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Highlights from newly released British UFO files

Logo of the Ministry of Defence (image credit: Ministry of Defence)

The UK National Archives has released its eighth batch of UFO files, and as usual the stories are making headlines. From the ridiculous to the eye-opening credible cases, there are dozens of interesting stories in the files.

The National Archives began releasing their UFO files in 2008. They claimed that they received so many request for UFO files that it was easier for them just to release them all in batches over the next four years than to have to fulfill all of the requests. The first batch came out in May 2008, and there have been two a year ever since. This is the second batch for 2011, the first came out in March.

The media will be covering the stories within the files for the next couple of weeks. To wet your appetite I have pasted the contents of a highlights document that accompanies the files below. This will give you a high level over view of some of the interesting cases in the files. If you wish to see more, the files are available to download for free for a limited time at the UK National Archives UFO website. Unlike the US, the documents are not in the public domain forever.

RAF image experts study UFO photo: Notts, 2004

One night in January 2004 Alex Birch took a series of colour slides of Retford Town Hall in Nottinghamshire. He noticed nothing unusual at the time, but on examining the transparencies he was amazed to find an image showing a “flying saucer”. Having ruled out lens flares and aircraft he contacted the Ministry of Defence (MoD) who said “defence experts” would like to take a look at the image. Alex delivered his transparency to the MoD main building and it was sent to the Defence Geographic and Imagery Intelligence Agency (DGIA) in July 2004. The photograph was digitally enhanced and the DGIA report stated: “no definitive conclusions can be gathered from evidence submitted; however it may be coincidental that the illuminated plane of the object passes through the centre of the frame, indicating a possible lens anomaly e.g. a droplet of moisture.”

In another example of MoD conducting image analysis on UFO photos submitted by a member of the public, in this case a video taken in Scotland in January 1994. Experts at RAF Brampton concluded: “It cannot be determined whether this object is real or a hoax – it is possible it is a hoax using a kite or video studio effects.” Intelligence interest in UFO photographs and videos is discussed further in.

Threat from Near Earth Objects (NEOs)

In 2000 Minister of Science Lord Sainsbury set up a Task Force to assess the threat posed to the planet by Near Earth Objects (NEOs) such as comets and asteroids. During a visit to the Pentagon in March three scientists from the group discussed future NEO hazards with officials from the Department of Defence, NASA and the USAF

Space Command. On return to the UK they asked for a meeting to obtain “an overview of MoD‟s current and possible UK contribution to international collaborative efforts”. But comments on the file suggest MoD officials felt they had “no remit to defend the earth against asteroids (or little green men for that matter)” and one added: “it may be that our answer…is that we are doing nothing about it, have no money to spare and are content to leave such matters to the BNSC [British National Space Centre].”

Retired Fighter Controller recalls night RAF scrambled to intercept UFO

In 2001 Freddie Wimbledon, a retired RAF Fighter Controller, publicly described his role in a famous UFO incident involving the USAF base at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, in August 1956. In an account published by the RAF Radar Museum newsletter, Wimbledon said he was on duty at RAF Neatishead in Norfolk when the USAF reported a UFO on their airfield radars at Lakenheath. He recalled “this activity was clearly seen on Neatishead‟s radar” and by observers on the ground at Lakenheath. The RAF scrambled a Venom interceptor, controlled by Wimbledon‟s radars. He wrote: “It was vectored towards the object and the Venom pilot called “Contact‟ followed in a short while by “Judy‟ (which meant that the Radar/Navigator had the target on his airborne radar)…but then he called, “Lost contact, More help‟…he was then told that his target was now behind him, and it remained glued in that position, following the Venom‟s every move. A second Venom was scrambled but it never got within 20 miles before the target sped off…climbing at terrific speed.”

Wimbledon said all personnel involved in the incident were quizzed by HQ Fighter Command who stressed “absolute secrecy”. He wrote that when details of the incident were publicly revealed by the USAF in 1969, the MoD said records of the incident had been “accidentally destroyed.” The incident is also mentioned by retired MoD official Ralph Noyes who, in a letter to MoD in 1986, said he had been shown gun camera film of UFOs taken by RAF Venom aircrew at a secret screening in MoD Main Building in 1970.

In 2001 MoD said an archive search had confirmed all records of this incident had been lost or destroyed.

MoD official recalls Winston Churchill’s interest in UFOs

In a 1994 letter from retired official Ralph Noyes to MoD says he was Private Secretary to Vice Chief of Air Staff Sir Ralph Cochrane in the summer of 1952 “when news reached him of the remarkable UFO events over Washington DC”. Noyes said his boss was interested “as was the then MP Winston Churchill.” The then Scientific Advisor to the Air Ministry, Robert Cockburn, was “instructed to make enquiries…[his] report convinced Cochrane that it was “all American hysteria‟, though he naturally wouldn‟t have put it in quite those terms in public. [Churchill] was advised that there was nothing in the “UFO nonsense‟.” He adds that after 1952 “no further official notice was taken of the subject within the Air Ministry…[but] other subsequent events suggested to some of us that a “UFO phenomenon‟ of some kind or another certainly existed. But there were never solid grounds for regarding it as a Defence threat or as justifying official steps such as the establishment of a standing committee of enquiry.” As a result the subject remained “something of a joke (albeit an uneasy one on occasion)”.

Mork and Mindy visit East Dulwich

This file contains an account of “some lights, formed in a worm shape, wriggling around in the sky” that were seen in the sky by a woman and her daughter from East Dulwich, London, in the early hours of 10 January 2003. The pair became concerned about “a possible terrorist attack” and phoned police who sent officers to the address. The following day the older woman called MoD and told the UFO desk officer the two PCs were joined by two men in “space suits, with dark glasses who called themselves Mork and Mindy…these men told her not to look at the object because of possible radiation and they carried a transmitter which kept clicking.” They asked her not to talk to anyone in case of panic and offered to wash their eyes with a solution. Police told MoD they sent two ordinary PCs to the address but “they could not see anything in the sky and concluded it was possibly a reflection of a star and a street light in her window.” In a letter dated 21 January 2003 the woman says “your men have fed us with a lot of rubbish, presumably to make us look foolish and our story unbelievable, which they have succeeded in doing.”

MoD UFO study

In an internal memo from DI55 Wing Commander dated 5 July 1995 says there was no reason to continue publicly denying intelligence interest in UFOs. It says press stories have described DI55‟s role as a “defender of the Earth against the alien menace” which is “light years from the truth.” He feared that if this interest was revealed it could lead to “disbelief and embarrassment since few people will be believe the truth that lack of funds and higher priorities have prevented any study of the thousands of reports received.” Another official has scribbled “Ouch!” in the margin of the document. The same file contains papers from 1986-87 on a DI55 proposal to enter details of UFO reports onto a computer. But in March 1988 Sec(AS) (the “UFO desk‟) “decreed that all work should cease as it was in contravention of Ministerial statements to the effect that UFOs did not pose a threat to the UK”. They feared news of the proposed study “could be very embarrassing for [MoD]”.

However the idea for a MoD UFO database was revived in 1993 when a limited study was proposed by DI55, despite the “potential for political embarrassment” if news leaked out. Background to the study can be found in a briefing document from 1995. The DI55 study of UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena) was completed in 2000 and was classified “Secret‟, but was declassified and released to the public following a FOIA request in 2006.

The report’s conclusions are summarized as: “sightings can be explained as mis-reporting of man-made vehicles, natural but not unusual phenomena and natural but relatively rare and not completely understood phenomena”. Following completion of the report, it was decided no further work on UFOs would be carried out by Defence Intelligence.

File on MoD UFO desk chief’s appearance on BBC live TV debate in 1972

Two files cover preparations for UFO desk head Anthony Davies‟s appearance on a BBC TV programme, Man Alive – UFOs, in February 1972. Air Commodore Davis DFC DSO, was a Second World War RAF pilot who returned to the MoD after retirement to work as a civil servant (he died in 1986). He had two personal UFO experiences, the first whilst flying a Spitfire in 1944. He was also the pilot of an RAF Venom scrambled to intercept a UFO over RAF Lakenheath in 1956. In 1971 he agreed to become the very first MoD official to publicly discuss the Government‟s UFO policy in a pre-recorded studio debate held in Banbury, Oxfordshire. In a pre-screening briefing to MoD, Davis said the UFO phenomenon was a result of “the need felt by many people for a new mythology and hence their willingness to believe that natural things or events may have mysterious or extra-terrestrial origins”.

UFO briefing for Defence Minister (Peter Kilfoyle) in 1999

The files also contain a three-page briefing prepared for Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle in September 1999 after he spoke to The Sunday Times about UFOs. A news brief (p223) was prepared as a result of “speculative” and misleading newspaper articles that followed which suggested MoD was to release its UFO files to the public. In November the head of Sec(AS) strongly advised that Kilfoyle should not brief journalists or agree to a face-to-face meeting on UFOs as this would create a “scoop” and lead to further media interest (p80-84).

European UFO study group vetoed

Papers covering Teddy Taylor MP‟s Parliamentary Question in 1993 concerning a report by an Italian MEP submitted to the EU‟s Energy, Research and Technology Committee to “conduct investigations and disseminate information” on UFOs. Taylor was concerned that EU funds had been wasted in commissioning the report that contained “a statement that the theory that aliens have established a base in the asteroid belt cannot be ruled out.” MoD briefed that “a number of MEPs on the committee have opposed further work on the subject on the grounds that it will bring the [European Parliament] into disrepute…we hope therefore that the EP will not take this further.”

Chinese Lanterns and Glastonbury Festival UFOs

There were several sighting reports describing mysterious lights seen moving 300ft above the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival on 28 June 2003; the files contain contains details of a UFO sighting over a music festival at Llanfyllin, Wales, on 3 July 2006. This file also contains a number of sightings reported to MoD during the summer of 2006 that describe formations of orange lights in the sky. These appear to be observations of Chinese lanterns, released at parties and public events. One account from Herne Bay, Kent describes eight yellow/orange spheres “that looked like they had flames coming out of the back of them” (p28-29); another from London describes hundreds of fireballs that were an “amazing” sight in the night sky (p15-16).

Special Branch file on hunt for “unidentified helicopter”

The files also contain a two-page report by the Metropolitan Police Special Branch on a meeting held at MoD Main Building in March 1974 to discuss action to identify the pilot of an “unexplained helicopter” sighted by police patrols in Derbyshire and Cheshire. The police wanted to use radar, helicopters and RAF Harriers to identify the mystery night-flying copter, which had been sighted on numerous occasions during the winter of 1973-74. Special Branch suspected the object could have been used for “subversive activities”, but the pilot was never identified.

UFOs sighted by pilot and passengers of aircraft over Channel Islands

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) papers describing two UFOs sighted by pilot and passengers of a Trislander aircraft as it approached Alderney in the Channel Islands on the afternoon of 23 April 2007. The file also includes the pilot‟s report to Jersey Air Traffic control and a second sighting report from the pilot of a Jetstream aircraft above the English Channel. The RAF said nothing was seen on radar and no further investigation was required, as the sightings occurred in French airspace. A copy of the CAA summary of the incident can be found in the files.

UFO over Balmoral?

Contains the MoD‟s response to a tabloid story that claimed jets had been scrambled to investigate UFOs sighted over the Royal palace at Balmoral in February 1996. The UFOs were explained as Harrier jump jets from RAF Leuchars involved in a training exercise.

Photographs of UFO landing site in Rendlesham Forest

A newspaper clipping in the MOD files of the story that broke the Rendlesham forest UFO sighting.
A newspaper clipping in the MOD files of the story that broke the Rendlesham forest UFO sighting.

There  are two files dealing with a series of Parliamentary Questions tabled between 1998 and 2001 by a retired Chief of Defence Staff, the late Lord Hill-Norton, on aspects of the Rendlesham UFO incident (often described as “Britain‟s Roswell‟). A MoD briefing describes Hill-Norton as “pursuing this [campaign] with evangelical fervour” and notes that he was seen as “a champion of the case” by UFOlogists. The file includes a copy of a black and white photograph taken several days after the sightings in 1981 by USAF airmen at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk, showing a British police officer inspecting the “landing” site within Rendlesham Forest, includes a letter from a Suffolk police inspector to author Georgina Bruni, dated 28 July 1999. He describes his officer’s role in the incident as “minimal” and says that as the years passed witness testimony had been “substantially embellished”. The letter says the three PCs who were called to the scene of the UFO landing on 26 December 1980 by the USAF were unimpressed by what they saw and remain “unconvinced [the] occurrence was genuine” (p104-5). The officer said the area was swept by powerful beams from the Orfordness lighthouse and “I know from personal experience that at night, in certain weather and cloud conditions, these beams were very pronounced and caused strange visual effects.”

Rendlesham UFO Landing
Rendlesham UFO landing picture from MOD files.

Belgian UFOs

Correspondence between MoD and Belgian Embassy in 1993 describes an incident on 30 March 1990 when two F-16s were scrambled to investigate reported UFOs seen on NATO radars, “but no hostile or aggressive activities [were] registered.” The files contain a detailed account of the events written by Col Wilfried de Brouwer, a senior official in the Belgian Air Force. He says the “incident remains unresolved.”

UFOs and the US Government

Files describe attempts in 1992 by MoD UFO desk officer to contact his opposite number in US via RAF Staff in Washington; he was told the US no longer had any central post or policy dealing with the subject; a memo was sent from RAF staff in Washington to MoD, 1992 concerning alleged sightings of US experimental aircraft, codename Aurora, in the UK; in 1995 MoD were offered a copy of the fake “Alien Autopsy” film, allegedly taken in Roswell during 1947; the press office were advised to say the film was “of no relevance to MoD or security of UK”; following publication of a Sunday Times article on US Col Philip Corso‟s book The Day after Roswell in 1997, MoD were briefed that US authorities had found he had “a previous track record of unreliable testimony.”; a copy of a 1994 report by the FBI for the US Department of Justice on the provenance of the “MJ-12‟ documents, marked Top Secret/Majic Eyes Only, that were widely distributed in the UFO literature. The documents purported to be part of a briefing to the US President-Elect Dwight Eisenhower on the recovery of a crashed flying saucer and its alien crew at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. The FBI investigation concluded “the document is completely bogus.”

Jane's Defence Aurora
Clip in MOD files from Jane's Defence story on the Aurora sly plane.
Jane's Defence Aurora
Another illustration of an Aurora spy plane from Jane's Defence in the MOD files.

Bogus UFO stories published by the national Press

MoD monitored and commented upon print media coverage of UFOs between 1996 and 2002. In April 1998 two national newspapers claimed that radars at the early warning station at RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire had tracked a UFO “as big as a battleship” moving at speeds between 17-24,000 mph over the North Sea. The story claimed Dutch F-16 fighters had been scrambled and tapes of the incident would be presented at a conference hosted by RAF Cranwell, Lincs. Labour‟s Under Secretary of State for MoD, John Spellar MP, saw the articles and asked for a briefing from MoD. He was told the source of the story was a freelance journalist who was known to be “rather inventive of the facts” (DEFE 24/2047/1, p177). A note from RAF Fylingdales confirms that no UFOs had ever been tracked by the station during its 35 year history. Another file contains comments on the News of the World exclusive in October 1983 that first broke the story of the Rendlesham forest UFO incident. The briefing says the story “appears to be one fabrication after another.”

Nick Pope

Nick Pope (image credit:

Various files in this release contain papers relating to former Sec(AS) desk officer Nick Pope, including papers concerning his decision to publish a book about his experiences, Open Skies Closed Minds. A background briefing suggests the book may have led to an increase in letters and sighting reports made to MoD “from 373 in 1995 to 609 in 1996.”

Papers surrounding the publication of Georgina Bruni‟s book on the Rendlesham Forest incident, You Can’t Tell the People, in November 2000 which contained a foreword written by Nick Pope and contains papers relating to a proposed magazine article on Nick Pope for the MoD‟s in house magazine Focus which was pulled for publication and later the subject of a Parliamentary Question from Lord Hill-Norton. Papers relating to a Freedom of Information request to access papers surrounding MoD‟s clearance of Pope‟s 1996 book.

A copy of a Decision Notice published by the Information Commissioner on 10 June 2010 relating to the redacted information relating to Nick Pope can be found here:


Sec(AS) – The “Air Staff Secretariat‟ at MoD responsible for UFOs. The desk officer at Sec(AS) dealt with all public and Parliamentary correspondence on the subject and formulated policy working with the Head of Sec(AS). This post is often erroneously referred to as “the UFO desk‟, but UFOs were actually just one small part of this person‟s defence related tasks. In 2000 Sec(AS) was replaced by DAS (Directorate Air Space) as the secretariat responsible for UFO reports.

DI55 – a branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), responsible for assessing UFO reports for information of intelligence interest until 2000. In that year a defence contractor employed by DI55 completed a study of a sample of reports received between 1987-97 that were entered onto a computer database. The report concluded that “UAPs‟ (unidentified aerial phenomena) were of no interest to defence intelligence. From 2000 Sec(AS) no longer copied UFO reports to DI55.

DAO/ ADGE1/CT & UK Ops – a section of the RAF/Air Staff responsible for Air Defence radars, consulted by Sec(AS) when further checks were needed on reported UFO sightings. Following a policy review in 1997 it was agreed that Sec(AS) would only consult Air Defence experts on those UFO reports originating from “credible witnesses‟ or that had some measure of corroboration or were reported in a “timely‟ fashion. This task was moved to Airspace Integrity in Counter Terrorism & UK Ops in 2004.

The UK National Archives has also released a video reviewing the highlights:

Alejandro Rojas

Alejandro Rojas is a radio host for Open Minds Radio, editor and contributing writer for Open Minds magazine as well as For several years Alejandro was the official spokesperson for the Mutual UFO Network as the Director of Public Education. As a UFO/Paranormal researcher and journalist, Alejandro has spent many hours in the field investigating phenomena up close and personal. Alejandro has been interviewed by media organizations around the world, including the largest cable and network news agencies with several appearances on Coast to Coast AM.

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