And it’s all ripped from the headlines: On July 19, 1952, air traffic controllers at Washington National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base really did spot curious blips on their radar screens. Similar anomalies showed up a week later. Fighter jets were scrambled, leading to headlines such as this one from The Post: “ ‘Saucer’ Outran Jet, Pilot Says; Air Force Puts Lid on Inquiry.”
If a lid was put on the inquiry, J. Allen Hynek was inside the pot. The astronomer was the scientific adviser to Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s UFO investigation. In the TV show, he’s played by Aidan Gillen, Littlefinger from “Game of Thrones” and Carcetti in “The Wire.”
“He definitely thought that it was something intelligently guided,” Hynek’s son Joel said of his father. “Where it was coming from, he didn’t know.”
Joel, an Oscar-winning visual-effects supervisor, served as a consultant to the show, along with his brother Paul, an entrepreneur and adjunct professor of finance and accounting at Pepperdine University. Both live in Los Angeles.
It was J. Allen Hynek who popularized the term “unidentified flying object” and coined “close encounters of the third kind.” During World War II, he lived in Silver Spring and worked on government projects. His scientific rigor made him perfect for the Air Force’s study of unexplained events.
“This was always where we wanted to be headed,” David O’Leary, creator of the show, said of the D.C. UFO sightings in the final episode. “What is more inherently dramatic than this true event?”
And what is more inherently Washington than conspiracy and coverups?
“In many ways, Project Blue Book was a disinformation campaign, a front used to control public perception,” O’Leary said.
That’s certainly how the show comes across. The Hynek sons have a more nuanced take.
“He felt that you should have an open mind if you’re confronted with a new phenomenon,” Paul said. “People talk about how he went from skeptic to believer, but it’s more accurate to say that when there is [an unexplained] phenomenon, what a scientist does is try to evaluate it and classify it so other scientists can compare notes.”
And Hynek didn’t necessarily think UFOs came from outer space.
Said Joel: “If you forced him to say, ‘What do you think it is, most likely?’ he would say the evidence seems to support that it’s something ‘meta-terrestrial,’ as he put it. It’s not necessarily hardware that comes extraterrestrially through space. It’s something that transitions from another dimension.”
In the first episode of “Project Blue Book,” the Hynek character explains to his wife, Mimi, that his consulting gig will bring in a little extra money. I asked his sons: Did it really?
“I think that some of the first moneys from Project Blue Book were used to build a cabin up in northern Ontario on a remote lake,” said Joel.
Said Paul, “That’s our summer vacation cabin to this day.”
Hmm. Sounds like the perfect retreat in case of alien invasion.
Springtime for scammers
One invasion is all too real: scammers. Not long ago, I heard about an email going around that claims to be from the DMV. “This notice is to inform you that you have been cited with a traffic violation and must pay your citation within 72 hours,” it begins. “Do not mail in your checks to us. All citations must be paid online through our EasyPay Center.”
There’s a link that takes you to the scammer.
“It is a phishing scam,” Sgt. Sunyoung Kim of the Montgomery County police wrote to me in an email. “And as you can see it does not have the photo that is normally included in the real speed camera citation.”
Meanwhile, the FCC sent out a warning last week that consumers should be on the alert for phone calls from people claiming to be from the IRS.
The IRS hardly ever calls (they typically mail you a letter), and if they do, they won’t demand immediate payment using a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Nor will they threaten to immediately sic the police on you.
For more information, visit fcc.gov/consumers.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.
Correction: An earlier version of this column said the “Project Blue Book” season finale airs Monday night. It’s on Tuesday night.