On the trail of the phantom copter

The Daily Mirror has published the results of my Freedom of Information research on the phantom helicopter mystery that plagued British police forty years ago.

A typical news headline from 1974

A typical news headline from 1974

The full story was published in Britain’s X-traordinary Files and a summary can be found on my Case Files pages. Here is an excerpt Mirror’s version:

A phantom helicopter which spooked the nation in the 70s was feared to be an IRA terror weapon ready to be unleashed on the mainland, it has emerged.

Secret Scotland Yard files have revealed how police, Special Branch, MI5 and the MoD desperately tried to hunt down a daredevil pilot making night-time flights over rural England.

A Special Branch memo said: “The IRA has access to and is believed to have used a helicopter for training purposes in the Derbyshire area”.

From 1973 there were numerous sightings of a helicopter flying illegally over the Peak District during a period of 12 months.

Police received reports the helicopter was seen flying without lights as low as 100ft.

The ghost helicopter hit the headlines in the Daily Mirror with one pilot explaining at the time: “This guy’s a madman – or a great flier.”

Now, more than forty years later, papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the police and security services had fears this helicopter was being used by the IRA.

Top policeman George Oldfield, who later led the Yorkshire Ripper hunt, was told by an informant, a helicopter crew had been carrying out “target practice” in the Peaks.

There were also concerns the IRA planned to spring terrorist prisoners from maximum security Wakefield Jail and had been plotting to steal lethal explosives from a quarry.

Dr Dave Clarke, an academic at Sheffield Hallam University, who uncovered the papers, said: “These documents show the security services were concerned that terrorists might have the ability to attack Britain from the air thirty years before 9/11, using hijacked helicopters or even light aircraft.

“There was talk of using the Harrier jump jet to intercept the mystery helicopter at night over the Peak District.

“They never discovered who the devil-may-care pilot was and how he managed to fly his machine in darkness in such a foolhardy way without coming to grief.

“The whole phantom helicopter story reads like something from a James Bond novel.”

Read more here. The Mirror story follows media coverage of my research into MI5 investigations of mysterious ‘crop markings’ and lights in the sky that were linked with German Fifth Columnists during the Second World War. The Mail Online story can be found here and my 2013 blogpost on the MI5 dossier is here.


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2 Responses to On the trail of the phantom copter

  1. Morgan says:

    It’s interesting how readily we (well, journos) use words like ‘phantom’ and ‘ghost’ in connection with something that seems very nuts-and-bolts in every respect. Contrast with the ‘ghost fliers’ that are alleged to be silent, and obsolete types.
    Anyway, aren’t the Gubmint/NWO supposed to have countless black helicopters?

  2. Peter Booth says:

    Hi David.

    First time I’ve heard of the helicopter connection with the Yorkshire Ripper’s crimes.

    Curiously I seem to recall that the helicopter was also brought up during the trial of The Black Panther aka Donald Nielson by his solicitor Barrington Black in regard to evidence relating to the kidnapping of Lesley Whittle who was held prisoner in a drainage shaft in Bathpool Park Kidsgrove Staffordshire in 1975.

    Unfortunately I can’t remember the the details of how the helicopter was alleged to have
    been connected with the case.

    Best wishes


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