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Was the Rendlesham Forest UFO detected by UK Air Defence Radars?
In 1981 and again in 1983, RAF (Ops) conducted a series of initial checks with radar stations including Eastern Radar (RAF Watton) and the SOC/Central Reporting Centre at RAF Neatishead.
Unfortunately, on both occasions the MOD were reliant upon the dates of 27 and 29 December for the UFO events in Rendlesham Forest supplied by Halt in his memo. Both dates were in fact incorrect, possibly because of an administrative error (Halt did not type the memo himself).
The MoD file shows that Ian Ridpath was able to establish the correct date for the initial sighting by checking with Suffolk police who had logged a call from the USAF base police in the early hours of 26 December, 1980. The second major event - involving Lt Col Halt himself - occurred on the evening of 27/28 December 1980. This date was confirmed to Jenny Randles by an anonymous source at RAF Watton who reported how Eastern Radar had been contacted directly by Bentwaters as the events were taking place. It was claimed that radar tapes of the incident were later seized by USAF intelligence officers who visited the base, something that the informant considered to be highly unusual. He also told an incredible story of UFOs landing in the forest and aliens communicating with the base commander.
In 1989 Nick Redfern wrote to Eastern Radar asking for confirmation of the radar story. Squadron Leader Eric Webster, on behalf of the base CO, told Redfern that all tape recordings from the period in question, both sound and radar, had been routinely disposed of “as was procedure. Webster was able to provide a transcript of the single relevant entry from the base log, which confirmed the correct date of the "second night”. The call to Eastern Radar was timed at 0325 GMT on 28 December 1980. This read:
“Bentwaters Command Post contacted Eastern Radar and requested information of aircraft in the area - UA37 traffic southbound FL370 - UFO sightings at Bentwaters. They are taking reporting action.”
UA37 was the code for an air corridor used by civilian aircraft which ran north/south approximately 40 miles east of Bentwaters. FL370 signified “traffic” at 37,000 feet in altitude.
Squadron Leader Derek Coumbe, who was the RAF Commander at Eastern Radar in 1980-81, confirmed in interviews with David Clarke in 2001 and 2003 that he was on duty when the UFO report was received in the early hours of 28 December. He said he received a direct call patched through from the Bentwaters tower reporting a “flashing light” over Rendlesham Forest. The MoD file contains a note from Coumbe which confirms a check was made by the duty controller but “nothing was observed...the facts are recorded in our log book of that night.”
The officer subsequently ordered that the tapes of that night and others prior to and after the report should be impounded for examination. In January 1981 they were removed by a joint RAF/USAF team from the Military Air Traffic Operations centre (MATO) at Uxbridge. This was not unusual but quite a common procedure that followed incidents such as a near-miss involving aircraft. The results of the analysis, according to a memo of 26 January 1981 were that “...the film on the days prior to and after the reported phenomena...were [both] faulty.”
If unidentified flying objects had penetrated UK Air Defence Radar over the Christmas period, they should have been recorded by the highly sensitive equipment of the SOC at RAF Neatishead. The T84/85 radars there, in conjunction with Watton, gave excellent radar coverage of Bentwaters runway area almost off the end of the runway for departure and, to touchdown on arrival. Checks on Neatishead’s tapes had evidently been carried out when Pam Titchmarsh at DS8 contacted RAF (Ops) room in March 1983. »