New monument pays tribute to little known Biggleswade UFO hoax
- Credit: Archant
In 1957, just 10 years after the Roswell incident and at the height of fear over alien invasion, Biggleswade became the UFO capital of the UK.
Scores of eyewitnesses reported the same thing. A series of flashing lights in the sky that would last around four minutes before shooting off in a cloud of sparks.
People across the town saw these strange lights for months before the mystery was finally cleared up by engineer and inventor Frank A Russell.
After attaching a fake flying saucer with cables to a weather balloon, Frank had fooled the whole town, newspaper reporters and national security officials with an elaborate UFO hoax.
Little was known about Frank until two years ago, when designer David Appleyard discovered his story.
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“I was searching through the archives at Biggleswade Library and stumbled across a newspaper article about the hoax,” David said.
“When you try and dig deeper there is very little out there so it has a taken a while to gather up the stories about him.
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“The interesting thing is that on the internet you can’t find him so we are uncovering Frank’s story and it’s nice that we’ve had to do a bit of digging to find out what he did.”
Keen to pay tribute to Frank and tell his story, David and graphic designer Jon Cannon started Project FAR – named after Frank’s initials.
This week, after a number of weather delays, they finally placed a monument in Kings Reach and launched a weather balloon to remember the hoax.
“The monument is an ex-RAF fuel tank from a Tornado, similar to the surplus Frank used for his flying machines,” said Jon.
“We found it in a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. It was like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, just box after box.
“Just before they thought we were completely mad, we managed to persuade them to look at one last box.
“They got the crane out, got it down and it was perfect.
“We wanted to try and keep it as pure as possible so we haven’t changed it much. We painted it yellow but apart from that it’s very much how it was.”
The weather balloon, launched with the help of space exploration company Sent Into Space, will travel into Earth’s outer orbit before landing in the Costwolds.
Attached to the balloon is a box filled with cameras, designed to capture and document the new Kings Reach development, while a tracker will allow for the cameras to be easily found and retrieved.
With fear over national security high, Frank could have been in serious trouble – but his concerns were a lot closer to home.
“This was right in a time of UFO hype because of Roswell,” said Jon. “It generated a lot of national security interest, what is going on? Is it the Russians? As it happened it was Frank.”
“There was a chance he could have got in trouble – the government was looking into it,” added David.
“I think his main concern was whether he was going to get a telling-off from his wife because he built them in his garage and his wife had no idea what was going on.
“God knows what she thought when he was sneaking off in the middle of the night.”
Frank also had another invention, as David explained.
“He had two main inventions, the UFO and a submarine which pre-dated that,” said David.
“Saying it was cobbled together would be rude because it was really well built. It was made out of a military minesweeper and he wanted to use it to find Atlantis!”
As well as being a tribute to Frank, Project FAR’s aims were similar to his.
“Frank wasn’t pranking people for the sake of it,” said Jon.
“He wanted to make people talk and we want to do something similar. It’s a celebration of imagination.”
Frank’s story, the aerial photos of Kings Reach and the work of Project FAR will be made into a book, with David and Jon desperate to contact any of Frank’s descendants or people who knew him.
If you are related to Frank or know anyone who is, contact email@example.com.