Following years of curiosity and in-depth research, one Fort Smith native thinks he's solved the UFO mass sighting that took place in Fort Smith back in August 1966.
Randy Feemster was only 11 years old when he and an estimated 1,500 other area residents witnessed flying objects in the sky over Fort Smith. It happened during the evening of Aug. 15 and the early hours of Aug. 16, and the "strange" red, green and blue-colored lights that were seen in the crystal-clear sky, at that time, couldn't be identified or explained by eyewitnesses, he said.
"It was about 9 p.m. when an excitable cousin of my dad's called," said Feemster, a 62-year-old Northside High School graduate who now lives in Tucson, Ariz. "She was saying, 'Flying saucers are flying around town! Flying saucers are going to land at the airport!'"
Feemster and his mother, Billie, sat on their back porch and listened intently to their transistor radio. The two were self-proclaimed fans of UFO sightings and found themselves enthralled with the possibility of seeing something that was not created by humans.
"Mom was a little spooked, but she was excited," Feemster said. "I was a little spooked, but I was already into aviation. I was building model airplanes and making home movies with our family's 8 millimeter camera.
"You know, when you're young and you stick your hand out the window when your parents are driving down the road at 70 mile per hour, you learn about airstream and everything," he added.
That night, word of the lights in the sky spread like wildfire throughout Fort Smith, spurring residents to gather in at least two locations to watch the skies, he said. One location was at the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant near the Fort Smith Municipal Airport, where residents and representatives from Fort Smith's KFSA AM radio gathered to take advantage of that area's "broad view" of the sky, Feemster said.
Area residents also were seen gathered in Arkoma, hoping to catch glimpses of what they thought could be a UFO, Feemster said. J.W. Gilbreath, who then was a sergeant for the Fort Smith Police Department, was dispatched to see what people were looking at and discussing. He remembers that 1966 night vividly.
"I saw lights in the sky," said Gilbreath, who is now 89 and lives in south Sebastian County. "I thought it was an unidentified flying object at the time, because anything that is in the sky and you don't know what it is, that is a UFO."
Gilbreath encountered one group of about 200 citizens in the southern part of Fort Smith, and his trip down Phoenix Avenue brought him to a second group of about 200 onlookers.
"Some of the people there had some really good stuff to look at the thing," he said. "They had some nice equipment they were using."
Gilbreath admitted that he, during that night, wasn't sold on the idea that the lights in the sky were created by aliens.
"I'm thinking the lights were related to training, and I still lean this way," he said. "They were having some training maneuvers at Fort Chaffee at the time. I think the lights had something to do with military training."
The day after the sightings, Gilbreath found himself in the middle of an hour-long — and quite unexpected — meeting.
"They sent a couple of colonels from the Air Force base in Little Rock, and they tried to get me to confirm that I didn't see anything," he said with a laugh. "Those colonels, they didn't get much headway on the thought that I didn't see anything. I did see something."
Even stranger and "far more interesting" than the lights seen between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. was the V-shaped object seen high in the sky "an hour or two" after midnight, Feemster said.
"What made it so unique was, it wasn't just a light in the sky," he said. "It was definitely a shape. It looked like a little V — a tiny thing — but I had 20/10 vision then. I could see it, and so could the people at the Coke bottling plant.
"The visual of that V shape lasted about 25 seconds, and everyone was talking about it," added Feemster, who would serve as a military fighter pilot until 1985 and later worked in Arizona's Air National Guard until the mid-1990s. "It was moving quick. It was hauling butt across the sky, and it was absolutely silent. We estimated that it was 55,000 to 65,000 feet high up. I don't remember hearing anything, but I knew I saw something important."
Feemster said he believes he has solved the UFO mystery, thanks to his research of numerous declassified documents from the CIA and the U.S. Air Force. Interviews and conversations with "experts" who worked in society's secret-keeping realm also have helped Feemster reach his conclusion, which claims that a "hyper-secret, black-project aircraft" operated by the CIA flew over Fort Smith that night.
"After extensive research, I found evidence that supports the plausible explanation that the lights were from a group of aircraft in formation with an air refueling tanker," he said. "When another plane comes up to the tanker, all of the tanker's lights on the bottom dim. This would explain why the lights, to someone on the ground, looked like they were changing."
The V-shaped object seen after midnight most likely was an A-12 Cygnus, which was operated secretly by the CIA as part of Project OXCART between 1962 and 1968, Feemster said. The A-12 could fly at an altitude of 90,000 feet at Mach 3; this A-12's ability wasn't thought possible for any aircraft during that time period, he said.
"The A-12 was the only thing we know that existed that could operate like that, at that altitude and speed," Feemster said. "I'm not against the E.T. crowd, and if the facts end up leading there, I'm fine with that.
"But given that there is some strong circumstantial evidence it was the A-12 — the aircraft did fly over Fort Smith reasonably frequently during that time period — that has to be what it was," he added. "How we did see the V shape, well, that is the question now."
According to Feemster, there isn't a plausible explanation on how the V-shaped object was illuminated.
"What time could it be if light was able to hit the shape and illuminate it?" he said. "There's no way that it happened at 4:30 a.m. or 5 a.m. My memory says that the V-shape was seen just an hour or two after midnight."
During his research, Feemster reached out to Peter Merlin, a historian and aerospace archaeologist; T.D. Barnes, a former special projects engineer with Area 51, the home for flight testing and operations for Project OXCART in Nevada; and Paul A. Suhler, author of "From Rainbow to Gusto: Stealth and the Design of the Lockheed Blackbird."
"Mr. Merlin responded and said that unless there's an over-the-horizon solar illumination, he doesn't know how the V-shaped object was seen," Feemster said. "At least officially, all of those people are stumped.
"The only thing I can do is speculate that it's still wrapped in secrecy," he added. "I can speculate that it's connected with current technology and officials don't want us to connect the dots. It's still a cloak of mystery."
Feemster, who later became friends with actors Bill Paxton and Dennis Quaid and worked as a camera operator on the movies "Twister," "Star Trek: First Contact," "A Time to Kill," "Dante's Peak" and "Can't Buy Me Love," among others, was able to read flight and event logs from the U.S. Air Force and other sources, which revealed many daily, weekly and quarterly flights over the area.
"Yet the August 1966 records are nowhere to be found," he said. "Now I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I know how the secrecy world works. All of these flight records weren't lined up at one place. They are scattered throughout with scores of other documents."
Feemster said he never was able to find the August 1966 documents.
"Coincidence or not?" he said. "Now I don't find any reason that there is major deception there, but I think there's a secret involved on how we were able to see (the V-shaped object.) It definitely wasn't because of the sun or moon. It was a new moon phase.
"And it's interesting that the USAF Project Blue Book report doesn't mention the V shape at all," Feemster added. "Now whether that is an omission by intention or they never talked to anyone who saw it, who knows? I can't assign anything malicious to that. Maybe officials just didn't interview anyone who said they saw something."