Retired Royal Air Force officer Michael Swiney, who observed three UFOs while flying a training mission in 1952, has died aged 90.
Swiney’s close encounter occurred shortly after a wave of unexplained sightings during the NATO operation Mainbrace. According to Captain Ed Ruppelt former head of the USAF’s Project Blue Book, it was these sightings that prompted the RAF to set up its first UFO investigation bureau.
Air Commodore Swiney OBE joined the RAF in 1945 and served at bases in Scotland, West Germany and Saigon. He ended his career as an air intelligence officer at Ministry of Defence where he had access to classified files on unusual sightings, many of which have since been destroyed.
But it was his sighting whilst flying a Meteor T7 twin-jet from RAF Little Rissington on 21 October 1952 that haunted him throughout his career.
His account was published in my book (with Andy Roberts) Out of the Shadows (Piatkus, 2002) and in The UFO Files: The Inside Story of Real Life Sightings (Bloomsbury, 2012).
Swiney had been flying for nine years when he left the airfield at Little Rissington on the training flight over southwest England. As the Meteor, with Crofts at the controls, punched through clouds at about 15,000 feet both men were amazed to see ‘three white…circular objects’ above them.
He remembered exclaiming ‘what on Earth is going on!’
Initially he thought they could be three descending parachutes and, fearful of tearing through their canvasses, Swiney took control of the aircraft from his student.
As both men watched in amazement, the three objects appeared to change position ‘and lost their circular shape and took on more of a “flat plate” appearance’: much like the classic ‘flying saucer‘ of pop culture.
Swiney reported their observation to ground control and returned to base, where the two men were separated and interviewed by officers from Air Ministry. They were told their visual sighting had been corroborated by ground radar and aircraft had been scrambled to intercept the UFOs, without success.
The incident remained an official secret until a partial account of it emerged in Air Marshal Sir Peter Horsley’s book Sounds from Another Room in 1997. Horsley was at the time equerry to the Duke of Edinburgh, who had received a written account of Swiney and Croft’s sighting for his personal files. But Horsley’s account in his book was written from memory.
Swiney heard nothing more about his observation until 1975 when serving as Air Commodore (Intelligence) at MoD he asked to see a copy of his report. He read it and placed it back in his ‘out tray’ without taking a copy.
‘That was my biggest regret,’ he told me in 2004. ‘Because after my retirement, when I tried to trace the report by writing to the MoD, I was told that all reports prior to 1962 had been destroyed.’
The only surviving official document that refers to the Little Rissington incident is a logbook entry that refers to a sighting of three ‘saucer shaped objects’ travelling at high speed. It concludes: ‘Later, ATCC Gloucester reported radar plots to confirm this, but Air Ministry discounted any possibility of “extra terrestrial objects”.
The Air Ministry report on this and other incidents reported by RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots from the 1950s appear to have been destroyed in one of many subsequent purges of the MoD archives.
Michael Swiney was one of the most impressive witnesses I interviewed during my research for The National Archives. Refreshingly, he refused to embellish his account of his experience, or distort it by immersion in the literature of the UFO industry.
‘I don’t think there are little green men who are going to suddenly land and get out of peculiar looking craft,’ he told me.
‘But what I do know is that both David Crofts and I saw something, the like of which we had never seen before, and I have never seen since. I can’t explain it.
‘I was frightened. I make no bones about it. It was something supernatural, perhaps, and when I landed someone told me I looked as if I had seen a ghost.’