They are watching.
Every summer I get calls here at The Star News about the black helicopters. The callers will even sometimes provide grainy highly-magnified cellphone images as evidence that they are not crazy. Unfortunately, much like pictures of Big Foot, they seem to be taken at the lowest resolution possible with a 20 year old Nokia flip phone while driving at highway speeds over a rutted gravel road.
I think the most peculiar year was when people called about a large black helicopter that resembled a mutant dragonfly suspending a large equally black net-like structure underneath of it. Many people suspected this of being an attempt to capture Big Foot, robotic snow people or some genetically engineered monster that escaped from a top secret research facility hidden underneath what the official maps call the Chequamegon Waters Flowage — the body of water most locals refer to as Miller Dam.
Of course there is no top secret underground facility in Taylor County. Really, there isn’t. Honest. About the weirdest thing that has happened here is when a few hundred people came out to a farm field in the western part of the county about two dozen years ago to admire a perfectly dug square plot of land that marked the end of a lengthy land survey.
As with most conspiracy theories, it involves a hefty dose of setting aside common sense and reason. Not to mention disregarding the more obvious reason why something may be occurring.
In the case of the annual sighting of low-flying, slow moving helicopters, the logical reason is that they are out inspecting Xcel Energy’s transmission lines. Since transmission lines are up in the air, it is easier and quicker for the power company to check the lines with helicopters than any other means.
“Helicopter inspections give us an opportunity to take a closer look at the lines and see a fairly close, birds-eye view to identify repairs we may need to make to help ensure the reliability of the grid,” said Ralph Melgard, who in addition to having an awesome last name is the transmission line maintenance coordinator for Xcel Energy. Since Xcel operates more than 7,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines in the Upper Midwest, making sure they are well-maintained is an important task.
As far as the net slinging helicopter from several years back, that had an equally mundane, but still kind of cool, explanation. It was a prospecting flight and the net being a giant metal detector looking for potential mineral deposits. I have to think it is a twisted sense of humor that drives them to paint these things black and making them look as sinister as possible.
The growth in conspiracy theories is somewhat troubling and in some cases fairly ironic such as the overthe- top religious types who are very vocal in casting doubt on anything they themselves did not witness. I seem to remember a story about a guy named Thomas that has the same sort of issues.
It is also interesting how the conspiracy theories seem to heavily reinforce the preconceived ideas of the people who have them. The further out on the fringes you are on each side of the aisle, the more wild the theories become.
I particularly enjoy when people go on social media rants about “main stream media” cabals that gather in clandestine meetings to practice mind-control techniques.
In all honesty when groups of newspaper people get together the biggest question is where the bar is located and then after a few rounds tell about how great their towns are compared to people from other places — even if there seems to be an awful lot of black helicopters flying around.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.