(Steve Dipaola for The Columbian)
(Steve Dipaola for The Columbian)
Shed a tear, UFO buffs, because the curtain has been pulled away from that mysterious flying object in Fisher’s Landing — and it’s not here to carry us off or eat our brains.
Last month, several folks reported seeing something high in the air, only after dark, something that danced strangely back and forth and emitted vivid blasts of flowing colors, sort of like large fireworks displays or some huge electrified, airborne chameleon.
Some said the object resembled a flying saucer. It generated a media buzz from here to Seattle.
But now the UFO has been identified, so it’s an IFO, and a really cool one.
Ta-da! It’s a magnificent Chinese-made kite, made of parachute fabric in a triangle shape, standing 7½ feet tall with a wingspan of 13 feet.
The lights are hundreds of LEDs of every bright color imaginable, powered by an onboard rechargeable lithium ion battery and a small onboard computer that sequences many flashing light patterns.
Watching the kite flying at night, you might see a gold-and-green pattern like a palm tree — and that might change into an upward shower of red light instead of water.
The first minute of the patterns depict the rising sun, and then there are four more minutes of other patterns and it repeats the cycle, said the kite’s owner and operator, a guy named Mike.
He asked that his last name not be published for privacy.
At least one UFO buff made hot-headed statements in comments on news websites about the sightings.
That person, giving his handle as ufohelper, made statements including, “If you hoaxed this you will soon regret it and wish you never did it.” And, “If you launched LED lights into busy air traffic space your (sic) probably going to be charged with a crime.”
Other commenters speculated enthusiastically, saying it was “saucer-shaped,” “a high firework,” the planet Jupiter, aurora borealis, a “radio controlled helicopter with lights on it,” “night helicopter training,” “a military drone” and “too big to be a kite, weather balloon or all the other stuff mentioned.”
Oddly, several commenters said they knew it was an LED kite. But the discussions continued wildly.
Watching the dragon fly
Monday, after seeing a news story about the sightings, and realizing that many readers were misinterpreting his kite flying, Mike invited a news team from The Columbian to a demonstration of the kite at Clearmeadows Park, not far from the 18000 block of Southeast 20th Street.
Shortly after nightfall, Mike carried his rolled-up kite on his shoulder into the center of the park, away from trees. Because the damp, chilly wind was strong, he decided to attach a 60-foot tail, also covered with LEDs, to help control it and weigh it down. With the tail, there are 480 of the lights.
I was asked to hold the kite upright before launching. With the wind still strong, I stood behind it with one hand raised, holding it steady. I felt it fluttering and towering over me and saw its lights blazing. Mike crouched down by my feet, tending the computer and battery.
Kites this powerful aren’t flown with what we, as kids, just called “kite string” and a reel consisting of a stick.
Mike’s reel is the size of a small child’s bicycle wheel. And he’s harnessed with it, over his shoulders and around his back, to anchor against the wind’s pull. The reel has a big hand crank and two brakes and is wound with 300-pound-test braided string, enough to fly it to 5,000 feet, nearly a mile high.
Mike isn’t breaking any rules flying his spectacular kite.
Federal Aviation Administration regulations for kites mandate that they stay lower than 500 feet from the ground within a controlled airspace, or in the close vicinity of an airport. Mike said he never flies it higher than that.
Mike said he has discussed his kite flying with an FAA official and with Vancouver police.
Before launching the kite Monday night, he called 911 and told a dispatcher he’d be flying it, in case they received calls from the public about the mysterious lights and possible UFO.
“It was kind of unnerving the first time, calling 911 to say ‘I’m going to fly a kite and it’s not a UFO,’” he said later.
As I held the kite upright, Mike attached his waist harness and big reel and, just like in the old days, he walked backward a few hundred feet, into the wind, while paying out the string.
Then he yelled from a distance, “Let it go!”
I released my grip and was astonished by the kite’s power. It leaped into the air like some huge bird, its LEDs flashing and changing patterns furiously.
The kite was high aloft in seconds. It was hard not to stare at such a hypnotically beautiful, constantly changing thing. Its flashing tail, slithering back and forth, made me think of a dragon.
Minutes later, the wind began dying down, so Mike started reeling it in and said people were watching us.
A family of six walked up.
“We never thought it was going to be a kite,” said Galdino Carpintero, 20, who lives nearby and said he’d really believed it was a UFO. He sounded slightly disappointed it wasn’t.
“That would be nice,” he said wistfully. “I’d like to see a UFO.”
His sister, Guadalupe Carpintero, 18, a senior at Union High School, said she’d been doing her homework when her aunt called and told her to look outside.
“I said, ‘I’m going to check this out!’” she said.
She ran out in pajamas and slippers and a coat. Other family members ran out, too. They jumped in their car and arrived as the kite came back to the ground.
“It’s amazing,” family members said, adding, “It’s really pretty.”
Mike said he’s visited China on business and vacation, and that’s where he and his wife saw such kites.
His wife bought the kite, worth $500 to $600, from an online sales site about a month ago.
They are fairly common in China and don’t blow folks’ minds like they do in Clark County, he said.
Some such kites are much bigger than Mike’s and have different light patterns such as depicting the Olympic Rings, hearts, fish and, yes, a flying saucer.
As for ufohelper’s suggestion that it was a hoax, Mike said, “We haven’t been hiding anything. I just enjoy flying the kite.”
Today’s LEDs are stronger and brighter than many people realize if they haven’t updated their flashlights lately. These LEDs could be seen from very far away, although commenters who reported seeing a flying object in Orchards and Hockinson would seem too distant.
But those commenters saw something …
So maybe, just maybe, there’s a real UFO out there somewhere. And maybe it’s not here just to look pretty.
John Branton: 360-735-4513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.