BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) — When Americans think about aliens, odds are they're thinking about Area 51 or Roswell, New Mexico. If they’re fans of the History Channel show “Ancient Aliens,” maybe they’re thinking of Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza, too.
They probably aren't thinking about rural Kern County, California — and yet the sprawling, sparsely populated county was once home to a UFO sighting that rivals the mystery in Roswell, complete with a credible witness.
That witness, future Project Mercury astronaut Leroy Gordon Cooper, went to his grave without ever getting a definite answer for what he saw. But as the years have passed and government documents have become declassified, one likely possibility is that Cooper saw not a UFO but a secret Air Force plane.
The mystery dates back to 1957, when Cooper claimed to see a UFO land in a dry lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base. He later recounted the story in his autobiography a “Leap of Faith.”
Cooper was supervising the filming of a precision-landing facility for F-86 fighter jets and had a crew set up a “cinetheodolite” system, a photographic data-collection instrument that’s particularly useful for capturing images of things like rockets and aircraft. The device reportedly captured images of a saucer-like craft as it hovered above the ground with three extended landing gears.
After the crewmen told him about the images, Cooper reported the incident to the Pentagon. Officials there told him to develop the film and send it in without making prints.
Since no one explicitly told him not to look at the negatives, he did just that. He claimed that the images showed what appeared to be a flying saucer.
“There was just a typical saucer shape,” he said in the 2003 documentary “Out of the Blue,” describing the craft as “double lenticular shape [and] metallic.”
As the cameraman approached the vehicle, Cooper said, it “lifted off, put the gear back in the well, and climbed out at a very high rate of speed and disappeared."
The government never fully investigated — and Cooper, who went on to have a decorated career in the Air Force and NASA before dying in 2004, swore until his dying day that the government was covering up UFOs.
Once his footage reached the government, Cooper wasn’t able to keep in touch with anyone who had it. “There’s no way within the military or within the government of keeping track of something that is classified unless you’re directly involved in it,” he said in the film. “I was not.”
What did this decorated astronaut see that convinced him UFOs are real? We can only imagine — that smoking-gun film has never surfaced.
What we do know, though, is that Edwards Air Force Base is a government testing facility, and Kern County has been home to at least one secret experimental aircraft: the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber. The secret plane didn’t have its first public flight until 1989.
Back in the day, some residents didn’t just see B-2 prototypes in the sky — they actually worked on them. Among those residents was my father-in-law Ronald Myrick, who in the spirit of Halloween agreed to talk to Courthouse News to share what he knows about the little-known craft.
Officially known as the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, the Stealth Bomber is a cutting-edge military craft renowned for its stealth capabilities and advanced technology. Thanks to its so-called “flying wing” shape, specialized materials and other design features, the B-2 can literally fly under the radar of enemy surveillance.
At 69 feet long and 17 feet high with a wingspan of 172 feet, the Stealth Bomber stretches half the length of a football field. It can reach a subsonic speed, gain an altitude of 50,000 feet, and travel for more than 6,000 nautical miles without refueling — all while carrying a payload of 20 tons, according to a fact sheet from Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense contractor that helped build the craft. In terms of appearance, it looks more like a Star Trek prop than a real plane.