees. We could follow it for at least 15 minutes from our living room. Huge object, very exciting and scary at the same time.
“I have heard and read about UFOs. But never seen one or believed in one. But yesterday I sure believed what I saw. I was convinced it was something unusual, extraordinary and unnatural.”
I attempted to contact ufoevidence.com for the contact information of the Canadian witnesses or to have my email address forwarded to them. To date, there has been no response; therefore, further investigation of the Downriver and Canadian witnesses has stalled.
Longtime MUFON photographic analyst, Dr. Bruce Maccabee, was sent a copy of the photograph taken by S. W. to which he replied, “Since I know nothing about this sighting, except that the photo looks real from previous experience and the shape, I would suggest checking on the possibility of an internally lighted blimp... unless there is something about the sighting that positively rules out such a blimp.”
Erring on the side of caution, Dr. Maccabee did not rule out the possibility of a blimp while verifying that the object appeared to be an authentic “unknown” based on the shape and his previous (and extensive) experience.
Mr. Golem checked with the Mettetal Airport in Canton, the closest small airport near Plymouth, MI, and spoke with the airport manager, regarding the night of August 16. He was told that nothing was reported or anything special happened that night. Nor were there any flights that he was aware of out of that facility. Golem also called the Helicopter service at Mettetal airport. The helicopter service had no flights that night either.
I personally called a Caryn Johnson at the Gross Isle Airport where advertising blimps are normally moored for special events in the Detroit metropolitan area. Ms. Johnson referred me to Amy Caulder of the Lightship Group that dispatches the blimps to the area from Madison, Wisconsin. I sent the photograph of the Plymouth object for her inspection via email. She replied:
Hello there David,
To me it clearly looks like the SANYO blimp. I am attaching a daytime photo of the ship so you can compare the lettering on the sides of each picture. We have an internal light system so the ship appears to glow from within while flying at night. Hope this helps.
Daytime picture of the Sanyo blimp
Nighttime picture of blimp over city taken
I sat for some time trying to “see the lettering on the sides of each picture” without success. I sent Ms. Caulder’s email along with both pictures to Ms. Johnson at the Grosse Isle Airport to see if she could see something that I was missing. She replied:
“Thanks for sending the pictures from the woman in Plymouth and from Sanyo. I can see how you don't see the resemblance that she says is there -- it is a stretch! Was Amy able to confirm if they were in this area on August 16, 2006?”
Once again, I wrote to Amy Caulder and asked:
1. Does the SANYO blimp have a large red light on the tail section?
2. Are they allowed to (or do they ever) fly with the internal light system off and the advertisement not displayed?
3. Was the SANYO blimp moored at the Grosse Isle Airport or flying in that area on the evening of Aug. 16, 2006?
Let's see what I can help you with here. Yes we do have a red light on the tail. Yes we do fly with the lights off, however the SANYO lettering is a decal that can not be taken on and off quickly so no, we never fly without that. However there are plain white blimps with no advertisements on them at all. Lastly we do use Grosse Isle quite often. On the evening in question, we were in Grosse Isle, I have the days activities from our log book listed here: Transit to Detroit from Madison along I-94E into Milwaukee WI then direct to Benton Harbor MI, then continuing along I-94E through Kalamazoo, Brooks, Albion, Jackson, continuing into Night Aerial Display while arriving into Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Northern Detroit Communities, Downtown Detroit/Windsor Canada, then along the river to Grosse Isle Naval Airfield. That should be able to answer all questions from your investigation let me know if not.
I attempted my own computer analysis of the Plymouth photograph in Paint Shop Pro, adding “glowing edges”. Unlike the Sanyo blimp, the glowing edge lines clearly depict a copula on top of the object but no gondola on the bottom. Nor does this picture emphasize any lettering on the side of the object that would be blatantly apparent if they existed.
Another experiment using “emboss”, which emphasizes the lines in a photograph, did not reveal lettering. It did, however, emphasize the existence of a copula on top and lack of a gondola on the bottom. Furthermore, the overall shape, lighting configuration and lack of bright internal lighting, does not suggest to me that the Plymouth object and the Sanyo blimp are one in the same.
The fact that the Sanyo blimp was in the area of downtown Detroit and traversed along the Detroit River on the evening of August 16, 2006 could easily account for the sighting reports from the Downriver/Windsor area. It is regrettable that those witnesses could not be contacted for further testimony. The fact that these witnesses are unable to tell the difference between an advertising blimp and an unknown object is troubling, however. It may be that the blimp was too far away and moving toward or away from them, disallowing them to view the lettering on its side. All of the witnesses involved reported that the object was very bright. I have seen the Sanyo blimp personally and can verify the fact that it is indeed very bright. However, the downriver witness reported that the object was directly above him at one point and it was “rounded on top and flat on the bottom”, and “moving at a pretty fast speed”, both of which is inconsistent with a blimp. The Windsor witnesses considered the possibility of a blimp but concluded that “It was shaped too circular to be a blimp”.
The Plymouth sighting is another matter. According to Amy Caulder of the North America Group that dispatched the blimp, unless it diverted from its known course, it moved eastward along I-94, which would have taken it over the Romulus area. Plymouth is sixteen miles due north of Romulus (as the blimp flies) from the I-94 and I-275 intersection. S. W., the witness in Plymouth, stated that the object headed off in a southeasterly direction. The Detroit/Windsor area is indeed southeast of Plymouth where witnesses reported their sighting a half hour to forty-five minutes later.
Advertising blimps generally fly over events where throngs of people congregate. Would a circus in Plymouth, Michigan qualify? Would airplanes and helicopters be part of the show? Why would the helicopters approach the blimp? And why would the blimp depart the scene when approached by them? Why couldn’t S. W. finally conclude that it was a blimp when she had several minutes to observe it?
The most baffling question is the photographic evidence captured by the Plymouth witness. Until someone with computer software and an expertise better than mine can confirm otherwise, the Plymouth object remains an unknown.
David E. Twichell is a featured contributor to this WorldOfTheStrange website.
Contributions include: Blimp or UFO?, Channeling ET and the Orb Phenomenon, Is The Day of UFO Disclosure Near?, Is The Veil Becoming Thinner?, NARCAP Boss Snubs MUFON, Record Year of Dubious Renown!, The Global Implications of the UFO Reality, Trusting Your Sources, Anomalies Found in Roswell Metal, Understanding the Biblical UFO Hypothesis
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