Case Files: Calvine UFO photographs

Part 1: I want to believe? – Aurora and the poster on the wall

The world first became aware of the Calvine incident in 1996 when Nick Pope mentioned the existence of the Scottish photographs in his book Open Skies Closed Minds. His book was promoted as an account of his time on the MoD’s UFO desk and purports to describe his transformation from skeptic to a believer.

Pope says he saw a first generation print of one image on his arrival at Secretariat (Air Staff) in 1991 to take over UFO duties from Owen Hartop. Both men were civil servants with the designation Sec(AS)2A. Their office was the public focal point for UFO matters at MoD and their head of division at that time, according to the Civil Service Yearbook, was someone called JRG Clark.

In his book Pope describes the Calvine incident ‘as one of the most intriguing in the Ministry of Defence’s files’. But until Pope’s book was published no one in the UFO community had heard of the photographs and, up to that point, no media source had ever published stories about them.

Nick Pope pictured in London, April 2001 (copyright David Clarke)

In April 2001 Nick agreed to an interview in London. During the meeting I asked a series of questions about his book, his time at the so-called ‘UFO desk’ and how incidents were followed up by the Ministry.

In response to a question concerning ‘a photo taken in Scotland’ that was mentioned in Open Skies, Closed Minds, he responded:

‘…It was taken I think in 1990, before my tour of duty, and it was actually in poster form, blown up by various people who had looked at it and stuck on the wall. It really was Fox Mulder stuff. It didn’t have ‘I want to believe’ on it but it was on the office wall when I joined … it subsequently came to be removed but it was there and it had as far as I can recall been taken by two people who had been out walking in Pitlochry who had heard a low humming sound, looked around, done a double take, shot off I think, I’m not sure if they shot off a few pictures or just one [but] it had been sent to the MOD. I don’t think that we had the negative, indeed they may have asked that we send it back

‘That was simply on the wall…it had certainly been looked at and analysed by some people who would know a lot about that sort of thing, who had assessed it as being a solid structured craft and not a hoax; who had made some assumptions about its size, I can’t recall what those were … but it was sufficiently at least the size of a Hawk or a Harrier, certainly aircraft size, and some people had clearly started doing some intellectualisation about aerodynamics, propulsion, things like that and there was a perception in certain quarters that this was for real, that it was a good one…

What happened next?

…then the whole debate over Aurora broke and there was a lot of very defensive mentality around and inevitably there is a sort of cross-over from those sorts of things and the job that I was doing and my head of division came in one day and took the photo down and locked it in his desk drawer … I’m just trying to remember what my head of division’s room number was, but as far as I know it is still locked in that drawer.

‘He thought it was Aurora, and he thought oh, goodness, the Yanks won’t like us having this on the wall, I’m going to take it down, now of course at the time we were asking the Americans, I was asking through the Embassy, through various specialists, hey do you guys have a diamond or triangular shaped hypersonic thing that has a low humming sound and does zero type five, no sonic boom, how do you do that and, you know they were saying ‘no, do you? Because we have sightings as well and we were wondering maybe if it was an RAF plane?’ and we were saying ‘oh I wish!’

Others read Pope’s brief written account of the incident and began asking questions. One of them was Martin Redmond, Labour MP for the Don Valley. In July 1996, Redmond asked the Secretary of State for Defence ‘what assessment his Department made of the photograph of an unidentified craft at Calvine on 4th August 1990; who removed it from an office in Secretariat (Air Staff) 2a; for what reasons; and if he will make a statement’.

In a written response in the House of Commons, MoD said:

A number of negatives associated with the sighting were examined by staff responsible for air defence matters. Since it was judged they contained nothing of defence significance [my emphasis[ the negatives were not retained and we have no record of any photographs having been taken from them.” (Hansard, 23 July 1996).

Artist’s impression of an ‘unmanned diamond-shaped hypersonic vehicle’ published in Aviation Week magazine December 1990. Coincidence? (credit: Mark Mccandlish)

As Nick Pope mentioned in the 2001 interview, at the time the photographs were taken, MoD were fending off a series of press and Parliamentary questions about an hypothesised hypersonic US aircraft code-named Aurora. Some aviation pundits continue to believe this was used to describe a top-secret black project developed as a replacement for the SR-71 Blackbird.

Two of these long-range, high altitude Mach 3 aircraft operated from the USAF base at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk from 1982, with permission from PM Margaret Thatcher’s government. According to MoD, the last aircraft departed UK soil on 18 January 1990.

Aurora became the subject of much speculation in the media and specialist aviation magazines from 1992, following claims that it had been operating secretly from a base in the Scottish highlands.

Possibly the first mention of Aurora was in March 1990, five months before the Calvine incident, when Aviation Week & Space Technology revealed a ‘secret’ project had been inadvertently included in the 1985 US budget under a $455 million allocation for ‘black aircraft production’.

Although the reference was later explained as a budgetary code name for the B-2 Spirit bomber, aviation writer Bill Sweetman continues to believe Aurora is one of a number of experimental programs under active development.

Indeed, the Pentagon’s intelligence report on Unexplained Aerial Phenomena (UAP) published in June 2021 speculates that some unexplained ‘sightings’ could be observations of ‘classified programs’ developed by the US Government and industry.

A page from the MoD’s report on UAPs produced by DI55 in 2000, covering Black Project Aircraft that are ‘frequently reported as UAPs’. The author lists the supersonic Mach3 SR-71 Blackbird but photographs and descriptions of 2 other secret US experimental programs have been redacted from the report (Crown Copyright applies)

And the British MoD intelligence report on UAPs produced in 2000 also speculated that ‘certain… friendly aircraft may be authorised for covert entry into UK controlled airspace’. It says these could be reported as UFOs because of their unfamiliar shapes.

The report’s author refers to projected US priority plans ‘to produce unpiloted air-breathing aircraft with Mach 8-12 capability and trans-atmospheric vehicles…as well as highly supersonic vehicles at Mach 4 to 6’.

Fast forward to 2020 when The Sun newspaper quoted Nick Pope as claiming, once again, that the Calvine photographs show ‘a structured craft of unknown origin, unlike any conventional aircraft’.

He said tests showed the photos could not have been faked and ‘because the photos had been taken in daylight with the surrounding countryside visible’ this allowed MoD experts ‘make some calculations about the mystery object’s size…it turned out to be 100 feet in diameter’.

In a follow-up article published in May 2021 he repeats the claim that the photo had been authenticated by the Defence Intelligence Staff and ‘the photos are pretty much as good as it gets’.

At the time the civilian RAF Air Staff branch where Pope was employed copied all UFO reports to a branch of the DIS, DI55, that had been responsible for UFO investigations since 1967 when the task was transferred from the Air Ministry’s former Technical Intelligence branch.

DI55 could, if it was deemed necessary, initiate follow-up investigations of any incidents that had any potential defence threat to UK airspace.

Part 2: DI55 investigates…and the mystery deepens

According to a brief, hand-written report from the MoD’s UFO files, the photograph/s at the centre of the mystery were taken at 9pm on Saturday 4 August 1990 by two people walking near the village of Calvine close to the A9.

Nick Pope’s account says ‘the two men became aware of a low humming sound’ before they turned to see a large object hovering.

But the original hand-written MoD account of the incident, released at The National Archives in 2009, makes no reference to any sound.

It says a large diamond shaped object appeared in the sky and hovered for ten minutes ‘before ascending vertically upwards at high speed’.

One of the poor-quality ‘vu-foils’ of the prints, released by the MoD at the National Archives in 2009 (Crown Copyright applies)

During the sighting both also saw what they believed was a RAF Harrier jump jet make number of low-level passes. During this time a series of six colour photographs were taken by the informant and ‘1 unidentified other [person]’.

The hamlet of Calvine is in a rural part of Perthshire that is often used by the RAF for low-flying practice but this does not normally take place at the weekend.

Although it was 9pm and late in the evening, as this was British Summer Time there would have been sufficient light for photographs to have been taken.

The MoD summary asks for confirmation of the date and time and details of the camera, type of lens and focal length used. But the sparse papers released in 2009 do not contain answers to these questions.

They do however reveal that shortly after their experience the photographer sent his negatives to the Glasgow-based Daily Record newspaper. The paper subsequently passed them to the Press Officer at RAF Pitreavie near Edinburgh, a joint MoD/NATO base, that closed in 1996.

The hand-written report does not say why the men were in the area but a source from Defence Intelligence claims they were poachers who had killed their prey and were posing with the animal when the ‘UFO’ appeared.

He claims a DI55 officer was sent to Scotland to examine the evidence and interview the men. The two photographers were reassured they not in any trouble as a result of their activities. Afterwards they simply ‘went on their way’. Their identity remains unknown and, since that time, they have not come forward with their version of the story.

Poor quality photocopies of one image, showing the object and the Harrier, are all that have survived in UFO files released by the MoD to the National Archives in 2009. The papers generated by the Sec(AS) desk officer Owen Hartop refer to analysis of the negatives by a specialist branch. This identified a Harrier and a ‘barely visible second aircraft, again probably a Harrier’ alongside the large diamond-shaped UFO in the images.

A UK Confidential memo in DEFE 31/180/1, a file opened by the DI55 UFO desk officer, confirms my source’s claim that the negatives were examined first in September 1990 and were subsequently sent to the RAF’s Joint Air Reconnaissance Centre (JARIC) at RAF Brampton in Cambridgeshire for detailed analysis.

Image showing part of the 2mile (3.2 km) runway at RAF Machrihanish on the Kintyre peninsula, Scotland. The base became known as ‘Britain’s Area 51’ in 1992-93 following a flurry of unexplained radar and visual sightings of fast-moving aerial objects, widely reported in the media. (credit: The Scotsman)

According to him, the investigation concluded the ‘object’ was a US experimental aircraft flying from the former RAF airfield at Machrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre.

He claims that first generation prints, taken from the negatives, do exist and ‘they have cleverly kept them away from the public’ for three decades.

‘There was nothing extraterrestrial about what was seen in Scotland,’ he added. ‘No one else other than the Americans had anything like it at the time. But we knew what it was‘.

But surely an aircraft that was operational in 1990 could not have been concealed from the public for three decades?

‘Thirty years is nothing,’ he responded. ‘It takes a very long time to go from a drawing on the back of a cigarette packet to operational capability.’

He went on to claim the two other aircraft visible in the photographs were a British Harrier and a US aircraft. These were escorting, not shadowing, the ‘object’. If true this implies official approval from both UK and US governments, something that has been repeatedly denied by ministers.

If the second aircraft was also a Harrier it could possibly be a US Marine Corps AV-8.

Extract from the ‘defensive’ press briefing prepared for the MoD press office following the sighting in Scotland (Crown Copyright applies)

But where did these aircraft originate? Research by Graeme Rendall and others have established there were no Harriers based in mainland Scotland at the time.

This fact is confirmed in a ‘defensive briefing’ prepared by Hartop or his Head of Division for the MoD’s Press Office, copied to Under Secretary of State for the RAF in September 1990 (right).

This says MoD had ‘no record of Harriers operating in the location’ at the time and place.

It also reveals that departmental experts had examined the images but reached no ‘definite conclusions’ regarding the UFO. The cover note adds the negatives were returned to the Daily Record.

But the newspaper never published their exclusive story and the fate of the negatives remains a mystery. This has prompted some UFOlogists to speculate that a D-Notice was used to stop publication (see part 2 of this post).

In response to a number of FOI requests since 2009, MoD claim they have not retained any of the images after the negatives were returned to the paper in 1990.

This implies that prints, line drawings and vu-foils have either been destroyed or sent to an agency that is not subject to Freedom of Information requests.

The MoD’s story is also contradicted by former desk officer Nick Pope who, as we have seen, says he saw a ‘poster-sized’ blow-up print of one photograph that was pinned to the Secretariat (Air Staff) office wall in MoD Main Building. Pope says the object visible in the blow-up print was sharply outlined and grey, against a background of a lighter grey sky and ‘clearly visible as a 3-D craft’.

We know that further copies of the images were, at that time, held by DI55 and by JARIC. I sent a a FOI request to JARIC in 2009 using the correct tasking number, 00920009. Their response said following standard MoD policy all records they might have held had been destroyed after a period of five years if they were not selected for preservation at the Imperial War Museum or similar public archive.

According to Pope, his head of division, JRG Clark, later removed the poster and locked it away in a safe in his office at MoD Main Building. Pope’s former boss has yet to come forward with his version of this story but so far, no one appears to have made any effort to ask him. He could easily resolve this little ‘mystery’.

But if Clark really did remove the evidence because he shared DI55’s belief the photograph showed a top secret US experimental aircraft, as Nick Pope suggests, that was entirely understandable given the Press coverage of the Aurora story at the time.

Stories published by The Scotsman and Jane’s Defence Weekly in February 1992 (below) led a number of Scottish MPs to table Parliamentary questions about alleged ‘hypersonic flights’ by US aircraft from RAF Machrihanish.

A story published by The Scotsman newspaper in February 1992 led to a flurry of questions in the British Parliament (extract from MoD UFO file released in 2018)

The Scotsman claimed an RAF air traffic controller ‘was startled to see a radar blip emerge from the area of the joint NATO-RAF airbase at approximately three times the speed of sound’. But when the puzzled controller phoned the base on the Kintyre peninsula to ask what type of aircraft it was he ‘was promptly told to forget what he had just seen’.

Media and Parliamentary interest in 1991-2 may have led MoD to order a second examination of the Calvine images. The DI55 UFO files released at The National Archives in 2009 reveal how, 16 months after the photographs were taken the branch sent copies of five ‘vu-foils’ to the RAF’s Joint Air Reconnaissance Centre (JARIC).

Oddly, these were in the form of acetates taken from the original negatives. This was, I am informed, to allow analysts to project the images onto a wall-mounted whiteboard for more detailed scrutiny.

As part of this ‘re-tasking’ DI55 asked JARIC to produce calculations such as height above ground and distance from camera to determine the true ‘diameter, size and dimension [of the UFO] where possible’.

The confidential tasking says ‘sensitivity of the material suggests very special handling’ was required.

This document also mentions the task had ‘already [been] discussed with Ops 4 Squadron‘. This is significant as No 4 Squadron flew ground attack Harrier jets from RAF Gutersloh in Germany in 1990. Pairs of pilots from squadron were undergoing training for low-flying exercises at the outbreak of the Gulf War.

The re-tasking is covered by a note from another DI branch dated 29 January 1992. But the remainder of the file tells us nothing about what happened next. From here the paper trail goes cold.

Part 3: Freedom of Information requests reveal CIA link

From 2006 I made a series of FOI requests to MoD for documents relating to the Aurora mystery but avoided explicit references to the Calvine photographs. My requests brought to light a cache of documents dating from 1992 that originated from the British Defence Staff in Washington DC addressed to MoD London.

British concerns about a ‘possible stealthy platform flying in UK airspace’ are mentioned in a letter – originally classified Secret – sent by the UK’s Air Attache, Air Commodore Simon Baldwin to Sir Donald Spiers, The Controller of Aircraft at MoD Main Building in London early in December. It says the British had informally passed on their concerns to the Pentagon and had now received ‘more definite information on the source of the sighting’.

Another letter, dated 18 December 1992, says the issue had been triggered by a photograph ‘taken from the ground with very blurred images of what could be two aeroplanes’ near Machrihanish.

The precise location is not specified but a link with Calvine images is suggested by the reference to ‘two aeroplanes’ photographed from the ground. This was later confirmed in my conversations with Baldwin and Spiers.

Extract from the British Defence Staff letter to UK MoD December 1992 (Crown Copyright applies)

According to Baldwin the UK’s Defence Intelligence Staff had already shared an image or images of the ‘sighting’ in Scotland via secret intelligence channels with their counterparts in the USA.

But due to a misunderstanding, the CIA had not informed the Pentagon the source of the photographs was the UK Ministry of Defence!

As a result Lt General John Jaquish, who was responsible the Stealth programs, mistakenly came to believe an experimental aircraft had been secretly developed by the RAF, drawing upon privileged access to Stealth technology that had been shared in confidence with its European ally.

Baldwin’s letter to Spiers confirms British intelligence intended to ‘ask if the United States had anything flying off Machrihanish’.  It adds that due to a misunderstanding the Americans initially decided the object could not have been a US aircraft and then ‘jumped to the conclusion that it must be an RAF development vehicle’.

Lieutenant General John E. Jaquish was principal deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Washington DC, in 1992 when the photo/s taken in Scotland were sent to the CIA (credit: US Air Force)

Baldwin was the Commanding Officer of the last operational Vulcan squadron, based at RAF Waddington. The V-bomber force had been disbanded in 1984 after the Falklands War. He was asked to find out if the object in the photograph could have been a RAF development vehicle.

In another letter addressed to the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (ACAS) in London Baldwin says that although the Vulcan bomber was ‘roughly triangular’ it could not explain the sightings because just one display aircraft remained in service.

He adds it was more likely that sightings were caused by ‘Concorde [or] possibly a Tornado with wings swept’.

But his 18 December letter implies there had been a change in heart after the British denial and Baldwin says: ‘I now have some very sheepish and apologetic Americans on my hands…I have also had assurances that they never doubted us, and that they are extremely keen to continue with the exchanges of information which they find mutually beneficial’.

Early in 1993, following another flap of triangular UFO sightings in the UK, JRG Clark, head of Secretariat (Air Staff) UFO branch at MoD raised the Aurora question once again in a letter to the US Air Attache in London.

He copied this letter to ACAS, Air Vice Marshal Anthony Bagnall. In a minute dated 27 April 1993 Bagnall says he cannot add anything further to the debate and says:

‘You will recall that my earlier interest in Aurora was prompted by a question from our Air Attache in Washington seeking advice on whether the UK had any ‘black’ programme or whether the earlier sightings in Scotland could be attributed to the Vulcan display aircraft. My answer on both counts was ‘no'”

A further extract from the letter by the British Defence Staff in Washington DC addressed to MoD UK in December 1992 (Crown Copyright applies)

So, if the Calvine photograph does not show a stealthy RAF (or US) black programme then what was it?

Speaking on the record, Air Commodore Baldwin says he is confident the photographs taken in Scotland were ‘a spoof’ or prank and this assessment was shared by the Pentagon.

If true, his theory might account for the reluctance of the photographer to come forward and might also explain why the source of the mysterious Harrier that could not be traced.

‘There is no doubt if there really was a Harrier present there would be no problem whatsoever in identifying its pilot,’ he said.

‘The image was so blurred you could not reach a conclusion. When I discussed it with the Lt General we both agreed that it looked like a Harrier. But the thing above it so clearly was something that could not possibly fly.

‘Whatever the explanation, no one seriously suggested it was a UFO.’

He added: ‘I think someone has taken a picture of a Harrier and drawn a large object alongside it. It was definitely a spoof. An aerial version of the Loch Ness Monster‘.

Indeed it would not be the first time that US and UK military and intelligence agencies have been fooled by pranksters.

In 2000 the author of the MoD’s Condign UAP report used a photograph taken during the Belgian UFO flap of 1989-90 on pg1 of his Executive Summary. This document was originally classified as Secret-UK Eyes Only before I obtained a de-classified version in 2006 using Freedom of Information requests.

In this UK Restricted document the photograph is captioned ‘an example UAP formation of the triangular type’. It was taken in March 1990 at Petit-Rechain, Belgium, by a 20-year-old man known only as ‘Patrick’. The photograph was published three months later and soon achieved legendary status in the UFO believer community much like the Calvine image. For a time it was the only reliable hard evidence from the well-known Belgian flap.

A page from the Executive Summary of the MoD’s UAP report, showing an evidential photograph taken during the Belgian UFO flap of 1989-90. The triangular ‘craft’ is in fact a styrofoam model with three spotlights attached (Crown Copyright applies)

But as Robert Sheaffer notes skeptics questioned the authenticity of the photo at the time and suggested that, because of the lack of any background, it could easily show a small model as opposed to a giant hovering object.

Despite these caveats the photograph was used to illustrate the MoD’s secret UAP study.

It was also published as genuine in Leslie Kean’s best-selling book UFOs: Generals Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record (2010).

In her book Kean publishes the results of an analysis of the photo where an ‘expert’ highlighted a halo of light particles around the craft, ‘suggesting the presence of a strong magnetic field’.

But in 2011 Patrick confessed to the Belgian media how he had faked the photograph. He invited reporters to his home to show them his original prints and said:

The UFO of Petit-Rechain is not a spaceship from a distant galaxy but a panel of painted styrofoam with three spots affixed’.

Nick Pope insists the Calvine photographs cannot be fakes because experts had authenticated them. This implies that intelligence agencies are too clever to be fooled.

But given this and other examples (WMD anyone?) how can we be so certain?

Part 4: Was a D-Notice used to block publication of the photos?

My investigation could find no one currently working at the Scottish Daily Record who recalls the story or saw the Calvine photographs in 1990 or thereafter. The newspaper’s picture editor who handled the negatives, Andy Allan, died in 2007 and its editor at the time, Endell Laird, died in 2015.

In 2020 a senior journalist at the newspaper admitted that negatives could have been accidentally destroyed when it cleared out its old picture library more than a decade ago. And despite recent press appeals the photographer or his companion has never come forward to tell his side of the story.

Some members of the UFOlogy community believe the newspaper spiked the story in 1990 because it was served with a D-Notice. Defence notices, known since 2015 as Defence Security Media Advisory (or DSMA) notices, are official requests to news editors not to publish or broadcast items on a list of specified subjects for reasons of national security. But DSMA notices have no legal standing and do not prevent publication.

Although there is no specific order that covers UFOs, DSMA Notice 1 ‘aims to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of information that would improve an adversary’s knowledge and understanding of the UK’s military plans, current operations and capabilities’.

An informal reminder of this notice could have been sufficient to persuade a newspaper editor not to publish images of a secret military exercise during the build up to the conflict in Iraq that resulted in the first Gulf War.

The current DSMA secretary, Brigadier Geoffrey Dodds, says there are no records of D-Notices issued in connection with a US Stealth aircraft in UK territory. But he admits ‘that does not mean that [D-Notice] could not have been issued in connection with such an event’.

My investigation, using the FOIA, uncovered a document marked ‘UK Restricted’ that might be relevant. It was written in 2000 by a contractor employed by the MoD defence intelligence branch DI55 to produce its report on UAPs, codenamed ‘Project Condign’.

UK Restricted memo by the author of the MoD UAP report that refers to a Press D-Notice issued in respect of the ASTRA/AURORA. Released as part of a cache of DI55 UFO Policy files sent to the author as part of a response to a Freedom of Information request (Crown Copyright applies)

His ‘Wrap Up’ memo, written after his report was completed, refers to a project code-named ASTRA/AURORA.

It also reveals that a Press D-Notice was issued ‘at the time’.

Is this a direct reference to ‘advice’ offered to the Scottish Daily Record?

Or is it just another red herring?

Part 5: The Chris Gibson sighting

Two days before the Scottish UFO photographs were taken, on 2 August 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait.

The US sent naval vessels to the Persian Gulf the following day. During the ground war that began in 1991 the US used cutting-edge Stealth technology including the F-117A fighter to attack ground targets.

A document from the MoD’s defence intelligence UFO files, released under the FOIA 2018, highlights a media report from November 1992 that claims ‘the latest American “spy” aircraft, the Northrop TR 3A Black Manta [has been] operational during Desert Storm ‘on reconnaissance missions for the F-117As’ [Stealth fighters].

The report says only a selected number of congressmen are aware of its existence and ‘according to a handful of individuals who have actually seen this “invisible” aircraft, its shape is a perfect triangle and is virtually noiseless, both, at low and high altitudes’.

In December 1992 The Independent published the story told by a British engineer who saw and sketched ‘a secret US spy aircraft’ that he suspected might be the Aurora.

Chris Gibson’s sketch of the ‘triangle’ escorted by a KC-135 tanker and USAF F-111s over the North Sea in 1989 shortly before the Machrihanish ‘sighting’ (credit: Chris Gibson)

Chris Gibson, an oil drill engineer and trained member of the Royal Observer Corps, told Janes’s Defence he saw the long triangular object from the Galveston Key rig in the North Sea one day in August 1989.

He said it was clearly visible against high cloud as it was refuelled from a KC-135 tanker escorted by two USAF F-111 bombers.

Press reports on Gibson’s sighting are mentioned in another letter titled ‘AURORA’ from Simon Baldwin, the Air Attache in Washington, addressed to ACAS London.

Baldwin told ACAS the US Secretary of the Air Force, Donald B. Rice, ‘was to say the least incensed by the renewed speculation that he had lied to Congress by stating that Aurora did not exist’.

Rice had earlier appeared on CNN to categorically deny that ‘there is no secret, or secretly funded, black programme to replace the SR-71 [Blackbird]’.

Baldwin’s letter, dated 22 December 1992, also refers to the Scottish photographs:

‘The Janes Defence and newspaper articles appeared after Lt Gen [Jaquish] had asked me about the supposed sighting of a stealthy vehicle off Machrihanish; this sighting is not mentioned in the media articles. However, if the photograph of the vehicle near Machrihanish is a spoof, it could be part of the Aurora saga’.

It adds: ‘…the whole affair is causing considerable irritation within HQ USAF and any helpful comments we can make to defuse the situation would be appreciated’.

In response to a further Parliamentary question about Aurora, tabled by Lord Kennet in the House of Lords in 1993, MoD denied that the USAF ‘or any other US body’ had been authorised to fly and land experimental aircraft over the UK.

But background briefings for Ministers, included in FOI papers released in 2018, admitted that ‘no one on the Air Staff or at desk level in [defence intelligence]…knows for sure that such a project exists, but it would not surprise them if it did’.

The briefing advised ministers to answer Parliamentary Questions on the subject carefully, saying the existence of such a project ‘would be a matter for the US authorities – “would be” rather than “is” to avoid any implication that the project exists.’

The Calvine mystery: Conclusions?

Ten years ago I was the consultant for The National Archives open government project that resulted in the release online of the MoD’s surviving UFO records. The now famous Calvine image was among the files that were opened in the third tranche during March 2009.

Shortly afterwards I published this account of the story on my Blogger site:

‘... Judging by the contents of these and other files during the 90s some [MoD] personnel clearly did think it was possible, indeed probable, that someone – possibly the US – was flying an advanced black project aircraft within the UK Air Defence Region.

‘….Many questions remain. Who was the photographer and how can we be sure his story was genuine? Why did the Daily Record decide not to publish the photographs in 1990? If they really were taken on the date stated, then why were the MoD unable to trace the origin of the Harriers clearly shown in the print? And why, almost two years later, did someone decide to request, in secret, further investigations?

All we have is the usual rather bland statement that MoD decided the incident was unexplained but of no defence significance: case closed. As a result, this report was added to a long list of others … that helped to convince some of the more imaginative MoD staff that someone was flying an unidentified stealthy craft over the UK.

Nick Pope’s brief account of this case notes that “neither the experts nor I accepted the Aurora theory [for the Calvine photos]…even if it exists, it is most unlikely that Aurora could function in the way described in the encounter.”

‘But this is faulty logic and puts the cart before the horse. Surely the first question any investigator should have asked was: does the story itself stand up to scrutiny?

Now documents only tell part of the story. To quote Sherlock Holmes: “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

As the WMD farce proved the spooks can and are fooled by faulty intelligence – especially when they want to believe something is true. 

Addendum: another ‘spoof’ photograph

Another photograph that purports to show a triangular aircraft escorted by USAF F-111s whilst being refuelled by a KC-135 tanker aircraft has been circulating online for a number of years. In his episode on Britain’s Area 51 film-maker Simon Holland claims this is a genuine photograph but provides no evidence or further information concerning its source.

The composite image of Aurora being refueled by KC-135 tanker escorted by F-111s produced by Bill Rose for Astronomy Now magazine in 1995. This image has been widely shared online as a genuine photograph of an alleged US black project aircraft photographed in places as far apart at Cornwall, the West Midlands and Scotland!

In fact the image is a photo composition produced by aviation writer Bill Rose and was first published in the October 1995 issue of the British magazine Astronomy Now. The original caption read ‘a simulation of the refuelling of the top secret Aurora’.

Online narratives linked to this spoof image include this account: ‘It was recently reported that on 27 September 1995 David Morris of Walsall, Cornwall, UK took a picture of a triangular shaped plane being refused by a KC-135 and flanked by a pair of F-111s. The unknown aircraft appeared to be about three-quarters the size of the KC-135’.


I wish to thank the following for their input to this investigation: Straiph Wilson, Matthew Illsley, Gordon Hudson, Chris Mitchell, Graeme Rendall, Chris Fowler, Isaac Koi, Steve Payne, Ian Ridpath, Robert Sheaffer and, last but not least, Nick Pope.

Text Copyright David Clarke 2021.