A previously unknown Cold War close encounter witnessed by the crew of a US Navy spy-plane has been revealed in files released by the UK National Archives.
They include a remarkable account of an incident on 19 October 1982 when the RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, monitoring Soviet military activity, was buzzed by a UFO above the Eastern Mediterranean.
British personnel at RAF Troodos on the island of Cyprus listened remotely to the radio calls of the US Navy crew as the encounter unfolded at 35,000 feet above the Mediterranean.
The UFO – described as ‘very very big’ and covered in ‘a multitude of flashing lights 20 at a time’ – was detected by the spy-plane’s nose radar at a distance of ten nautical miles as it approached from the south just after 7pm local time.
It circled around the plane, call-sign Beano 73, and closed in. As the event unfolded, two US Navy F-14 Tomcats were scrambled from an aircraft carrier in the US Sixth Fleet.
In addition a RAF Phantom from Akrotiri was diverted from a night flying exercise to intercept the UFO. As the three aircraft approached the RC-135 crew saw the UFO depart towards the African coast. One account of the incident says the interceptors ‘picked up a contact leaving BEANO 73 to the south’.
The files reveal how personnel at the radar station high on Mount Olympus monitored the incident for a period of 90 minutes. But nothing was seen by the British air defence stations – ‘nor was it seen on any ground or seaborne radar, including at 280 SU [280 Signals Unit – RAF Troodos]’.
A signal reporting the sighting sent from RAF Troodos to MoD UK on 20 October describes the UFO as ‘larger than [a] RC-135’.
Boeing RC-135 aircraft are used by the USAF and RAF to support intelligence gathering. They have been used in every armed conflict including Cold War operations around the borders of the former Soviet Union.
The signal refers to the ‘object’ first spotted: “…initially about two miles from wing of RC-135…moved position around aircraft and closed…object tailed Beano 73 for 90 mins on its northeast/southwest race track….”.
The signal says the object was seen by the ‘whole crew’ who became ‘more and more convinced they were being escorted by a UFO’.
Following the encounter a secret investigation was launched by the British RAF-MoD. The results were sent to the US Department of Defense in November 1982. Officially the US Air Force’s UFO Project, Blue Book, was closed in 1969.
The British Ministry of Defence closed its own UFO desk in 2009 and its secret space intelligence unit, DI55, said it was no longer interested in ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ (UAP) in 2000.
But the formerly secret RAF file reveals that officials ordered a transcript to be made of the tape recording that captured radio transmissions made between the spyplane crew and ground controllers.
Film provided by the RAF Troodos radar station was scrutinised by intelligence officers in London. The file does not reveal what happened to this evidence. The results of the joint UK/US investigation do not appear in the file. A tentative explanation is offered by a senior RAF official, who wrote: ‘We have a strong suspicion that the “UFO” was a mirage effect from lights on the coast of Israel or Lebanon’.
But an account written by the RAF Troodos signals unit, recently declassified from SECRET status, states that the ‘contact’ remained a mystery.
In 2019 the US Navy drafted formal procedures to pilots to to document encounters with ‘unexplained aerial phenomena’ following a series of intrusions into military designated airspace.
Spokesman Joseph Gradisher said: “We want to get to the bottom of this. We need to determine who’s doing it, where it’s coming from, and what their interest is.”