By Jasper Copping
19 Sep 2009
The so-called “X Files” show that there have been 394 claims reported to the MoD’s UFO desk from January until the end of last month, making it by far the “busiest” year on record.
Last year, there were only 118 sightings over the same period. The previous highest number was in 1997 – the first for which figures are available – when there were 331 reports over the same period.
Experts say Britain is experiencing a “flap” – the term Ufologists use to describe a concentrated period of sightings.
Many of the reports are of UFOs spotted at night time and describe seeing strange lights in the sky. However, some are seen in daylight.
One report was from a pilot in an aircraft flying at about 4,500ft over Otmoor, in Oxfordshire, who saw a shiny, black, flying cylinder, 20-30ft long, flying about 200ft higher. According to the documents, the report was forwarded on to the UFO Desk by air traffic controllers.
Officials at the two main civilian airports in the area – Oxford and Cranfield – said the report had not come from them, raising the possibility it came from the nearby RAF base at Brize Norton.
A spokesman for the MoD was unable to confirm this, but added: “These types of report do tend to come in via Brize.”
Air traffic controllers at Jersey airport also submitted a reported sighting to the UFO Desk. Paul Holley, from the airport, said they were notified of the sighting by a member of the public who had seen a bright orange object hovering over Gorey Castle, on the east of the island.
“This was reviewed against our radar recordings and there was nothing that we could attribute it to, so it technically became an unidentified flying object, which we reported,” he said. “Our weather reports showed it was quite a clear night.”
Gary Heseltine, a British Transport Police officer and UFO expert, said: “There has certainly been a big increase in sightings in Britain over the last 12 months.
“We are in the midst of a flap. The sightings reported to the MoD will give an indication, but the actual numbers of sightings will be much higher, because many will not contact officials, for fear of ridicule.”
The “flap” comes as a new book reveals the long history of UFO sightings in Britain.
Dr David Clark studied tens of thousands of pages of official documents relating to UFOs, and kept in the National Archives, in Kew, which date back to before the First World War.
Dr Clarke, a university journalism lecturer and UFO expert, said: “The files show that officialdom does take an interest in these reports particularly during times of war or international tension.
“People seem to think that the Government knows what is going on and are hiding things, but there is nothing in the files to suggest that.”
Britain’s earliest “X File” relates to a UFO seen over Sheerness, in Kent, on October 13, 1912. The subsequent inquiry was presided over by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. The aircraft was suspected at the time of being a German Zeppelin but subsequent research has ruled this out.
There were sightings in both world wars, including an incident shortly after the outbreak of the war, when a “phantom raid” was reported on a shipyard in Barrow, when troops guarding the works opened fire on at least two “cigar-shaped” aircraft. Again, no German or British aircraft were nearby.
In April 1944 a tail gunner on a Lancaster bomber returning from a raid over Germany reported four orange balls of light tailing behind. Other crew members also saw the strange lights and the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Arthur Horton, took evasive manoeuvres. He was unable to shake the lights off and yet there was no attack from the mystery lights, which eventually “seemed to burn themselves out”.
One of the cases in the files that Dr Clarke finds most tantalising, involved two sightings by an RAF test pilot, Stan Hubbard, in 1950. In the first sighting, he reported seeing a flying “discus shape”, around 100ft in diameter, approaching and pass overhead as he was walking along the runway at Farnborough airfield.
Two weeks later, he was in the airfield’s control tower with five other airmen when they spotted a similar object and watched it for around 10 minutes. The incidents were investigated by the MoD’s “Flying Saucer Working Party”, but they concluded that it must have been a “quite normal aircraft”.
The other incident that Dr Clarke says defies rational explanation occurred in April 1956, shortly before the Suez Crisis. Radar at RAF Bentwaters in Suffolk detected a number of unexplained blips, including one travelling at hypersonic speed. Airmen on the ground and travelling in a transport plane over the base saw bright lights, but when aircraft were sent to investigate, they could see nothing. Later that night, more UFOs were seen on radar at two other East Anglian airbases, and again on the following night. RAF Jets were sent up to intercept the UFOs and although they found it on their radar, they could not spot the aircraft.
Not all the incidents were reported by the military. In 1962, a 14-year-old schoolboy, Alex Birch, took a photograph apparently showing a fleet of flying saucers over Sheffield. He was summoned to London were he was interviewed by officials from the Air Ministry. They concluded the objects in the picture were most likely to have been produced by sunlight reflecting from “ice crystals” in the smoky atmosphere.
Other UFO sightings detailed in Dr Clarke’s book include:
– The crew of a Lancaster bomber, returning from a raid over Turin in November 1942, reported seeing an object 200-300ft in length travelling at around 500mph.
– A Lancaster crew returning from a raid over southern France in 1944 reported seeing an “an enormous string of lights” on the starboard side of the plane. Ronald Claridge, the radio operator, said they were part of an “enormous disk”. All the crew watched as the shape tracked alongside them for about three minutes, before suddenly accelerating away ahead of them.
-On the night of 20 March 1941, with the threat of a German invasion still strong, five separate coastal radar stations reported massive formations of aircraft heading towards Britain, but when fighters were scrambled, they could find nothing. The same phenomenon occurred the following night and was repeated over the following weeks. The cause was never discovered.
-In 1956 a US fighter was scrambled from an airbase in Kent to shoot down a UFO tracked by radar over East Anglia. He found the UFO on his radar and “locked on” to the target but as he began to close in, it vanished.
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