"Blogged in the desert" links to an obituary for Lt. Colonel Hank Meierdierk, who died March 21st at 84. If that name is not familiar to you, reflect on all the stories you've read about people seeing UFOs while driving through the desert at night. Back in the 1950s and 60s, Lt. Col Meierdierk was the pilot of many of those UFOs.
Meierdierk is one of the last survivors of a group called Roadrunners Internationale who, in their younger years, worked at the secret Area 51 military base near Las Vegas. That's the place UFOlogists evoke to symbolize the alleged government cover-up of its contacts with alien space beings. Supposedly, an alien spacecraft crash-landed near Roswell, NM, and was taken to Area 51 for study to determine potential military applications.
You don't need to add science fiction to make Area 51 interesting. According to this 2005 story from KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, the Roadrunners were Air Force officers, CIA officers and defense contractors, working together on the U.S. fleet of spy planes — the U-2, the A-12 and the SR 71.
Harry Martin worked on the fuel system of the A-12 and was at Groom Lake for the very first flight.
"It is still the fastest and highest flying aircraft in the world," said Harry Martin who worked on the A-12 spy plane. This year marks the 50th anniversary of both the Groom Lake base and the U-2 spy plane.
Some of the Roadrunners were at Groom Lake from day one and were the first to fly the so-called Dragon Lady. "We were up in the unknown realm at that particular time. For example, I had the altitude record three times, and Ray Goudy had it three times. We were exchanging it, going higher and higher when the aircraft could," said Lt. Col. Hank Meierdierck, former CIA employee and U-2 pilot.
The Lt. Colonel had to use a code name even among other military men. He and the others would be gone for weeks at a time but could not even tell their wives what they were doing, which prompted jokes that maybe the wives thought the men had a second family somewhere.
Some of the family members are hearing the real stories for the first time, and the Roadrunners are making a concerted effort to preserve the history of those heady days.
"For many years, we couldn't talk about anything we did. They've taken the lid off it where we can, so while we still can mentally and physically, we're going to get some of the stories out," said T.D. Barnes, former CIA electronics expert.
These super-secret aircraft had to be tested, and it was over the desert landscapes of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California where they flew. Drivers on the long and lonely highways would see lighted objects in the sky moving in ways that appeared other-worldly, and that's how many UFO legends were born.
It's still going on, according to KLAS reporter George Knapp's frequent reports, including this one from February:
The world's most advanced warplane, the F-22 Raptor, will be coming to Nellis Air Force base later this year for operations testing. But could there be other miracle machines flying in Nevada skies?
Witnesses from the edges of Nevada military ranges have reported seeing some unusual aircraft over the past few years. "Nearly everyone up here has seen something," one resident said.
One craft that's been seen in the vicinity of the secret Groom Lake military base looks just like the Stealth fighter, except it's bigger. Chuck Clark is an inveterate sky watcher and saw one last year.
"I saw it going west to east across the Valley, 1,000 feet above the ground," Clark said. "It had a chase plane, an F-15. The F-15 was markedly smaller."
In reality, an F-15 and F-117 are nearly identical in size. Prominent aviation writers say they've heard rumors about a so-called super size stealth fighter, but the program has not been confirmed. Such a plane would be valuable because it could carry more bombs than the stealth we know today. Clark figures the military wanted to show it off "by flying it across the Valley in broad daylight. They can't have a press conference since they don't exist."
Roadrunners Internationale has a rich, Flash-animated website that's worth checking out for the many photos, articles and recollections of this fascinating, underappreciated aspect of Cold War history. The site now features an extensive obituary for Lt. Col. Meierdierk:
Those in the Roadrunner organization are happy to know that Hank's departure on his final flight was launched from Cloud Nine. At the Roadrunner reunion last October Hank received an award from the CIA in recognition of his contribution to the early CIA U-2 program at Area 51. Additionally, Hank was subsequently recognized in various ceremonies recognizing the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the U-2 Dragonlady spyplane at Area 51.
Roadrunners Internationale's slogan is priceless:
In God We Trust – All Others We Monitor