Chinese lanterns are the source of many ‘UFO‘ sightings – but the role played by remote-controlled drones should not be overlooked.


The Royal Navy’s new unmanned drone, The Scan Eagle (credit: blog.oregononline.com)

UCAVs (unmanned combat air vehicles) are used extensively, and controversially, by both the USAF and RAF in combat operations in Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

And in the same week the final MoD UFO files were released by The National Archives, a defence source claimed police and MoD knew some of the ‘sightings’ recorded in the database were sparked by secret tests of an oval-shaped remotely-controlled drone.

In June the Royal Navy announced it was to get its first unmanned drone, the ScanEagle – with a wingspan of just over three metres – that is launched from a catapult from ships. It will provide an ‘eye in the sky’ for combat operations.

The MoD have invested £30 million in the project and the ScanEagle joins a growing British arsenal of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and UCAVs (unmanned combat air vehicles). These include the Raven or Corax, developed by BAE systems and tested at Woomera in Australia. Images of this UCAV were released in 2006. It has a tiny body and long outer wings designed for swift, offensive action in combat zones.

Drones are also used by police forces and private companies for a variety of crime detecting and public order purposes. These aircraft must have been developed and tested nearer home – often in secrecy.

Are drones responsible for some UFO sightings?

The Corax or Raven UCAV developed by BAE systems and unveiled in 2006 (source: BAE systems)

The Corax or Raven UCAV developed by BAE systems and unveiled in 2006 (source: BAE systems)

News of the closure of the MoD’s UFO desk led a retired defence scientist to send a letter to The Times (24 June 2013) confessing his role as the ‘source of some of the [UFO] sightings’ in the MoD database. He says:

“During the 1980s a British aircraft company developed a small vertical take-off UAV, which carried different equipment for the various roles, one system showing considerable promise for remotely detecting and destroying landmines and IEDs.

“It successfully carried out trials in many civilian and military operations in several parts of the UK and in other countries.

“When flying at night the UAV was required to carry navigation lights and, because of its circular shape and its ability to hover and fly in all directions, it had to show two green and two two red lights around its periphery. 

“The back-light from these showed up a ghostly image of its oval shape. This gave rise to several ‘sightings’ – although we attempted to pre-inform the local police of our pending presence.”

This admission reminded me of a comment I obtained from the former Ministry of Defence Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Ronald Mason, who told me last year:

“I can only speculate that as the numbers and nature of drones increase there will be more and more ‘observations’ of unusual objects in the sky.”

Drones such as these could be responsible for a number of so-called ‘UFO’ sightings including a recent photograph published in a Bromley, Kent, newspaper.  A woman told the local newspaper the image shows a strange ‘aircraft’  she saw hovering near her home in the early hours of 27 April.

The object appeared big and circular and ‘didn’t sound like a place [or] a helicopter’. Tellingly, she added:

“I don’t know whether there is another type of aircraft we don’t know about, but it just didn’t look like anything I have ever seen before.”

See also Matt Lyon’s paper on UAVs on the BUFORA website here.

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2 Responses to UFO? = UAV

  1. Jenny Randles says:

    Interesting news, and always a likely prospect for some UK reports. In the North West we long suspected that there were test flights of some experimental craft from Bae Warton flying in and around the Ribble estuary and that these were behind several sightings that we investigated. It will be fun checking back through cases to see which might match. I was also told by an RAF flight lieutenant, when giving a talk at an air base, that an incident with an out of control drone was responsible for a UFO sighting made near Lakenheath in 1984. Might be worth looking deeper.

  2. Robert Moore says:

    The Ventnor Isle of Wight case (May 19 1985) also seems another case that could finally be resolved as one of R G Austin’s oval semi luminated drones. This explanation was suspected at the time, so these claims of a circular drone being tested during the 1980’s are interesting in this light….

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