Radford’s UFO

Excitement flares over smoking, sparking thing.

Gary Hovland


September 9 was a dozy wednesday at the Radford police station. But around 1 p.m., the phone rang. On the horn was Earl Weeks, retired city firefighter, reporting a Piper Cub or a helicopter falling from the sky, “coming straight down with a stream of fire and smoke coming from the tail.” As soon as they got wind, Radford fire chief W.W. Carden and several firefighters high-tailed it out to look for the crash. They found nothing. But by 9 p.m., both departments were “besieged with telephone calls about the object,” reported Radford’s News Journal.

At first, callers were low key, Carden said, but as word spread, the thing went from legit aircraft to UFO. Ray Simpkins and three coworkers at the Lynchburg Foundry in Radford saw a “red object with sparks coming from the rear.” Following the sparks came a “trail of smoke.” Above the red object was a “parachute-looking object” that was “a little larger than an umbrella.” More ominous still: “There was no noise,” Simpkins said. Another foundry employee said “the object” was silver in color. Policeman Albert Tolley said it was a “disc-shaped object about the size of four cars parked side-by-side.” It was “spinning as it fell” and had “flames coming from the rear,” he said. An aerial search by private pilots found nothing.

Now just one minute. Has this much smoke ever come out of the rear of anything? And who says “object” that many times? “I’ve never seen anything in the world to bug Radford like this has,” Officer Tolley said. The buzz snowballed: It seems folks could taste an “unidentified flying object.”

Unexplainable airborne things were reported as early as 1878. But sightings mushroomed after World War II, and in 1953, the U.S. Air Force coined the now well-known phrase, bureaucratically acronyming it “UFO” (which was originally pronounced—and surely still is in some circles—yufo). In 1964, we were in the heat of the Cold War and lap was fast following lap in the Space Race. Interplanetary contact was seeming more sci than fi. Everybody wanted to see a UFO.

So the folks in Radford must have been let down when the curtain went up on theirs. No one could deny that it was a UFO. Until it was identified, that is. It was Blacksburg police chief W.C. LeBleu who lowered that boom. His officers were training Radford rookies in the use of firearms and, around 1 p.m., sent up a flare that soared 200 feet into the sky. The flare was 25,000 candlepower strong and returned to Earth beneath a parachute, the whole shooting match landing 10 feet from the launch site.

This was not the only UFO to become an IFO, of course, and it is only one of many UFOs seen in Virginia. This year alone there have been sightings in Culpeper, Luray, Virginia Beach, Bumpass, Purcellville, Stuarts Draft, Boydton, Danville, Mollusk, Richmond, Vinton, Natural Bridge, Topping and Kilmarnock, to name a large few. A video of a UFO spied in Ashburn last New Year’s Eve made the evening news.

If you see one, too, and want to report it, go to the website of the National UFO Reporting Center, where you can also learn about sightings from across the country. When we see UFOs, we are not alone.


It’s Electric! | 1989

The new king of the line dances is the Electric Slide, and the Richmond Afro-American publishes a timely illustrated how-to. Marcia Griffiths’ 1983 reggae-tinged dance hit, “Electric Boogie,” was written in the ’70s by Bunny Wailer of Bob Marley and the Wailers, behind whom Griffiths, with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt, sang as the I-Threes. “People did the Moonwalk and the Robot to it,” says Griffiths of her first version. But meanwhile, the song has been incubating, and a dance emerges for the catchy 1989 remix by the singer. The Electric Slide has the power to induce folks at just about any gathering to “move like electric.”

Bus-Wreck Frolic in Possum | 1939

The last 12 pupils on Smithfield School’s bus number 15 get an impromptu recess on the way home as their bus hits a ditch on Possum Neck Road, reports the Weekly News of Windsor in Isle of Wight County. Student George Lankford, who lives nearby, runs to get his father and a tractor to pull the bus out, and as the other children wait, they “go upon a hill nearby” and play some “old familiar games.” Supervised by Misses Shirley Horne and Sallie Pulley, the students enjoy “racing, London Bridge, hiding and giant step.” They deem it most enjoyable, adding ruefully that they wish “it had been in the morning so as to miss school or at least to be late.”

Mercury…Dropping? | 1914

When the weatherman calls for “fair and cooler,” people laugh him to scorn as the mercury hits 90 degrees at 1 p.m., almost as high as the day before, which he had predicted with “diabolical accuracy,” reports the Portsmouth Star. The last laugh goes to the weatherman, though, with the arrival of “big, greasy-looking black clouds” rolling in from the southwest and the falling of the first of many raindrops. “A sharp electrical display” ensues with a “continuous rumble” of thunder reports the newspaper, and by 2 p.m., the temperature has fallen eight degrees. While the forecast is for even cooler weather the next day, the paper advises caution, writing that it’s still a bit early to take the overcoats off mothballs.

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