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Operation Welcome Wagon was a hastily organized attempt by the United States government to communicate with the Harvesters following the arrival of the City Destroyers during the War of 1996.


After the arrival of the aliens on July 2, 1996, human attempts to contact them remained unsuccessful. In the United States, the Thomas Whitmore administration planned to make a physical attempt to communicate the City Destroyer hovering over Washington, D.C.

Through this endeavor, the U.S. Air Force used a heavily modified Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter, loaned from the U.S. Forest Service, attached with a large section of a scoreboard taken from the RFK Memorial Stadium, which served as a visual communication device to make the initial step in communicating with the aliens. This massive light display provide mathematical formulas (including the value of pi, the first ten prime numbers, and Albert Einstein's E=mc2) and devised by S.E.T.I. to 'speak' a language to the aliens that is universal followed by the word "peace" written in ten different languages.[1][2]

Tracked by many reporters from various news networks, the Skycrane took off from Andrews Air Force Base with two Bell UH-1 Iroquois as its escorts and flew to the massive vessel. Just as the helicopter broadcast their message, President Whitmore learned from David Levinson that the aliens did not come to Earth with peaceful intentions. Before the Welcome Wagon helicopters were ordered to withdraw, the City Destroyer responded by destroying the helicopters and their eight pilots with energy fire, clearly showing to humanity that the aliens are hostile.[3]


Behind the scenes[]

  • The name for "Operation Welcome Wagon" was conceived by video sequences director Ed Marsh while scripting and shooting his fake newscasts for playback during the production. Marsh reasoned that all military operations are given a "spiffy PR name." The name subsequently found its way into the final dialogue.
  • The "Welcome Wagon" sequence was an homage to Steven Spielberg's classic film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which large flashing lights arrays are used to communicate with an extraterrestrial spaceship. Also, the 'peaceful' contact bears similarity to a scene from H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds and its adaptations in which a group of humans make an ill-fated attempt at peaceful contact with aliens and are killed in response.
  • According to Dean Devlin that while the Sikorsky was first test-flew with the lights on, over 150 calls were received in Orange County from callers who spotted the helicopter and, unsure of what it was, reported it as a "UFO sighting".[4]
  • The falling wreckage of the Welcome Wagon helicopters was footage of fiery debris that was captured on film after a pyrotechnics malfunction occurred on set.
  • In the novelization, an AH-64 Apache instead of the Sikorsky was use in Operation Welcome Wagon.


  1. Independence Day: Official Novelization
  2. Monitor Earth Broadcasts
  3. How I Saved the World
  4. The Making of Independence Day by Rachel Aberly & Volker Engel Aug. 1996, p. 111.