DRONES AND UFOs: new data reveals rise in close encounters with aircraft in UK airspace

Aircrew have a reported an increase in the numbers of close encounters between ‘unknown objects’ and passenger aircraft since a drone caused chaos at Gatwick Airport.

Night flying drone or UFO? The UK Airprox Board struggle to define the decide what constitutes an ‘unknown object’ (credit: Image by Pexels from Pixabay)

A pattern of disturbing incidents has emerged from data obtained by a team of investigative journalists from Newsquest Media that I have been collaborating with.

Data released by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reveals five reports in April this year alone.

And six of the cases involving ‘unknown objects’ reported in the past 12 months have been placed in the highest risk category.

That is defined as circumstances ‘in which serious risk of [a] collision has existed’.

Since May 2017 the joint CAA and military sponsored UK Airprox board (UKAB) have collated a special log of ‘Consolidated Drone/Balloon/Unknown Object reports’.

This breaks down hazards into four categories: drones [remotely piloted vehicles or UAVs], balloons [including toys and meteorological/research balloons], model aircraft and unknown objects.

If a pilot has clearly described a sighting with ‘drone-like properties’ (e.g. ‘four rotors’) then it is classified as a drone.

But ‘if the reporting pilot can only vaguely describe “an object” then it is classified as unknown object’.

In plain English, an unknown object is for all intents and purposes a UFO.

Last year 11 incidents involving ‘unknowns’ were logged. But by the end of this first six months of this year, 12 had been investigated by UKAB.

Graphic showing rise in airprox reports involving drones and ‘other objects’ to June 2019 (credit: Civil Aviation Authority: https://www.airproxboard.org.uk/Reports-and-analysis/Statistics/Statistics/)

Meanwhile the numbers of airprox incidents involving objects categorised as drones, spiralled from just six cases in 2014 – when a pilot reported a ‘air miss’ with a rugby-ball shaped UFO near Heathrow airport – to 125 by 2018.

This drone flap reached its height on 19 December last year when a security guard’s sighting of two objects over Gatwick’s main runway led the authorities to close the airport for 33 hours.

According to a BBC Panorama investigation some 140,000 people were caught up in the disruption that followed.

The shutdown led 1,000 flights to be cancelled or delayed at an estimated cost of £50 million to airlines.

The chaos led Gatwick to call in the military and millions more have been spent on hi-tech jamming technology. The government also moved to widen the exclusion zone around airports from one to five kilometres and police were given more powers to seize drones from their operators.

Sussex Police continue to believe that a real drone or drones were involved in the Gatwick incident. But at an early stage in their investigation doubts were expressed by one of their own senior officers, Det Chief Supt Jason Tingley who told the BBC: ‘We cannot discount the possibility that there may have been no drone at all’.

And further confusion was caused by the police’s decision to launch its own drones to investigate – leading witnesses to see and report them.

BBC News report on chaos at Gatwick airport 20 December 2018 (credit: BBC News)

Yet in April this year Gatwick’s chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe,  told the BBC the airport authorities had received 130 separate ‘credible drone sightings’ from 115 people including trusted staff such as security patrols.

‘They knew they’d seen a drone. I know they saw a drone,’ Woodroofe said. ‘We appropriately closed the airport’.

But the owners of the mysterious ‘drone’ have never been identified and no reliable footage showing the drone/s has emerged.

According to Gatwick the eye-witnesses described seeing an extremely fast moving, large object with bright lights attached. In any other context this would be classified as a sighting of an unidentified flying object.

UKAB investigates all reported incidents judged to have been a risk to aircraft and their passengers. The log for 2018-19 contains some disturbing cases.

In one example from April a pilot climbing out of Gatwick saw an object pass below the aircraft and under the right-hand wing just 30-50ft below. The small object ‘was contrasted against the clouds and appeared dark green in colour with a white light on top’ and ‘may have been hovering’.

Four months earlier, on 30 December – just ten days after the Gatwick shutdown – a pilot on approach to Glasgow airport saw long object ‘lit up in various places’ pass between 3 and 10 feet of the aircraft at 600 feet.

Toy drones can fly up to several hundred feet but unmanned surveillance drones operated by the military (such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk) are capable of reaching 50,000 feet.

My sources in the aviation industry feel it is much more likely that some of the airprox incidents involving civilian aircraft at higher altitudes involve helium-filled toy balloons. These are often described as ‘silver balls’ or ‘black and shiny metallic in colour’.

The cluster of ‘drone’/UFO reports around the perimeter of Gatwick, Britain’s second largest airport, is nothing new. The MoD closed its UFO desk in 2009 and asked the Civil Aviation Authority not to send it any further reports.

But the MoD’s own files contain many examples of airprox incidents involving civilian aircraft and ‘unknown objects’. An intelligence study of the threat posed by UAPs [unidentified aerial phenomena] completed in the 1990s referred to the increase in ‘unauthorised penetration of UKADGE by unmanned aerial vehicles’ [drones].

The UAP files include several examples from the vicinity of Gatwick Airport long before the current panic.

For instance, on 15 July 1991 the crew of a Britannia Airways Boeing 737 returning from Greece and descending into Gatwick at 14,000 feet saw ‘a small, black lozenge-shaped object’ zoom past at high speed 100 yards off the port side. Gatwick controllers confirmed a ‘primary contact’ was visible on radar 10 nautical miles behind the 737 moving at a speed estimated as 120 mph.

Immediately Gatwick controllers warned the captain of another aircraft and this made ‘avoiding turns to the left to avoid the [UFO], which had appeared to change heading towards it, but its pilot reported seeing nothing’.

The airprox report, completed in April 1992 by a UKAB working group, said they could not explain the incident. But they opined the object might have been an escaped balloon but were ‘unsure what damage could have occurred had the object struck the 737; the general opinion was that there had been a possible risk of collision’.

In 2012 Simon Jack, the Chief Executive of Britain’s National Air Traffic Control Services (NATS), the company employed by the CAA to operate air traffic services in the UK, admitted his controllers often receive reports of flying objects ‘that don’t conform to normal flight patterns’.

But, quizzed on BBC Radio 4, Jack played down the significance of this admission by adding ‘it’s not something that occupies a lot of my time’.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – now called drones – are nothing new. This news report from The Independent in December 1990 predicted ‘the skies over British cities may soon contain tiny, silent aircraft that can see, listen and even scent everything that goes on hundreds of feet below’ (credit: The Independent)

This new evidence suggests that unknown objects and ‘drones’ are now much more of a priority both for Britain’s busy air traffic controllers and those responsible for the air defence of the UK and our allies.

Iin May this year The New York Times reported that strange objects, one of them described as resembling ‘a spinning top’, were frequently seen by US Navy pilots over the East Coast.

In 2014 a Super Hornet pilot filed a near-collision report after a close encounter with one of these ‘unknown objects’and others have been captured on film.

There has been much speculation about US Defense Department projects charged with secret investigations of UFOs in the context of ‘extraterrestrial craft’. But as the Times noted:

‘no one in the [US] Defense Department is saying the objects were extraterrestrial, and experts emphasize that earthly explanations can generally be found for such incidents’.

One of the most obvious explanations is the presence of highly secret unmanned aerial vehicles, or advanced drones operated by the military, that are being tested in combat situations.

The new UKAB data reveals incidents involving military aircraft have also occurred recently in British airspace. In January this year the leader of a formation of Eurofighter Typhoons leaving RAF Coningsby on an exercise spotted ‘a small, metal object’ that reflected sunlight less than one mile away as the aircraft were about to climb from 15-30,000 feet.

The unknown object passed down the left hand side of the fighter and the wingman, following behind, ‘independently saw the same object as it passed over the leader’s aircraft’ about 2,000 feet above them.

In this case nothing was seen on radar but the reported risk of collision was judged to be ‘high’.

RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire is one of two RAF Quick Reaction Alert stations that protect the UK’s airspace from Russian intruders and is home to two combat-ready squadrons.

Perhaps now is the time to re-boot the much-maligned ‘UFO desk’ with a new name and a remit to investigate all credible reports of unknown objects made by aircrew.

Not on a case by case basis, as appears to be the UKAB’s limited remit, or mired in unnecessary secrecy as in the USA, but taking into account all relevant data from the UK and other countries.

After all safety is not just the concern of a small clique of aviation industry specialists. It concerns everyone who places their trust in the system when they decide to fly.


Uckfield (East Sussex) 19:20 – 14 July 2017 

The pilot of a A319 reports that he was holding at 7,000 ft, when the First Officer, in the right-hand seat noticed an object close to the aircraft. He commented on the object to the captain who then also saw it. Both believed the object was not close enough to hit the aircraft, and that they were on a trajectory to miss it. It was a black and shiny/metallic in colour and appeared to be a square/rectangular cube. It appeared to be maintaining altitude and took around seven seconds to pass, making them believe it was hovering. It was definitely not a weather balloon, but because they couldn’t make out any propellers on the side of the object, they weren’t sure whether it was a drone. The crew alerted Air Traffic Control, who passed the information onto the aircraft behind, however, they did not report seeing it.

Reported Separation: 0ft V/<500m H. Reported Risk of Collision: None

East Grinstead (West Sussex) 15:35 – 12 August 2017 

A A320 pilot reports he was passing 8,000 feet in the climb when he saw a silver ball type object pass directly under the aircraft, very close. He reported it to Air Traffic

Reported Separation: 200ft V/0m H. Reported Risk of Collision: High

Manchester 18:10 – 1 February 2018

A Airbus A321 pilot reported descending from 10,000 ft at night when his eye was caught by a greyish thin-profiled ‘something’ which passed by very close at the same level down the left-hand side at great speed. His initial reaction was that he had seen an internal reflection in his glasses or the windshield but it was immediately apparent that the First Officer and another person on the flight deck had also seen it. None of them had a clear view because it was in the landing-light beam for a split second. The pilot noted that having seen balloons in flight before, this object did not fit that profile.

Brooklands (London) 12:45 – 5 May 2018

A B757 pilot reports operating under a high workload, preparing for an approach at Gatwick in busy airspace, when the First Officer said “what’s that?”. The Captain looked out and saw a fairly large, irregular shaped, dark black object pass down the left side at the same level, within 200ft of the aircraft, apparently heading in an easterly direction. No avoiding action was needed but the incident was reported to Gatwick Director.

Reported Separation: 0ft V/100m H. Reported Risk of Collision: High

Birmingham (West Midlands) 09:30  – 5 July 2018

A BE90 pilot reports he was cruising at FL16,000, about 10 nautical miles north of Birmingham when he saw a rectangle or elliptical object pass 500-1000ft below. He estimated it to be 50-100cm long, although he only saw it for about 2 seconds before it passed underneath the aircraft. It was either hovering or travelling in the opposite direction, there was no time to take any avoiding action.

Reported Separation: ~750ft V/0m H. Reported Risk of Collision: Low

Glasgow 18:45 –  30 December 2018

A Embraer 175 pilot reports that on approach to Glasgow airport, when passing about 600ft he saw an object pass between 3 and 10ft from the aircraft, at the same level. He couldn’t tell was the object was, it was lit up in various places and was more horizontally long than it was vertically. Reported Separation: 0ft V/ 3-10ft H.

RAF Coningsby – near Grimsby (Lincolnshire) 11:40 – 15 January 2019

A RAF Typhoon pilot reports leading a pair of fighters from Coningsby to an exercise in the North Sea. After receiving a clearance to climb to 30,000 from 15,000 ft, he noticed an object in the left 11 o’clock at about 1 nautical mile, slightly high and maintaining a constant altitude. The radar and data link showed no traffic conflictions. The object reflected sunlight and appeared to have a linear form. The object passed down the left-hand-side. The wingman independently saw the same object as it passed over the leader’s aircraft. He maintained the formation at 15,000 ft until they were clear of the object.

Eurofighter Typhoon leaving RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire (credit: image Crown Copyright)

The Weapons Controller reports the Typhoons were transiting from Coningsby to the North Sea exercise. At 1140 the lead Typhoon pilot reported that a small, metal object had flown overhead approximately 2,000ft above them.There were no plots, hits or any other indication on the radar picture.

Reported Separation: 1000ftV/1000ft H. Reported Risk of Collision: High

Highgate (London) 14:09 30/3/19 

A B787 pilot reports that a red coloured object passed down the right hand side of the aircraft at 6,000 ft. It was impossible to identify the object although it was large enough to cause concern. LHR approach were informed and an uneventful approach and landing followed. Reported Separation: 0ft V/<100ft H. Reported Risk of Collision: High

Crawley (West Sussex) 14:00 5/5/19

The A320 pilot reports that on departure from Gatwick, whilst in the climb, a totally white object resembling a shoebox sized cube with a round ball on top passed down the left-hand side, slightly above and within 50m of the aircraft at 6,000ft. The object appeared to be in level flight.

Reported Separation: 100ft V/50m H. Reported Risk of Collision: None

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British Online Archives: The UFO Files

In episode 2 of the British Online Archives podcast I talk about The National Archives UFO project and my campaign to persuade the Ministry of Defence to open their files to the public.

Host Jim Chisem asked me to explain how I became interested in the folklore of UFOs and government investigations of aerial phenomena.

Long before the introduction of Freedom of Information, I began making requests for key historical documents, including the MoD’s file on the Rendlesham forest incident and the Flying Saucer Working Party study, using the Code of Practice for Access to Government Information.

The campaign picked up momentum following the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2005. In the following year, working with Gary Anthony, our FOI requests led to the release of the MoD’s Condign report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs).

From 2008 to 2013 I acted as academic consultant for National Archives/MoD project that led to the opening of the remaining 210 archives files on UFOs held by the Ministry of Defence. Six of these files contain some 3,000 pages of correspondence between myself and the UFO desk officers covering the years 1999-2008.

The discussion includes the early history of the phenomenon, pop culture influences and both Fortean and skeptical approaches to the interpretation of unexplained phenomena.

UFO folklore is just one of the modern legends that fall within the remit of the newly-founded Centre for Contemporary Legend, a research group based at Sheffield Hallam University, that was launched at an inaugeral conference in November 2018.

The podcast can be downloaded here.

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Who Dares Wins?: Britain’s Roswell meets the SAS

‘If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…’ (Anne Murray)

Christmas 2018 marks the 38th anniversary of the mysterious events in the Rendlesham forest near RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk that became Britain’s best known UFO legend.

credit: Wikipedia

At the height of the Cold War US air force personnel reported seeing ‘unexplained lights’ in the forest beyond the runway of the nuclear-armed NATO complex.

The sensational events were reported by the US base commander in a memo that was sent to the British Ministry of Defence.

But since the story was first broken by the News of the World both the UK and US governments have denied any of the incidents had ‘defence significance’.

The lack of interest shown by the US and UK authorities has not been shared by story-tellers: believers, skeptics and fantasists of every kind.

Since the basic story leaked out, the legend has been kept alive with a stream of new theories, claims and fictional adaptations.

In November Sony Pictures announced Hollywood actor Lawrence Fishburne will play a lead role in an 8-part TV drama Rendlesham, directed by Joe Ahearne (of Doctor Who fame), set in the Cold War and present day.

At least two other documentaries are in production as the UFO industry gears up for the 40th anniversary of the legend in December 2020.

But so far none of the many and varied attempts to reveal ‘the truth’ about the events have mentioned the alleged involvement of the Special Air Service (SAS) – the British Army’s Special Forces Unit (motto: Who Dares Wins).

Some time ago a person who claims to be a SAS insider wrote to me after he saw me talking about Rendlesham on a TV documentary. I will call him Frank. His motive? It was ‘about time that the truth is revealed’ about the incident.

I investigated his incredible story by talking to trusted (and open) sources in the British military, including some high profile former SAS troopers. I reached my own conclusions. Then I sat on the story for three years, waiting to see if Frank would cast his fishing rod elsewhere. Now I call his bluff.

Frank says that in 1980 the twin USAF bases at Bentwaters-Woodbridge housed tactical nuclear weapons and responsibility for guarding these lay with the USAF 81st Security Police at Woodbridge.

East Gate, RAF Woodbridge – where the ‘sightings’ began in the early hours of 26 December 1980 (credit: Ian Ridpath’s Rendlesham photo album: http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/photos.htm)

The base was also home to the 67th ARRS (Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron), a US Special Forces unit.

One of its tasks was locating and recovering Apollo command modules and other US space hardware for NASA.

The sensitive nature of what went on at RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge led the authorities to conduct a series of ‘exercises’ from the 1960s onwards.

These were designed to test the ability of the UK and US security forces to detect and intercept any attack by Soviet forces on the nuclear weapons store.

All the simulated exercises were unannounced and carried out UK Special Forces (SAS and their naval equivalent, the Special Boat Service or SBS). But according to Frank in 1980 the USAF quietly enhanced and upgraded their ability to monitor the air above the base as well as ground targets.

Rumours about a confrontation between British and US forces in the forest prior to the ‘UFO’ incident are nothing new. This item by Graham Birdsall appeared in the Yorkshire UFO Society journal Quest in the summer of 1992

In August the SAS mounted a covert night exercise to penetrate the Bentwaters SSA. Troopers parachuted into the forest from a C130 that had ‘strayed’ into the area from a training zone.

But the plan was rumbled when their black parachutes were detected by the new base surveillance equipment. The entire squad were captured and they were interrogated by a young ARRS lieutenant who was unaware of the ongoing security testing programme.

Special Forces or aliens? An easy mistake to make…(creative commons)

The troopers identified themselves as British special forces. But they were abused and roughly treated by their captors for a period of 18 hours before release. Frank claims:

‘The language used by the young US officer was unusual (to British ears) in that he repeatedly referred to the Brits as unidentified aliens who posed a threat in their presence on the sovereign US soil of the airbase

‘Although the word alien is commonly used in the US (for example by immigration officers to describe non-US citizens) it has gained a rather different usage in the UK.

‘After their release, the troopers made no complaint at their rough treatment but determined to get their own back on the USAF for the beating that they had received.

‘In particular, their repeated characterisation as “aliens” sowed the seeds of a plan –

“They called us aliens! Right, we’ll show them what aliens really look like!”

The headline that broke the story – from the British tabloid The News of the World, October 1983 (Ian Ridpath)

What happened next, according to Frank, would be bread and butter for special operation soldiers trained to deceive and misinform whilst remaining invisible.

During the autumn nights were spent reconnoitring the perimeter of the twin base complex where it met the Forestry Commission plantation known as Tangham Forest (Rendlesham).

As December approached lights and coloured flares were rigged in the forest. Black helium balloons coupled to remote-controlled kites carried suspended materials into the sky, activated by radio-controls.

‘A great deal of nocturnal Christmas fun was had at the expense of the USAF – and the matter should have ended there,’ Frank continued.

‘Unfortunately, a senior US officer (Lt Col Halt) led the US contingent out into the forest on the second night and took along his tape recorder. The hovering and whizzing lights were sufficiently impressive for him to send a report to the MoD.

‘Someone in London recalled the events of the previous August and questions were asked. A few red faces but also some satisfaction and amusement followed…

‘The USAF was “reassured” at a very senior level and no UK investigation was undertaken – for obvious reasons!’

The bottom line, according to Frank, was the Rendlesham Forest ‘aliens’ were our ‘aliens’ on our soil (no encroachment on the US bases) so ‘no threat to UK security’ was the honest response to questions – from the Press, MPs and Lord Hill-Norton in the Houses of Parliament.

Frank says he finds it hilarious that the UFO legend in the forest was based on what he calls an old truism: ‘two nations divided by a common language.

So were the Rendlesham Forest UFOs really just pyrotechnics rigged up by British Special Forces to fool their American allies? Is the mystery finally solved? Or is the story just another winter’s tale – a big leg-pull?

Robin Horsfall, who served with 22 SAS at the time of the Rendlesham UFO incident (credit: YouTube)

One man who should know the truth is Robin Horsfall, a former SAS sniper. Robin took part in the famous Special Forces operation that stormed the Iranian Embassy to free hostages – just six months before the alleged ‘prank’ in Rendlesham forest.

Horsfall tells me the letter-writer is someone dangling a fishing rod. The language Frank uses provides ‘no evidence of a military background’.

The letter, he says, ‘is written by a person with a solid grounding in grammar which in my opinion excludes most SAS operatives during this period including the commissioned officers’.

More conclusively, as the alleged events happened during his time based in Hereford with 22 SAS he felt sure he would have heard about it via the grapevine.

‘We did undertake planned training actions against British military establishments but never against those of the US forces. Working against US units with live ammunition without strict safety protocols could have got people killed with huge political ramifications.

‘The idea of a revenge prank by [SAS] isn’t plausible as the rules controlling pyrotechnical devices within the regiment were very strict and any such action could have resulted in those involved being returned to unit’.

It remained a possibility, Horsfall added, that such a prank could have been played by ‘some other internal unit’, but the risks were great because pyrotechnics would have left behind easily-recoverable forensic traces.

‘If there is any truth in the story then I would be looking for the obvious prankster inside the US base not the SAS,’ he said.

So I took Frank’s story to the US Base Commander at the time of the incidents, Col Ted Conrad. It was Conrad who ordered police from the 81st Security Squadron to conduct an informal investigation of the UFO sightings in the forest reported by his personnel.

Col Conrad remains open minded about what his men saw. But he is on record as saying one unlikely but possible explanation is that the incident was a prank or hoax.

But in this case he agreed with Robin Horsfall: Frank’s story simply does not stack up. ‘US bases are not on US soil, rather all of them remain on sovereign British soil…US citizens who are stationed and work there are the “aliens”.

‘The SSA was guarded 24/7/365 by armed, trained security personnel who were instructed to shoot to kill, if necessary to prevent a breach,’ Col Conrad told me.

Col Ted Conrad (USAF retired), RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge Base Commander 1980-81 (image Copyright Dr David Clarke)

‘It is unthinkable that either side would conduct such an exercise against an important facility where real weapons and ammo were present

‘The alleged rough treatment of British Special Forces by one US Lieutenant from the 67 ARRS is also unthinkable, but if it had been reported by complaint, the offender would have been more impacted by our disciplinary action that mounting a fake UFO landing could possibly have had.’

To paraphrase the folklorist Linda Degh we may never find resolution as to the ‘truth’ of any particular legend.

But the emphasis upon possibility and plausibility in stories like Frank’s provides them with their latent energy – and their potential to entertain and enthral the audience.

So there were have it folks: another winter’s tale from the Rendlesham forest.

The truth, though, remains persistently out there.


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Churchill’s Secret War

Winston Churchill’s interest in strange phenomena and UFOs makes the cover story in the November 2018 issue of Fortean Times magazine.

Top Secret War chronicles the British Prime Minister’s curiosity about a range of unexplained phenomena during his long career as army officer, politician, wartime leader and writer/journalist.

Richard Nixon is said to have described him as the only political leader in history ‘who has his own crystal ball’.

Many people are familiar with Churchill’s famous 1952 memo to the Air Ministry demanding to know ‘the truth’ about flying saucers.

But fewer know that he ordered the very earliest British government inquiry into a UFO sighting in 1912, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty.

Or that in 1939, as the world stood on the brink of WW2, he took time out to write a lengthy essay on the possibility that ET life existed outside our solar system – and came out to say he believed this was a distinct probability.

Or that he took a personal interest in the controversial prosecution of  spiritualist medium Helen Duncan during World War 2, that has been described (wrongly) as the ‘last Witchcraft Trial’.

Is there a common thread linking these disparate expressions of interest? Did Churchill ever learn ‘the truth’ about UFOs? And did he really believe in the existence of supernatural forces, as Major Wellesley Tudor Pole told a friend in 1964?

My research into Churchill’s papers at the University of Cambridge and at The National Archives have thrown up some intriguing clues. Read my article and make up your own mind.

Fortean Times 372 (November 2018) is available from newsagents or via subscription.


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Six Months, Five Podcasts

During the past six months I have contributed to five Fortean-themed podcasts reflecting the range of my UFO and legend-related research interests.

Brian J Robb who curates the monthly Sounds Peculiar round-up in the excellent Fortean Times magazine says that podcasting has been enjoying something of a boom recently.

Judging by the numbers of paranormal and UFO-themed podcasts currently vying for attention online it seems this medium provides a far better depth of coverage than mainstream media of contemporary legends and associated beliefs.

I was keen to see what all the fuss was about, so I started with possibly one of the best: Mark Norman’s Folklore Podcast @folklorepod, that celebrated its second birthday in July by hitting half a million downloads via its hosting site.

On New Year’s Day Mark featured my on-going research into the 1980s tabloid urban legend, The Curse of the Crying Boy, in episode 34 of the Folklore Podcast (time 50 minutes). His website also features podcasts covering the whole range of modern folkloric and Fortean beliefs and experiences: ghosts, fairies, black dogs, witchcraft and, of course, Slenderman.

In March I presented a summary of two decades working on the UK Ministry of Defence UFO files in a public lecture at The National Archives in Kew, southwest London. The lecture was recorded and released as a podcast (time: 1 hour, 8 minutes). It can be downloaded here.

The much anticipated release of the MoD’s final three UFO policy files were the hot topic from the spring of 2018 when The Guardian’s Damien Gayle broke my exclusive story based on their content.

In April former Kerrang! and LBC radio presenter Nick Margerrison invited me to talk about UFO-related conspiracy beliefs and my investigative work on the MoD’s secret files on his fortnightly show. The podcast that emerged can be downloaded here.

Following Nick’s interview in June I took part in Gimlet Media’s Science Vs special ‘UFOs: What the Government Covered Up‘. Despite the title this show concentrated on the standard ‘does ET life exist and is it visiting us?’ theme. Presented by Wendy Zuckerman it also featured contributions from astronomers Dr Jill Tarter, Dr Seth Shostak and Professor Jim Al Khalili (time: approx 38 minutes).

Last but not least on 26 July I spent two hours in discussion with Linda Moulton Howe and co-presenter John Burroughs on the KGRA radio show Phenomena. Topics covered included the Rendlesham forest UFO incident, Winston Churchill’s interest in flying saucers and my 20 year campaign, using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to persuade the British government to open up their UFO archives to the public.

The show can be downloaded as a MP3 from the KGRA-db archives here.

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Vintage UFO magazines and books for sale

I have a number of vintage UFO and UFO-related magazines and books for sale. These include a run of back issues of the London-based Flying Saucer Review, starting in 1961, and back issues of the US ‘zine Official UFO.

For a full listing see: https://drdavidclarke.co.uk/ufo-books-magazines-for-sale/

If you wish to purchase any of the material listed below please contact me by email and be prepared to make an offer (including postage and packing).


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Black Projects, UFOs and the mysterious MO D-Notice

Has the Ministry of Defence ever suppressed media stories about Black Project aircraft operating secretly over the British Isles?

Artist’s impression of the Aurora hypersonic spy-plane (credit: “User:Henrickson” (By [1]), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3424488

For many years conspiracy-minded aviation writers and UFOlogists have claimed the government has, on occasions, used its contacts in the Press to censor stories about visits to the UK by US top secret experimental aircraft.

The fact that some of these covert programmes have triggered UFO flaps was acknowledged by the MoD’s Defence Intelligence UFO report released in 2006.

But few understand how the shadowy D-Notice system (now known as DSMA system) actually operates.

And so the scent went cold – until now.

Earlier this year I obtained copies of the MoD’s last remaining UAP policy files using the Freedom of Information Act

Until these files emerged I could find no convincing hard evidence of any attempt by the MoD to use national security to stifle stories about UFOs or Black Project aircraft.

But the new files – with-held by MoD for four years for unexplained reasons – contain working papers used by the intelligence officer who produced the 4-volume Condign report (UAPs in the UK Air Defence Region).

The acronym UAPs – unidentified aerial phenomena – was used by the Defence Intelligence branch DI55 as a neat cover for their UFO investigations until his ‘definitive’ report, delivered in 2000, recommended they should discontinue their interest in the subject.

In his UK Restricted minute ‘Wrap Up of UAP Material’ dated 22 March 2000 the report’s author – a retired RAF scientist – refers to a collection of slides and photographs that he consulted in the MoD’s archive.

The UK Restricted memo that refers to a D-Notice issued in the 1990s on the Astra/Aurora project (Copright: Dr david Clarke)

These contained images of the ‘ASTRA/AURORA‘ project – a top secret, hypersonic Cold War spyplane.

The author goes on to note ‘there was a Press D-Notice issued at the time‘.

This is the first solid evidence to emerge that refers to the involvement of the former D-Notice committee in the Aurora saga.

It is also consistent with redactions that  were made to a super-sensitive section of the Condign report before it was released to me following my Freedom of Information request in 2006.

Volume 2 of the report contains a part-censored section on Black Project aircraft in which the author states ‘some UAP reports can be attributed to covert aircraft programmes’ and adds ‘certain viewing angles of these vehicles may be described as saucer-like’.

It begins with a reference to other known Black project aircraft such as the SR-71 Blackbird but contains two paragraphs and two images that were redacted under Section 27 of the FOIA that covers ‘international relations’. These may be the same images mentioned in his 2000 ‘Wrap up of UAP material’ memo.

UFO files released by The National Archives in 2010 revealed how the UFO desk contacted the secretary of the DA-Notice committee for guidance on how they should answer a public inquiry about censorship of media stories concerning Stealth-shaped UFOs.

In 1996 the now defunct magazine UFO Reality claimed a high-ranking BBC producer had revealed how the media had been warned off taking an interest in a flap of sightings involving triangular UFOs ‘because the craft is part of a secret military project’.

But the secretary of the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee fired back with a categorical denial there was any D-Notice covering ‘reports of black triangles’. This was true – there was and is no standing D-Notice that specifically refers to either Black Projects or UFOs.

The DPBAC was reformed in 2015 to become the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee (DSMA).

Like its predecessor this is a joint government/media operated system whereby editors and individual journalists can obtain confidential guidance on how to avoid what the secretary calls ‘inadvertent disclosure of information damaging to the UK’s national security and defence’.

The committee publishes five standing ‘DSMA notices’ (formerly D-Notices) that can be viewed here. None of the standing DSMA notices specifically relate to US stealth aircraft in UK territory.

But that does not mean that a notice – or informal advice – has never been offered to editors in connection with a specific sensitive incident or event.

The whole system is based upon voluntary self-censorship by the media. Editors who voluntary consult the DSME secretary about a story ‘sometimes decide to limit what is published and sometimes publish information that they might otherwise have left out’ (Hanna & Dodd, McNaes Law for Journalists).

But whatever editors decide to do, the committee has no powers to enforce their advice in law.

Many journalists refuse to engage with the committee – because it encourages self-censorship. Jacob Ecclestone of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said the NUJ should ‘turn the spotlight of publicity on this thoroughly rotten mechanism of government control’ (The Journalist, March 2006).

I have evidence to suspect the defence notices may have been issued in two specific instances during the 1990s.

D-Notice Case 1: The Boscombe Down incident

The first was the alleged crash of a top secret US Stealth aircraft at Boscombe Down airfield in Wiltshire on 26 September 1994. Reports about the incident first appeared in an edition of Air Forces Monthly.

RAF Boscombe Down in Wiltshire – site of a 1994 UFO incident that was subject to a D-Notice by the MoD (picture credit: Wikipedia)

This claimed how, at 11pm, ‘an unidentified small, twin-tail fighter’ possibly a TR-3 Black Manta  ‘the existence of which the US government has yet to officially acknowledge’ had crashed into the runway.

By daylight, the aircraft had been covered over, apart from its twin fins, and all roads around the airfield had been sealed off. The magazine said two days later the wreck was loaded onto a C5 Galaxy and flown to Palmdale in California.

The alleged incident became the subject of a Parliamentary question from Don Valley MP Martin Redmond in 1994.  The response, from Defence Minister Nicholas Soames was ‘there was no crash at the unit on that date or, indeed, so far this year. The only flying which took place that night was the launch of two Royal Navy Sea King helicopters in support of an exercise’. Details of ‘the exercise’ were not provided.

When the Sunday People followed up the story in 1997 the MoD again told ministers, in a briefing, that no such crash had occurred. They suggested the story was based upon an emergency landing made by a RAF Tornado one month earlier, after a decoy target under trial had failed to jettison.

D-Notice Case 2: The Calvine Incident

A second mysterious incident, four years earlier, may also reveal the hidden hand of the censors. In August 1990 the Scottish Daily Record in Glasgow were sent six colour slides showing a large diamond-shaped UFO that had been taken by two men walking near the A9 at Calvine in Perthshire.

Desk officers suspected the image might show a USAF black project aircraft, perhaps the fabled Aurora. They sent the images to JARIC,  the RAF’s specialist photographic analysis agency. Experts there identified two Harrier jets flying alongside the mysterious object. But surprisingly, inquiries failed to trace the Harriers. The MoD say none were flying at the time of the incident.

A one-page ‘defensive Press briefing’ was prepared by the UFO desk officer Owen Hartop. This was an unusual step as the MoD rarely prepared media briefings on individual UFO cases.  Hartop clearly expected the story to break in the national media. But inexplicably, the Daily Record did not publish the story. This omission has never been explained by the editors of the Trinity Mirror-owned title.

In 2009 I made informal inquiries with the picture editor and librarian of the newspaper who I expected would remember the striking photographs arriving at the paper. But there was no recollection whatsoever of the event or how the story came to be spiked. This struck me – and them – as very odd indeed.

Soon after the negatives were sent to MoD in 1990 the trail goes cold and the original images have vanished – never to be seen again. Despite national publicity the photographer has never come forward either to explain what happened.

But a UFO file released in 2009 shows the MoD’s Defence Intelligence Staff still possessed prints of the photographs two years after they were received from the Daily Record.

In 1992 -soon after questions were asked in Parliament about the Aurora project – DI55 asked JARIC to produce detailed line drawings of the Calvine UFO. The order highlighted the “sensitivity of material suggests very special handling”.

The only surviving evidence of the Calvine UFO is a poor photocopy of one of the original prints that appears in one of the DIS UFO files.

I cannot prove the MoD used a D-Notice in the Calvine incident. Neither am I convinced the photographs show ‘Aurora’, if such a craft ever existed. But it may well show some other experimental aircraft, British or American in origin.

What I cannot explain is why the Daily Record did not run the story. Furthermore, neither can the Daily Record…

One of the mysterious Calvine UFO photographs – that vanished soon after they were sent to the MoD by the Scottish Daily Record (Crown Copyright – The National Archives)

So where does this evidence trail lead us?

My inquiries with the DSMA committee have confirmed that no records exist of any specific D or DA Notice that relates solely to US stealth aircraft in UK territory.

But because records before 2005 are incomplete that does not mean none were ever issued – or that informal advice was never given to newspaper editors and other media executives (including broadcast editors).

Conveniently, advice offered by the DSMA committee is ‘confidential’ and provided informally.

This type of intervention would by its very nature leave no paper trail.


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Why Britain’s MoD closed the UFO files: exclusive new evidence

Newly-released British intelligence files reveal the hidden agenda behind the MoD’s decision to close down their 50 year investigation of UFOs.

Image copyright Dr David Clarke

The last three UFO files produced by the UK’s defence intelligence branch DI55 were originally with-held from the records earmarked for transfer to The National Archives as part of the open government project that ran from 2008-13.

During that time I acted as the consultant/advisor for the project that led to the release of 210 declassified UFO files, ahead of the 30 year rule, at Britain’s National Archives.  I was given a commitment in writing by MoD that a few remaining files, including those marked DI55 UFO policy, would soon follow them into the public domain.

But five years passed and, after a series of baffling administrative hold-ups, unexplained ‘issues’ and lame excuses I began to suspect they must contain some smoking gun that MoD were desperate to conceal.

Then early in January this year a complete set of redacted copies were sent to me ahead of their transfer to the UK National Archives in Kew.

The files run to more than 2500 pages and some of the more sensitive papers, declassified from Secret, have been heavily redacted.

But what has survived the censor’s pen paints a fascinating picture of the arguments that raged behind closed doors in Whitehall around the 50th anniversary of the UFO mystery in 1997.

Within the files civil servants, intelligence officers and military staff debate how the British Government should respond to growing public interest in the phenomena and what they called ‘the media’s obsession with UFOs’.

One UK restricted memo from 2000 reveals the MoD issued a D-Notice (defence advisory notice) to the media as part of an attempt to conceal visits by top secret US Stealth aircraft to UK airspace.

And hidden deep within more than two thousand pages of internal exchanges lay a more disturbing aspect of their interest in the subject – and their decision to pull the plug on more than half a century monitoring UFO reports.

Extract from one of the new files refers to the famous Rendlesham Forest UFO incident (Copyright Dr David Clarke)

As the Defence Intelligence branch responsible for the investigation of UFO reports, DI55 secretly collected data on sightings from 1967 until the end of 2000.

During this time, the MoD’s publicly acknowledged branch Secretariat (Air Staff) 2, popularly known as the UFO desk, copied all sighting reports they received to their opposite numbers in the DIS. But they had no ‘need to know’ what happened to the data they sent to intelligence staffers.

The new papers show the UFO desk head in 1997 ‘wanted to get rid of’ an issue they considered a ‘diversion from their main duties’. But her opposite number in DI55 – a RAF Wing Commander – disagreed with their ostrich-like stance.

He argued that as MoD had not carried out any study of the UFO data they had collected since the 1970s it was not credible – and also politically risky – to continue to claim UFOs posed no ‘threat to the realm’.

And he compared UFOs, whatever they were, to Soviet intruder aircraft that routinely penetrated UK airspace during the Cold War: ‘They have never shown any hostile intent but they certainly represented a threat,’ he said, adding:

“It could be argued that UAPs pose a potential threat to the Defence of the Realm since we have no idea what they are!”

But in 2000 the head of Defence Intelligence, P.H. West, asked the UFO desk to stop copying reports of strange objects in the sky to DI55, even those from ‘credible’ sources such as police officers and air traffic control.

At the time the precise reason for this extraordinary decision remained an official secret.

It was only in 2006, when I used the new Freedom of Information Act to request a full explanation, that the existence of a secret DI55 study of UFOs emerged. In that year MoD admitted – in response to my FOI request – their decision to pull the plug followed the delivery of a 3-volume report with the title UAPs in the UK Air Defence Region [archive download].

This became known as the Condign report after the code-word used by the MoD that means ‘a severe and well deserved punishment’ (OED).

The Condign project – classified Secret – UK Eyes Only (Copyright Dr David Clarke)

This study, based upon analysis of a computer database of UFO reports, was commissioned in 1996 and classified Secret with the caveat UK Eyes Only.

The DIS used the acronym UAPunidentified aerial phenomena – to avoid the popular connotation that objects or craft of extraterrestrial origin had been observed or tracked by the military.

Before 2006 the MoD was keen to conceal any reference to the existence of the study because of the potential for what it called ‘political embarrassment’. For decades MPs, Press and members of the public had been routinely told that no public money had been spent on any study of the thousands of UFO reports they had received since the 1960s.

Yet in response to a Parliamentary Question from Norman Baker MP in 2007, MoD admitted £50,000 had been paid to an existing defence contractor to produce the UFO report that was completed in 2000.  Defence Minister Adam Ingram said: ‘[The] report was circulated within the DIS and to other branches of the Ministry of Defence and RAF’.

former Liberal Democrat MP and Minister, Norman Baker

Following delivery of the report, DIS quietly shut down its UFO unit in 2000. Nine years later, in November 2009, the MoD announced it was closing its UFO desk and telephone hotline.

In Parliament Ingram refused to name the author of the report, saying the contractor’s name was being withheld under the Data Protection Act (DPA).

But my investigations discovered he is a retired RAF pilot and intelligence officer who flew top secret missions during the Cold War.

His expertise lay in Electronic Warfare, radar, air defence and guided weapons.

This made him a perfect candidate for the MoD’s UFO expert and the files suggest that he had offered advice to DI55 on ‘aerial phenomena’ for some years before he was awarded the contract for the study.

During the 1980s he advised on the sensor aspects of the Pentagon’s ‘Star Wars’ missile programme. Until his retirement he worked for GEC-Marconi, the premier electronics company in the UK, now part of BAE Systems.

According to his own published biography ‘for the whole of this period he was also a consultant-analyst to a department in the MoD, travelling extensively for NATO, for industry and for government’.

The new papers reveal this man also had a personal interest in UFOs. In one of his memos to the UFO desk he refers to his own sighting of ‘aerial phenomena’ whilst flying with the RAF in 1950s. He does not reveal any further details in the files, but he was unhappy when the UFO desk officer copied his letter to another branch as he wished ‘to keep a low profile’.

Throughout the three year project, he was based at the MoD’s Old War Office building  in Whitehall, central London and had privileged access to the then secret Defence Intelligence UFO files stored there.

The Old War Office building in Trafalgar Square: for 3 years, 1997-2000 this was the HQ for Britain’s secret UFO study (Credit: Wikipedia)

He worked under a cloak of secrecy that would not be out of place in a James Bond movie. Only his secretary knew the project code-name and she was asked ‘not to use the term UFO on the phone’.

The new files reveal even his opposite numbers on the MoD’s UFO desk were kept out of the loop because DI55 regarded civilians as prone to ‘leakiness’.

The logo used by the UK’s Defence Intelligence branch responsible for UFO investigations until 2000

The head of DI55 ordered the report’s author, at the outset, to focus his attention only ‘on the possible threat to the UK and technology acquisition’ and not ‘X-files activities such as alien abductions’.

What was he looking for?

On receiving these files I sifted through pages of administrative tedium before the real reason for intelligence interest in UFOs emerged. There are a number of intriguing references to ‘technology acquisition’, including from the author’s working notes:

Try to discover whether any scientific facts can be elicited from these phenomena – whatever they might be – which might be made use of by UK for military purposes’.

In particular ‘propulsion, stealth and novel electromagnetic technologies are of particular interest’.

What type of technology? Was it Russian, Chinese or alien technology?

Some intelligence officers expressed belief in the existence of a ‘real’ phenomenon. In a April 1997 policy document another DI officer refers to ‘Extraterrestrial Objects’ (ETOs) as one potential explanation for UFOs, adding:

Being an objective, open-minded scientist, I do not dismiss out of hand the possibility of intelligent life evolving somewhere outside of our own solar system. The laws of probability would indicate a finite, albeit small likelihood’.

But he admits that DI55 had no hard evidence ‘that visitations have occurred’ and:

‘…if credibility is given to ET a judgement needs to be made about which government department is best suited to address it. There’s a job to keep GCHQ occupied!’

According to his report, even within the most secret files in the MoD’s archive there were no unexplained artefacts from UFO crashes, no radiation readings, no electronic or signals intelligence or even any reliable photographs – apart from those showing Black Project aircraft such as the Top Secret ASTRA/AURORA project.

Reference to the secret Aurora project in the new files (Copyright: David Clarke)

The UK MoD’s long experience demonstrated that most sighting reports could be explained by a range known phenomena, both natural and man-made.

Over time DI55 desk officers began to refer to the residue of genuine unknowns as UAPs: ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’. They preferred UAP as this allowed them to use this terminology to disguise their interest in what everyone else called UFOs.

The Condign report’s author decided UAPs were real but not ET spacecraft. He came to believe they were ‘atmospheric plasmas’.

His conclusion was based on a survey of the scientific and UFOlogical literature that included some very unreliable material from Russian sources and popular books on earthquake lights and ball lightning.

In his conclusions he goes further, making recommendations for the UK military to investigate how these plasmas could be harnessed and used as advanced weaponry on future battlefields.

But at no point in his 463 page report does he say ‘atmospheric plasmas’ are a theoretical concept and not proven. The fact remains that ‘plasmas’ are no more valid than extraterrestrials as a scientific explanation for the unexplained residue of UFO sightings.

The new papers also show his plasma theory was not taken seriously by his superiors. There is no evidence any of his recommendations were acted upon. All, that is, except one, from the Executive Summary:

…it should no longer be a requirement for DI55 to monitor UAP reports as they do not demonstrably provide information useful for Defence Intelligence’

In this declassified document the author of the Condign report reveals his conclusions, even before the study commenced (Copyright David Clarke)

But we now know this decision was taken long before the study was completed, as a ‘UK Restricted’ minute dated 16 April 1998 reveals. In this document the report’s author writes:

‘I am particularly looking ahead to my expected recommendation, that DI55 should no longer be involved in UAP monitoring’.

He goes on to add that someone ‘will have to explain why this is so…[because] when/if the “ufologists” discover this, then they will inevitably ask:

  • ” Is there no further intelligence interest because MoD now know (for certain) what these phenomena are?
  •  How could this conclusion have been reached without doing research or having some sort of intelligence confirmation
  • If there was nothing to worry about, why couldn’t this conclusion have been reached earlier?
  • Were MoD aware of “black”/covert aircraft in [UK Airspace] at all times (safety aspects) and so why the public no re-assured”

If there is a smoking gun, this is it.

This document reveals the MoD’s real agenda was the requirement for a definitive conclusion that would allow them to justify their decision to halt all further public work on the UFO issue. And it may also explain why these files were held back for so long.

Whether secret work on UAPs continues somewhere in the British military, perhaps outsourced to another contractor, remains an intriguing and unanswered question.

BBC report on the secret Pentagon UFO study 2017

But in December 2017 the Pentagon confirmed that a similar project operated in the USA, despite denials, from 2008 to 2012, hidden under the title Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP).

The Condign report’s recommendations also allowed MoD remove the secret-squirrel defence intelligence staff from the whole troublesome UFO issue, once and for all.

Only time will tell whether they have succeeded.

Copyright Dr David Clarke 2018

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Top 10 UFO documents at The National Archives

The spring of 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of my first visit to The National Archives in Kew, southwest London – the guardian of some of the UK’s most iconic national documents.

visitors examining some of the original UFO files at the event (David Clarke)

It also marks ten years since I began my stint as consultant/curator for the release of the Ministry of Defence UFO files, part of a project involving The National Archives and Sheffield Hallam University.

On 8 March I returned to Kew to present a public lecture on completion of my research into the extensive British Government UFO document archive.

Download The National Archives Podcast of my lecture here.

During the presentation I listed my personal ‘Top 10’: what I believe are the most significant and important historical documents in the collection at Kew. These were:

  1. Prime Minister Winston Churchill‘s memo to the Air Ministry, 1952: ‘What’s all this stuff about flying saucers? What is the truth?’ (PREM 11/855). His request followed a spate of sightings over Washington DC that were widely reported in the UK and international media.
  2. ‘Unidentified Flying Objects’:  report produced by MoD’s Flying Saucer Working Party in 1951, used to brief Churchill (DEFE 44/119)
  3. ‘Unidentified Objects at West Freugh’, the Air (Tech) Intelligence report on UFOs tracked by three ground radar stations in Scotland during April 1957 (AIR 20/9320)
  4. ‘Unexplained Lights’ in Rendlesham Forest, near RAF Woodbridge, Lt Col Charles Halt’s report to MoD, dated 13 January 1981 (DEFE 24/152)
  5. RAF Troodos operations record book, October 1983, reporting UFO sighted by USAF RC-135 spyplane over the Mediterranean (AIR 29/4933)

    Extract from Winston Churchill’s 1952 request to the British Air Ministry on ‘flying saucers’ (TNA: PREM 11/855)

  6. MoD DI55 UFO Policy – ‘Causes of UFO Reports’ 1967 (DEFE 24/119)
  7. MoD DI55 UFO Policy – Extra Terrestrial Objects – UAP briefing papers 1995 (DEFE 24/3153)
  8. MOD DI55 ‘Release of UFO reports to members of the public’ (DEFE 24/3152)
  9. MoD DI55 UFO Policy – briefing on UAPs to Head of Defence Intelligence 1995 (DEFE 24/3153)
  10. ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in the UK Air Defence Region’ (the Condign report), 2000 (DEFE 24/3127/1). This 3 volume report ended the MoD Defence Intelligence interest in UFOs that began half a century earlier with the Flying Saucer Working Party report that was used to brief Winston Churchill.

A collection of the original versions of these documents were placed on temporary display for the event. This gave visitors a unique opportunity to examine some of the most famous – and lesser known – records from the files of the so-called ‘UFO desk’. These included the original version of Lt Col Halt’s memo reporting sightings by USAF airmen in the Rendlesham Forest, filed alongside other more run-of-the-mill reports received in January 1981 by DS8 at Whitehall.

The event was organised as part of the National Archives’ spring lecture programme and the public engagement evidence will be used as part of my submission to the REF 2021 research exercise on behalf of Sheffield Hallam University.

Presenting my Top Ten UFO documents at the event (David Clarke)

The UFO files project was funded by the MoD and resulted in the release of more than 60,000 pages of reports, correspondence and policy issues to the public under the Open Government/Freedom of Information Act.

In all, 210 files were scanned and are available as PDF downloads from the National Archives UFO page.

The project website received more than 3.7 million visitors from 160 countries and mass media coverage  brought news of the release to an estimated global audience of 25 million people.

Three books were published as part of the public engagement aspects of the research. These included The UFO Files (Bloomsbury/TNA 2012), Britain’s X-traordinary Files (Bloomsbury/TNA 2014) and UFO Drawings from The National Archives (Four Corners 2017).

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Yorkshire UFO crash mystery solved – after 60 years

THE wreckage of a miniature UFO that ‘crash landed’ on the North York Moors sixty years ago has been found – hidden in the archives of a London museum.

The story has been claimed by some as Britain’s answer to the #Roswell incident.

In a plot worthy of The X-Files the metal object, shaped like a miniature flying saucer, was found by three men on Silpho Moor, near Scarborough, one night in November 1957.

How the Yorkshire Post broke the story on 9 December 1957

One later paid £10 – more than £200 in today’s money – for the mysterious object that appeared just weeks after the Russians launched Sputnik into orbit around Earth.

But what became known as the Silpho Saucer vanished without trace soon after the finders cut it open in the Yorkshire spa town.

Photographs show the copper base of the object was inscribed with hieroglyphs that one of the men compared with Russian lettering.

Hieroglyphics were also found on the wreckage of the UFO that allegedly crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in June 1947.

When the Yorkshire object was opened a tiny book made of 17 thin copper sheets was found inside, held in place by a coil of copper wire. The sheets were covered in more hieroglyphics and these were deciphered by a Scarborough café owner, Philip Longbottom.

Headlines from the Scarborough Evening News 1957

He claimed they contained a bizarre 2000 word message allegedly sent to Earth by an alien called Ullo who wanted to warn us about atomic warfare. It contained the warning: ‘You will improve or disappear’.

A fragment of fused metal and plastic from the outer shell of the ‘saucer’ (Copyright Dr David Clarke)

For decades afterwards UFO enthusiasts drew a blank in their quest for the missing saucer – although some claimed it ended up in a scrapyard or had been on display in a fish’n chip shop in Scarborough.

But for half a century the missing pieces of the puzzle have been sitting inside a tin cigarette box at the Science Museum Group’s archive, more than 200 miles away from the wild moorland where they were found at the height of the Cold War.

The remains of the Silpho Moor UFO, with the cigarrette box in which they have been stored for 50 years (Copyright Dr David Clarke)

Papers in the museum archives reveal the remains of the ‘Silpho Moor Object’ were sent to London for examination by experts in 1963.

The specimens included a fused section of the metal and plastic from the outer casing, a length of hollow copper tubing and tiny pieces of foil from the booklet that was discovered inside.

The Science Museum passed them to Gordon Claringbull of the Natural History Museum, who specialised in meteorites and explosives.

He said he could find ‘nothing unusual’ in the samples. In a memo to the Science Museum, Claringbull said that he was ‘prepared to wager anything’ that the pieces of metal were made on Earth.

Sceptics claimed the ‘saucer’ was made from a domestic hot water cylinder in a back-street garage and planted on the moor as an elaborate hoax.

Air Chief Marshall Lord Dowding who examined the Silpho Saucer in 1958 and believed it was ‘genuine’

Believers such as Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, who led the RAF during the Battle of Britain during WW2, revealed in 1959 that he had ‘actually held and examined’ the Silpho object.

He described it as a ‘a miniature pilot flying saucer’ – and was convinced it was a genuine artefact from space.

Tests carried out at Manchester University revealed the object’s shell contained lead and the copper parts were of unusual high purity.

But a metallurgist concluded it could not have arrived on Earth from space as there was no evidence it had been exposed to high temperatures.

UFO expert Jenny Randles, who read the report produced in Manchester, said she believes ‘it is the most costly and well organised hoax that has ever taken place in Britain.

‘The hoaxers never seemed to gain from it and whoever had it built spent considerably more than the £10 the finders reportedly paid for it’.

I was invited to see the remains at The Science Museum after giving a talk there on my work for The National Archives on the release of the Ministry of Defence’s UFO files.

One of the museum staff tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was aware that ‘bits of a flying saucer’ had been kept in a cigarette tin in the museum group store for decades.

The caption on the box that contains the ‘alleged UFO bits’ at The Science Museum, London (Copyright Dr David Clarke)

I was absolutely amazed when later we opened the tin box and saw the wreckage. It was obvious these were the remains of the missing Silpho Saucer that some have claimed as Britain’s answer to the famous Roswell incident.

It is astounding to learn that pieces of this unusual object have been sitting in a museum archive for more than half a century.

The Silpho Saucer story first broke on 9 December 1957 when The Yorkshire Post revealed how ‘a mystery object’, shaped ‘like a large flattish spinning top’, 45 cm in diameter and weighing 15 kg, had been found on the moor northwest of the town two weeks earlier.

Scarborough businessman Frank Dickenson, then 42,  claimed he and two friends were driving up Reasty Hill near the village of Silpho at night when his car stalled and they saw ‘a glowing object in the sky’ that appeared to fall to the ground on a ridge above Broxa Forest.

Mr Dickenson left the car, climbed a steep bank and found the metallic saucer lying in a patch of bracken.  But as he returned along a footpath to alert his friends he passed a young couple walking towards the scene.

When the three men returned to search the moors, the object was gone.

Images taken by Dr John Dale in 1958 showing the intact saucer, the copper base with hieroglyphs and one of the copper sheets from the ‘booklet’ that contained a message from Ullo (credit: Dr John Dale)

But he was so desperate to get it back he placed a classified advert in the Scarborough newspaper.

This was answered by someone claiming to be the mystery man on the moor, who initially demanded £200 in cash.

Mr Dickenson later handed over £10 in a night-time exchange for the metal object that was hidden in a sack.

He asked Scarborough solicitor Anthony Parker to examine it at his home in nearby Scalby.

Parker told the Press he had advised Mr Dickenson to hand it to the Air Ministry and said: ‘I do not think it is a flying saucer and I do not believe such things come from outer space’.

But Mr Parker’s fascination grew after he, Mr Dickenson and Philip Longbottom prised open the two halves of the object. Inside they found traces of ash, fused glass and the copper book ‘that had a coil of hollow tubing wrapped around it’.

The story made headlines just two months after the Cold War space race began with the launch of Sputnik. Some of those who examined the Yorkshire ‘whatnik’ initially feared it could have fallen from the spy satellite or was part of a bomb or wartime mine.

Another fragment of UFO wreckage from Silpho (Copryight Dr David Clarke)

And in a bizarre twist, over thirty years later a cache of IRA guns and bomb-making equipment was found near the same patch of isolated moorland shortly before Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was due to speak at the Conservative party conference in Scarborough.

The arms cache included Czech-made Semtex, a key component in bombs used by Irish terrorists.

It was found by a man searching for compost in Broxa Forest, close to Silpho Moor, in March 1989 and sparked a huge security operation.

The Science Museum, South Kensington, London: last resting place of the Silpho Saucer (credit: Wikipedia)

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