The Secret Files: The Unidentified > [1 ¦ 2 ¦next]


originally published in Fortean Times 197 (2005

In January 2005 more than 50 formerly secret files containing UFO reports made to the Ministry of Defence during the late 1970s were opened at the UK National Archives. DAVID CLARKE takes a look at the cream of the crop:

Opinion surveys show that 1978 marked the high water mark for public belief in the “reality” of UFOs as ET craft. A Gallup survey that year found around half of all Americans believed in some form of extraterrestrial life and 57 percent thought UFOs were real, nine percent reporting a sighting. These figures have never been matched and must partly be a result of Steven Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which opened in the UK in February 1978. The theme of benevolent aliens slowly making their presence known to world Governments, culminating in a spectacular contact, seemed to reflect what many thousands believed was really going on.

The effect of the film on UFO reports was equally dramatic. The numbers received by the Ministry of Defence in 1978 were 750, almost double the figure for 1977 and the highest total on record. When the Daily Express set up a UFO reporting bureau hundreds more came forward to report past experiences they had never spoken of before. Others simply “saw” the fantastic craft from the film for themselves. In July, a man from Ealing Common in London rang MoD to report “a gigantic saucer” lit up with coloured lights
“just like a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” It seemed, he said in an echo of Roy Neary’s character from the film “as if I was meant to see this object.”

But the extraordinary events of 1978 were the culmination of a wave of UFO sightings which actually began in 1976 and swept the world by the end of the decade. In FT 191:27 Jenny Randles described the early part of March 1977 as “an extraordinary one for UFOs.” But the full extent of UFO activity was not fully known until the beginning of this year when the Ministry of Defence released reports it had received from its secret military sources.

Sightings reported by military witnesses, backed up by radar contacts are regarded by UFOlogists as the most impressive evidence for UFO reality. One of the most puzzling came from RAF Boulmer, an important radar control centre on the coast of Northumbria. In the early hours of 30 July 1977 airmen on the night shift were alerted by a call from a civilian who could see two bright objects hovering over the North Sea. The duty controller, Flt Lt A.M. Wood and a group of airmen then emerged from their bunker and saw the UFOs for themselves.

In his detailed report to MoD, Flt Lt Wood says the objects were close to the shore and stationary, at a height estimated between 4-5,000 feet. They appeared to move apart and then together as they slowly climbed into the clear sky. “No imagination was required to distinguish the shape,” he wrote. “Westerly object [was] conical with apex at top. Object seemed to rotate and change shape to become arrowhead in shape. The easterly object was indistinct.” He said the UFO closest to the base was “round, luminous, [and] 4 to 5 times larger than a Whirlwind helicopter.”

Flt Lt Wood’s story was supported by Cpl Torrington and Sgt Graham who were on duty at a picket post outside Boulmer’s underground operations room. They said the westerly UFO moved “and changed shape to become body shaped with projections like arms and legs.” All were described as “reliable and sober” in a MoD report. The descriptions, and more significantly, the fact these UFOs were visible for one hour forty minutes make me suspect they may have been bright stars or planets. But in his report Flt Lt Wood says that shortly after disappearing visually, two unidentified contacts were detected on the base radars at a range of between 20 and 30 miles out to sea. These slowly moved northeast as they climbed, “then parted, one climbing to 9,000 feet estimated and moving east, the other holding 5-6,000 ft.”

While the UFOs were being tracked, he contacted the controller at RAF Patrington, an early warning station on the East Coast. He confirmed the two unidentified blips were visible on the radar picture there, which was relayed directly to RAF West Drayton in Middlesex. But oddly, the Senior Reporting Officer at headquarters was less forthcoming when asked if he could see the UFOs.

The events at Boulmer were not the first that year. In May dozens of UFO reports were made by people in Humberside and Lincolnshire to local police and MPs. But the most puzzling report has remained secret until now. At 10.20 on the night of 21 May three airmen at RAF Waddington, where a squadron of nuclear-armed Vulcan bombers were based, saw a “triangular shaped” white light moving erratically overhead. Minutes later the duty controller RAF Patrington tracked a “unidentified contact” moving in a zig-zag fashion in a similar direction. Radars at Waddington also “saw” the UFO for a period of four minutes before their screens were “partially obliterated by high powered interference which subsided when [the UFO] disappeared.”

A report on the case said the equipment was working normally both before and after the UFO appeared. The results of the investigation are not on public record, at least in the files of S4f (Air) who were the MoD’s “X-files unit” at the time. S4 was the civilian MoD branch that, so we have been led to believe, was the single focus for all UFO reports made to the British Government at that time. »

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