Idaho State U: Show us the Bigfoot blimp

NOTE: This post has several updates, the latest being on 3/1/2015.

On Jan. 25, 2015, the Idaho State Journal published an article

on a strange project which seems to be funded through Idaho State University. Prof. Jeff Meldrum seems to have been the sole source for the article, which says he was recruited as a scientific advisor (a 2013 press release names Dr. Meldrum as Principal Investigator). The project, with a projected budget of some $250,000, aims to collect evidence for the existence of an unclassified and dubious wild primate known as “Bigfoot”, using a variety of state of the art surveillance equipment supposedly carried by a strange two-chambered blimp, an artist’s version of which is shown.
The meat of the article appears to be this:

“The Aurora is a 35-foot dual-cell catamaran-style airship. Meldrum said it can stay airborne for about 10 hours and carry a 7A5-pound payload consisting of cutting-edge thermal imaging cameras and high definition videography equipment. The professor said the airship will be operated and monitored by a knowledgeable ground crew. Thermal imaging is needed, Meldrum said, because the Bigfoot creature is considered to be nocturnal.
The Aurora is the invention of Stephen Barclay, an aeronautical engineer and owner of Remote Aerial Tripod Systems, or RATS Inc. in Alberta, Canada.”

In 2014 Dr. Meldrum announced funding: “William has met with a benefactor who has committed a quarter million dollars worth of airships (3) and much supporting equipment to the effort.”

The project has now recruited a number of men to leave their homes to act as volunteer labor for six months. The identities have been published on the project website.

Apparently the State Journal did not find the idea of a catamaran blimp (and the other claims) to be sufficiently odd to prompt any sort of fact checking. Surely the idea of a catamaran blimp (has anyone ever seen one?) should have been enough to raise a red flag. In any event, a simple search showed the RATS’s web site is dead. A further search yielded the information that RATS is supposedly located in the small town of Lac le Biche, Alberta, had only two employees,( apparently Stephen Barclay is the boss)and showed a phone number which is not in service. Phone calls to the Chamber of Commerce and various businesses there found no evidence that this company is operating nor could I locate Barclay. Some old blog posts by Barkley led to two firms who had previously done business with RATS; neither had a working number for them.

In our opinion, this is hardly the presence one would expect from the firm that is supposedly building a radical aeronautical design for delivery this summer.

The State Journal article mentions William Barnes as the instigator of the project.

The project website gives some info on Mr. Barnes
and additional undocumented claims about the purported blimp technology. Mr. Barnes’ “resume” gives no educational or formal employment data. He has apparently been seeking gold for a number of years. Seriously.

The claim is made at their Facebook page that the project received FAA approval for Mr. Barnes or someone to fly this unproven craft, supposedly at 4000 feet. Mr. Barnes has stated that his affiliation with Idaho State (thus becoming “not for profit” or a governmental operation?) enabled him to obtain this blanket permission to fly an unmanned craft wherever Mr. Barnes wishes. We aren’t experts, but, frankly, don’t believe this, and let’s just say we aren’t alone in this opinion. We suggest somebody better check on this aspect as well. Here’s what we found, at the FAA:

For public aircraft operations, the FAA issues a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) that permits public agencies and organizations to operate a particular aircraft, for a particular purpose, in a particular area. The COA allows an operator to use a defined block of airspace and includes special safety provisions unique to the proposed operation. COAs usually are issued for a specific period – up to two years in many cases.
The FAA works with these organizations to develop conditions and limitations for UAS operations to ensure they do not jeopardize the safety of other aviation operations. The objective is to issue a COA with parameters that ensure a level of safety equivalent to manned aircraft. Usually, this entails making sure that the UAS does not operate in a populated area and that the aircraft is observed, either by someone in a manned aircraft or someone on the ground to ensure separation from other aircraft in accordance with right-of-way rules. Common public uses today include law enforcement, firefighting, border patrol, disaster relief, search and rescue, military training, and other government operational missions.”

Now, since the blimp isn’t built, and neither the area of operation nor the dates are known (as Barnes admitted in a recent interview linked in the update to this post) and the operation doesn’t fit the typical uses listed we don’t see how William Barnes could possibly have advance FAA approval.

Lastly, these imaging systems cannot “see” through the canopy of the deep forest where the Bigfoot believers would have us believe these great apes live and hide.

In sum, this project seems to have large credibility gaps (even without consideration of the existence of Bigfoot). Where is this improbable blimp coming from? Is it even a workable design? Is someone being paid? “Cui bono?” Has ISU participated in recruiting these volunteers to give 6 months of their lives for a project to find a non-existent animal using a non-existent blimp from a non-existent company under non-existent permission from the FAA or the Department of the Interior?Is ISU comfortable with the Human Resources issues? How are these volunteers going to be fed and housed and kept from harm? Has the Idaho State University institutional research review board really approved this? According to William Barnes, it was approved in only five days!

We would be happy to post reassuring (and verifiable) information on the Falcon Project. Perhaps ISU thinks that Mr. Barnes is an independent contractor, so these are his problems, not ISU’s. We are not lawyers, so we can’t speak to that. What we can say is that Dr. Meldrum has been front and center telling donors a number of claims that look pretty shaky to us.

Dr. Meldrum seems to have learned that his blimp-pie in the sky project is under scrutiny. On his Facebook page (Don Jeffrey Meldrum) he seems to make subtle but noticeable retreat from his prior enthusiasm (while not providing any real info on the bizarre blimp or its maker and still soliciting contributions, however). Shortly after that post, he closes the FB page to further comments, citing an apparently coincidental(?) time crunch!!

Let’s hope the poor volunteers haven’t already given their employers notice or sublet their apartments.

Update 2/15: according to a recent interview posted January 20, 2015, project manager William Allen Barnes rambles on for over an hour, making all sorts of claims that are noticeably short on details and verification. He did, however, give these details: he has hired his volunteers without background checks, and he also states that they will all carry sidearms.
So besides showing us the blimp, ISU, let’s see your liability coverage….

And what are the odds that this unexamined collection of a dozen or more gun-toting volunteers are ever going to get permission to occupy/live on public land for six months, and surveil, harass or even worse, any “creature” that walks on two legs i.e. human beings?

Update 2/17:
In an interview on 2/16, William Barnes said (paraphrased):
He has no permits from the Department of the Interior, which would include all national forests, BLM and national parks!!!
@25 minutes into the interview: “Even if we get run off out of the United States by the Department of Interior — which has the final say on anything I do — I’ll just go to Canada.”
[!!! So it appears he has no ground to search….]
[back to the interview]
He has a close friendship with the builder of the craft, which is a one of a kind, custom made, military grade surveillance craft using a propulsion system that is effective and quiet and allows great maneuverability, and range. While the craft is to be restricted to a 10 mile radius it has a 20 mile capability.can reach heights over 10,000 feet above see level and speeds up to 45 miles per hour. The platform of the craft is 48 feet long. On board it is equipped with Thermal imaging, Inferred Night Vision, and HD filming, all observing through a very power full and large lense, fully motorized, and capable of facial recognition from a mile away. There is also Co2 recognition capabilities on board as well as redundancies in the camera chip to ensure no loss of signal, redundancies in the motor system and homing devices ensure it arrives back safely. The command and control center will feature “recognition software”that will allow them to quickly identify subjects. It is very fuel efficient and durable, even if shot in the air it will still fly and can be patched. The mission of the craft will be centered over areas where the forest floor is in view, not densely forested areas. It will be flying between mountains, but not during times of strong winds, primarily at night during the ground surveillance hours. To fly safely it will be shut down if winds are over 15 mph. Professional trackers will operate in the daylight locating sign of the creatures, and night surveillance will then be positioned. The teams will attempt to map out movements and determine the range of the creatures, and if possible capture film evidence in the process. Scat, hair, and any other form of retrievable DNA will be gathered under strict protocols. The FAA regulations for a research and education craft of it’s kind require them to obtain permits and submits flight plans, the craft is fitted with a transponder and operation lights that make it identifiable to other crafts. They will be obtaining a COA for a 500 mile area to give you an idea of the ground being covered.
The craft should be completed in the late summer and join the ground crews. The exact amount and cost of the project is not known at present, but funding is in place to get the crew out and the craft started…..

Our comment: Firstly, the claims about the non-existent blimp seem to get bigger with each telling. I would also draw attention to this
….. he has a close friendship with the builder of the craft…
And would add that this friend (who has yet to prove he is the builder) is citizen of a foreign country, for whatever that may mean in terms of accountability.

But, more importantly, Mr. Barnes makes a couple of important admissions here, most notably that he does not have an FAA authorization to use any airspace, nor permission to put his gun-toting Bigfoot zealots on any ground-space. And without the latter, how can he obtain the former???

In spite of all this, ISU is apparently sanctioning this project, and thereby allowing some 17 unpaid men to disrupt their lives for what is looking pretty half-baked.

Finally, we will add a description of Mr. Barnes’ interview given by a believer: “…he said he expected some flack for the Department of the Interior, and may even take the project
to B.C. if necessary. As far as Williams bio, he was a fundraiser for many organizations, did some prospecting, owned a business, and now is a full time researcher. I am sure he would be happy to fill you in if you called him, but be ready for a phone bill…he can talk with the best of them… and it is almost entirely interesting. I credit him with a bit of genius in that regard, just the right guy to dream this big…”

Of course, we could be wrong in our impressions of this project, and welcome any response or input from responsible parties at the school…so far we have gotten none.

Update 2/27: from the website Bigfoot Evidence 2/22/15:

It looks like the Falcon Project is going to happen sooner than thought. A month ago, Falcon Project founder William Barnes released the names of team members, and who will be the “boots on the ground” people. The most expensive Bigfoot research in the history of Bigfoot will be starting up in about 70 days.

“The first phase of the project will be 70 days from now — Boots on the ground” Barnes wrote in an email to BFE. “We have 15 man surveillance team. They will be
out there for six months collecting data and info and forensics.”

On a Facebook page, Mr. Barnes says his friend the blimp builder is rebuilding his RATS web site. Of course he is….(it’s still down). Mr. Barnes also wrote that he called his friend last week…not on the listed company phone he didn’t–it’s still out of service.
(780) 623-4954. Try if yourself.
Anybody got an email for them?

Update 3/1/2015:
We found an email address and our query has gotten no response.

Hmmm…Mr. Barnes is now referring to this as the “Skywatch Project” with his bunch of volunteers heading out this spring but no mention of “Falcon” or the blimp or RATS:

We leave in April and they will be on the move all the time…special thanks to Idaho State University Dr. Meldrum and the panel that oversees the ground crew and letting us start the Skywatch project, we will build our drones under research and development and test them for up to 2 months in our research program the send them to Africa for a anti-poaching program to protect endangered species…..
You guys think the drone is made like I we have them made then use them and test them for a month or 2 then flip them over to Africa then do it over and over.

But when queried about the blimp, he seems to suggest it’s still in the plan:

Why the dual envelope? Why not just a standard airship?
Barnes: payload 48 foot is better than 98 foot… sorry 96

$310,000? Have you bought one yet ?
How much of that is already raised? Who is building them?

Barnes: the university has a rule that full payment has to be made.

We at Over the Line, Smokey! found a Danish drone builder called Star-Watch. They make small low-altitude quadricopters:

The UAV Huginn X1 has been deployed in Africa to aid rangers against poaching in the Gondwana Game Reservation.

These are not big, colorful, dual-envelope blimps, not huge silent airships that stay aloft at 4000 ft for hours, like the advertising blurbs that has been shown many times to attract donations to the Falcon (Skywatch?) Project. These are little gizmos with a flight time under an hour. And they don’t have the lift to carry multiple large lenses and cameras and batteries.

What is Mr. Barnes (and Dr. Meldrum) actually selling? What does ISU think they are buying? Do they even care?


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2 responses to “Idaho State U: Show us the Bigfoot blimp

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