The stratobowl is a historic site nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The site is located in a valley just outside of Rapid City. In 1934 and 1935, the Army Air Corps launched manned balloon flights into the stratosphere to a record height of 72,395 feet. Before the flights were set in the history books and media covered the area, something else was here. Something that carved out the site for future events. If you take the hike to the stratobowl, when you get to the overlook, there is a giant peace symbol carved into the ground. This is the launching site for all balloon flights. Most people think that this symbol is carved into the grass by people who live there. Well it’s not. In fact it’s never even been touched. The symbol always stays there and was carved into the ground a long time ago.
This site isn’t new to launchings or landings. In fact it’s been landed on many times. People often say they see lights at the stratobowl. These occurrences usually happen a couple times a year. The first launch by humans at the stratobowl wasn’t to set a space record. It was launched to find the lights that came at night. The first launch from the bowl was actually made at night. It didn’t go according to plan and the men who went up into the stratosphere never came back down.
Luke Handrock and Neil Baker were the two brave men who made the first balloon launch. In 1933, these two men had been preparing for months to go up into the stratosphere. For the technology that was around back then, they gave every ounce of commitment they had to this journey. Everything was unknown and there were so many variables, they didn’t know what to expect. This was the first manned flight that had ever been made. No one knew what to expect. They knew the first sighting of the lights had come three years prior to this flight. A burst of light had come down from the sky and carved a hole into the hill. The light stayed there for almost three hours. It then went black and what was left, looked like a launching pad, with a symbol carved out. This eventually became known as the peace symbol.
The lights that came around the stratobowl never brought harm to anyone. Some people had been reported missing but eventually turned up with no memory of what happened. Luke and Neil were the only two that never returned. The lights were actually aliens and they held Luke and Neil to learn about the human race. The aliens never wanted to harm anyone; they just wanted to expand their knowledge. The humans are a very unique race and the aliens had traveled from their home planet to research them.
August 22, 1933, was when the first launch was made. The military brought the balloon in on a flat bed trailer. They loaded the balloon up with air while Luke and Neil put their suits on. The suits didn’t have much to them, mainly because the technology of the time was less than superior. The two men fastened up and walked over to the balloon. Getting ready to launch themselves into the air and explore these lights first hand. The chains were let loose on the balloon and off they went. Climbing slowly into the dark night. The stars seemed almost in arms reach as they floated closer and closer. Of course they were quite a ways off. They made it about 30,000 feet into the air when the balloon began to shake. No one had ever done this before so Luke and Neil didn’t know if this was normal or if this had something to do with the aliens. Once they hit 40,000 feet, lights came down from the sky and covered the balloon. Both of the men had to close their eyes, it was so bright. The balloon didn’t stop rising though. It actually began climbing faster and faster. After about thirty seconds the lights went black and the balloon was gone. No one on the ground knew what to do. Where had the two men gone? What had happened to them? Panic set in down below.
Luke and Neil had been brought up into the aliens ship. The balloon had been set off to the side and the two men were laying on tables. They were still fully clothed, but had been strapped down and couldn’t move. They looked at each other, terrified. They didn’t know what was happening or where they were. One of the aliens stepped into the room and came over to them. Luke and Neil were completely shocked. The aliens looked exactly like humans. They had skin, hair and bones just like them. Aliens had always been thought to be strange looking creatures. Huge heads with big black eyes and long arms. The alien came over and waved some wand over both the men. It scanned their bodies. The alien then took his hand and laid it on each mans head. A shock went through each of them and memories began flashing. They could see their own memories flashing around and each others. The alien then let go and walked out the door. This was the last time they ever saw this, creature. Two other aliens came into the room, looking exactly like humans still and lifted both the men up and put them in a cell. Once there, they never left again. Luke and Neil spent the rest of their days in that cell on this ship. Every so often the aliens would come in to do more tests or to draw blood samples. They never talked to Luke or Neil.
The historic launches that happened after that night were done during the day. No strange occurrences ever happened after that. The military took the files from that first flight and locked them away in a safe. No one, except the people who were there that night, ever heard about the flight. They scrubbed it from the record books and kept it a long dark secret. The aliens made their presence known a couple times a year, but nothing like that August night. Just simple lights in the sky and weird noises that could be heard through the hills. It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s when things went into full swing.
The Air Force pulled out the files of the first launch. They went over all the details 0f what had happened. They wondered if the two men could still be alive or where had they gone. They put together a task force to do another secret launch. This time they had better equipment and were coming more prepared. The Air Force brought two veterans to go into the stratosphere. Their names were John Thompson and Rick Taylor. Both of them had been in the Air Force over eighteen years. They’d flown every plane that the Air Force offered and had been through every test imaginable. If anyone was qualified for the job, it was these two. The Air Force built a pod for them to go up in. It had camera’s inside and outside the pod. They could record everything that happened. in case something went wrong. They planned to launch on the same date and time as the original flight.
August 22, 1983, was here. The Air Force had everything ready to go at the stratobowl launch site. John and Rick gathered their gear and handheld video recorders. They put their suits on and locked their helmets down. The original launch left at exactly 10:00 pm. The two men stepped into the pod and put on their harnesses. 10:00 pm rolled around and the pod left the ground, slowly rising into the air. This one was moving a little faster. John and Rick were professionals and were ready for whatever came their way. They both had parachutes on. If something went wrong they could jump out and hopefully make it back to earth in one piece. Fifteen minutes had passed and they were at 30,000 feet, where the first launch had been when things started going south. Nothing was happening this time. Maybe the aliens didn’t need any more humans or didn’t care. They rose about another 5,000 feet when lights started flickering outside their pod. They weren’t lights on the pod, but out in the distance. Rick and John looked outside the small windows and saw the lights getting brighter. They rose another 5,000 feet and the lights were even brighter than before and moving closer.
Rick and John reached 45,000 feet and the lights came flying by them. Putting their pod into a tail spin. The pod was spinning around and around. Both men were strapped in but, were spinning so fast it was hard to reach out and grab anything. The lights came flying back by them again and they started spinning in the opposite direction. Once the spinning stopped, they looked out the windows. There were lights on either side of the pod, now flickering on and off. Rick looked at John and said, “Should we hit the boosters or cut loose from the balloon?” John looked outside and back at Rick. “We didn’t come this far to cut loose and go home. Hit the boosters.” Rick pushed the button on the side of the pod and the two small jets connected to the top of the balloon lit up. They quickly started ascending. Every thousand feet they rose seemed to only take seconds. They hit 60,000 feet and the boosters cut out. There wasn’t any fuel left.
Rick and John looked out the windows. They couldn’t see anything but stars. Suddenly the pod was hit by something and one of the cables attached to the balloon snapped loose. The pod went sideways. Rick was now hanging over the top of John. The pod was hit again and the second cable snapped loose. There was only one cable remaining. The balloon that was keeping them in the sky lit on fire. The pod began dropping and spinning down towards the ground. Everyone on the ground saw what was happening. They radioed the men in the pod to open the door. The pod was spinning too fast to open it. There was a self destruct button that would blow the pod apart, but they would lose all evidence of what they had seen. The choices were either die for the sake of science or live. Quite the decision they had to make. Rick told John they were blowing this pod apart and ejecting with their parachutes. John agreed and they both pushed their buttons. The pod blew apart over the stratobowl, 20,000 feet in the air, while pieces came crashing down. The two men pulled the strings on their chutes and started slowly floating back to the ground. They were both close to landing when the same light that shined down in 1933, burst through the sky and covered both of the men.
The people on the ground weren’t able to see what was happening. All the video recorders were going, but the light was so bright it was blocking out any video being captured on the screens. The men below tried to radio up to Rick and John to see what was happening. The only thing they were getting in reply was static. Finally a transmission came through and it sounded like John. All they heard were two words, “Come here”. The radios went dead after that and the light stopped shining. Everything was black in the sky. The men on the ground brought out their giant lights and shined them into the sky. They were panning left and right, trying to find two needles in a haystack, floating around up there. Finally they pinpointed the two men and kept the lights on them as they were floating to the ground. They finally landed, but neither one of them was conscious. Everyone ran over to the two men and flipped them over on to their backs. What they saw next shocked every single person there. The two men that had came down from the sky weren’t John and Rick. When they rolled the men over and took off their helmets it was Luke Handrock and Neil Baker. The two men that disappeared in 1933. Even more strange, was these two men hadn’t aged a day. They were exactly the same way they looked when they had disappeared exactly fifty years ago. Rick and John were now with the aliens in their ship.
This mission hadn’t solved anything or made any progress. They just ended up trading the two men. Luke and Neil woke up and were a little groggy. They weren’t sure where they were or who these people were around them. They told everyone there, “Thank you for rescuing us.” Then told them something that sent chills down each persons back. “The aliens are far from finished. They’ve only just begun.”