In the process of writing bridge chapters for upcoming Dog that Howled at the Moon, I wanted to have an incident that helps set the stage for later developments, but at the same time wouldn’t come to fruition for a bit.
So, I hit the old case files, and came up with two I bashed together.
In the first book, The Cross and the Badge, Andy DeShong, a pilot friend of Will tells him to keep an eye on a stretch of highway between Manassa and San Luis, that it is the kind of flat, isolated place smugglers look for to land planes.
In this, something happens. It starts as a routine UFO sighting. Several young people are involved in a car wreck on a back road, and they report a bright light that almost seemed like it was going to hit them. The driver swerved and wrecked the car.
While traffic accidents aren’t Will’s normal field of interest, he decides to take a look anyway.
Will is not a believer in UFOs, Little Green Men, or the like. The San Luis Valley, where he lives and works, is in real life, a hot bed of UFO activity. All manner of things have been seen in the sky ranging from lights to objects which have been described as mechanical in nature. Will has spent a fair part of his life under the skies, and while other people report seeing things, he’s never seen anything.
He reads the report and begins to wonder if what they saw wasn’t an aircraft of some kind coming in for landing. The low altitude encounter reminds him of what an aircraft doing “nap of the earth” might be flying.
In this scenario, the idea is to get under radar and observation. An airplane will come in very low, often times following the contours of the land, and taking advantage of the terrain to infiltrate an area. It’s hard on the plane, and hard on pilots. Today, with computer assisted flying, a computer can fly an aircraft rather well when it comes to doing this. Without a computer, and a suite of sensors, there’s a chance a pilot could easily crash.
So without a computer what’s needed is an airplane that is highly responsive and a good pilot. In the story, it’s ultimately proven that the aircraft coming in is a de Havilland Twin Otter. This aircraft has decent range, decent power and maneuverability, and can carry a load. The Twin Otter is at home in some rather wild areas, and is used extensively in the wilds of Alaska and Canada. It’s what’s called a STOL (Short Take Off and Landing). You don’t need a long runway to land on or take off from.
A story I’ve heard (and never tried to confirm) concerns an airfield in Canada surrounded on all sides by mountains. Twin Otters service the community, and to land on the airfield is more a combination dive bombing/carrier landing approach. The person I heard the story from says you have to clear the ridge, descend right away, and land. He was a carrier pilot and he said this was just marginally less frightening.
Will and RJ soon ascertain that something did land on the highway west of San Luis. It’s in another jurisdiction, and so they call on their friend Albert Montoya, the Undersheriff for Costilla County, and a member of Will’s SRT team.
Together they start measuring and collecting whatever evidence they can.
Now, I’ve flown on Twin Otters before, and they’re amazing machines. But I’m not a pilot, and there’s details I’m putting into the investigation that I didn’t know. Specifically, what’s the “footprint” of the aircraft. In other words, what’s the width between the landing gear. Courtesy of NOAA, I was able to ascertain it’s twelve feet. That’s small enough to allow the plane to land on a two lane highway and still have wiggle room. The wingspan is sixty-five feet. Since there’s nothing around for the wings to hit when the plane lands, that’s not an issue.
The chapter is based on two incidents. One was a UFO sighting that occurred in the area I describe in the book, and it went down pretty much the way I use it in the book (minus the car wreck). The other happened just a few miles away where a deputy sheriff, late at night, witnessed an airplane land on a back road. When he went to check it out, he was fired upon. It’s gone down as an unsolved case. Both those cases are a good example of how life can been forged into story.