The curious collection of a slightly mad scientist
There are two ways to explain why Bigfoot can’t be found. There’s the conventional view–that Bigfoot doesn’t exist–and then there’s what we might call the Donald Rumsfeld view: that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. In this view, we haven’t found Bigfoot because we haven’t looked hard enough. Specifically, we haven’t looked with drones.
This is the raison d’etre of the Falcon Project. It’s a kind of supernatural missing persons mission, calling for “eyes in the sky” in combination with a “quick response investigative ground team.” They would spend months at a time scanning undisclosed locations with high Bigfoot potential, hoping not only for irrefutable video, but to make contact. “You know, putting out a transmitter in a banana that can be passed through the gut and while it’s internal serve as a tracking device,” says principal investigator Jeff Meldrum. “Those kinds of things.”
Those kinds of things. As outlandish as the plan sounds, it has the imprimatur of Idaho State University, which set up an account to receive tax-deductible donations. The reason why is Meldrum. He’s the most reputable face not only of the Falcon Project, but of all Bigfoot belief. Meldrum is a tenured professor at ISU who teaches human anatomy and publishes papers on how (non-Bigfoot) primates walk. When I spoke with him, he was late because his students were busy cutting up cadavers. “We just did the abdominal wall and the inguinal canal,” he said.
But a sizable hunk of Meldrum’s CV falls under the category of “cryptozoology,” where he applies his knowledge of primate gaits to footprints identified by amateur Sasquatch-ologists. This work is published not in Science or Nature, but places like his own journal of Bigfoot Studies, the Relict Hominoid Inquiry. “Some would label me as a crackpot, and [say] that I’m an embarrassment to the university,” says Meldrum. But publicity is publicity. “ISU has in some ways been kind of put on the map as the only university that has a resident faculty member who is publishing on this subject,” says Meldrum. “And that’s noteworthy.”
Of course, if finding Bigfoot were as simple as strapping a GoPro to a quadcopter and heading for the forest, Meldrum would have more than footprints. “When you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, it’s not like you’re just flying over farmer John’s pasture to count how many white-tailed deer are coming out every night and bedding down in his alfalfa,” he says.
To catch an unlikely creature, you need an unlikely drone: quiet enough to escape notice, sturdy enough to carry NASA-grade cameras and long-range enough to sweep vast swaths of potential Sasqautch stomping ground. “The disadvantage of helicopters is obviously they’re noisy,” says Meldrum. “A fixed-wing aircraft has the disadvantage of not being able to hover.”
Hence the proposed solution, the falcon of the Falcon Project: a 50-feet-wide double-blimp, catamaran-style airship, with a “proprietary” engine that can allegedly fly silently at speeds of 45 knots, stop on a dime and hover thousands of feet above the forest canopy. The maker is a Canadian company that makes blimps for outdoor marketing campaigns: R.A.T.S. Inc.. (It stands for Remote Aerial Tripod Specialists, but the company’s logo also includes the glowing face of a rat.)
The other big piece of technology in the project (also proprietary) is the “high definition thermal imaging” camera, created by Infrared Cameras Incorporated. “To our knowledge no company has used a telephoto lens of this size with an uncooled 1024 x 768 camera for such a project other than possibly the U.S. Defense,” avers the breathless description on the Falcon Project’s defunct Kickstarter.
The fact that the Kickstarter page is defunct hints at the hurdle the project just can’t seem to clear: Money.
Meldrum and his prize.The cost of the blimp is, according to Meldrum, between $220,000 and $260,000; the camera, another $60,000. Factor in a ground team, and odds and ends like a low-frequency “infrasound” system (in case the Bigfoot happen to communicate like whales) and the total price tag rises to upwards of $400,000 for the first year of operation. When Meldrum was brought onboard, he says the project’s “owner and founder” William Barnes–who claims to have encountered Bigfoot in a pup tent in northern California while out dredging for gold–had private philanthropists lined up, but they seem to have gotten cold, normal-sized feet.
Given the shortage of foundations dedicated to finding unseen, potentially nonexistent apes, the Falcon Project has turned instead to Joe Sasquatch-hunter. “I expected a groundswell of support from the Bigfoot community,” Meldrum says. But the Kickstarter campaign closed after 45 days with $11,865, at only 3% of its goal. Meldrum says a subsequent fundraiser in Portland, Oregon this June barely broke even, when just a handful of people showed up. “That is not just a fluke, that’s an entire community turning its back,” says Meldrum.
It could be that the “Bigfoot community” has doubts about the technology (which Meldrum admits he has not seen in action) or are simply unwilling to put their money where their Bigfoot-believing mouths are. But Meldrum also cites “bad blood” from those who see Bigfoot not as an elusive animal, but something close to human. “They saw this process as intrusive, invasive of their privacy, as molesting or harassing the population,” says Meldrum.
Despite its struggles, the Falcon Project is not yet dead. “We have ideas,” says Meldrum. They could charge for a livestream of the Bigfoot blimp-cam. They could charge to see Meldrum’s footprint collection in various Las Vegas casino lobbies. Or they could just sell T-shirts of the footprints. “They were hits down at Comic-Con,” says Meldrum. “I guess there was quite a cryptozoology presence down there.”