Government Files, Police Helicopters and Wind Turbines
Britain is in the middle of a UFO flap. Edward J. Ruppelt, one of the former heads of Project Blue Book (the United States Air Force's now defunct UFO investigation program) offered this definition of a flap in his book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects:
"In Air Force terminology a "flap" is a condition, or situation, or state of being of a group of people characterized by an advanced degree of confusion that has not quite yet reached panic proportions. It can be brought on by any number of things, including the unexpected visit of an inspecting general, a major administrative reorganisation, the arrival of a hot piece of intelligence information, or the dramatic entrance of a well-stacked female into an officers' club bar."
Nowadays, I'm sure such a politically-incorrect definition wouldn't be used, so I throw it in for historical purposes only. Suffice to say, in 2008 Britain had its own 'summer of the saucers', with a number of fascinating UFO sightings, extensive media coverage and massive public interest. The sightings and interest is still going strong, with 2009 doing its level best to outdo 2008. So let's take a look at what's been happening.
The story really starts in December 2007, when the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) gave an undertaking to release its entire archive of UFO files. This decision was made for three (linked) reasons: firstly, the MoD receives more Freedom of Information requests on UFOs than any other topic. Dealing with them on a case by case basis was proving increasingly burdensome and the thinking was that if they were all released, all future requests could be dealt with simply by referring people to the National Archives. Secondly, the French government released its UFO files in 2007 and this set a precedent the British found difficult to avoid. Finally, the MoD hoped that releasing the files would be a good news story for the media in terms of their commitment to open government and freedom of information. On May 14 2008 the National Archives released the first batch of files, leading to worldwide media coverage, including articles in the New York Times and coverage on CNN News. On October 20 2008 they released the second batch of files, again generating global media coverage, including a feature on ABC News's Nightline. The UK media coverage raised public interest in the subject and was followed by some high-profile UFO sightings.
A spectacular encounter between a UFO and a police helicopter took place on June 8 in South Wales, over the military base at RAF St Athan, close to Cardiff International Airport. The helicopter, with a crew of 3 on board, was about to land when it was in near collision with a UFO. Initially described as being disc-shaped and covered in lights, early media reports suggested a chase had taken place, with the helicopter pursuing the UFO south over the Bristol Channel and only breaking off pursuit when the UFO proved too quick and when they ran low on fuel. After the story broke on June 20 the story changed and the police were careful to use the phrase "unusual aircraft" as opposed to UFO. Additionally, while confirming the sighting, they denied a chase had taken place. Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the story was a quote from the MoD Press Office, where a spokesperson made the following comment: "But it is certainly not advisable for police helicopters to go chasing what they think are UFOs".
This story was followed by an even bigger one, when it transpired that a few hours before the police helicopter incident, soldiers at Tern Hill barracks in Shropshire saw several UFOs fly directly over their base. One of them filmed the objects on his cellphone. The Sun (the UK's best-selling national daily newspaper) ran the story on the front page under the headline "Army Spot UFOs Over Shropshire". The film is inconclusive and may even just show so-called Chinese lanterns, but the front page media coverage was almost without precedent.
In November it emerged that the June 8 near-miss between a UFO and a police helicopter hadn't been an isolated incident. Though the incident received no publicity at the time, it emerged that there had been another incident involving a police helicopter over the city of Birmingham. The incident occurred on May 2 at a height of around 1500 feet and the UFO came close enough for the pilot to take evasive action. An official investigation was undertaken by the UK Airprox Board, a body sponsored jointly by the Civil Aviation Authority and the MoD. They found no explanation for the incident.
And so 2008 drew to an end. UFO fever was dying down, so it seemed. But on the very first day of 2009, something interesting happened. With effect from January 1, it was announced that responsibility for the UFO issue had moved from the MoD to Headquarters Air Command at RAF High Wycombe. The MoD maintained that this was an administrative move and that there will be no change in policy. Others felt that embedding the UFO project in an operational RAF headquarters would inevitably lead to changes in the way the subject is handled. As it happened, the new organization was in for a baptism of fire.
UFO Hits Wind Turbine. This was the front page headline in The Sun on January 8 and the story subsequently made international news. Locals in Conisholme in Lincolnshire saw strange lights in the sky on the evening of January 3. Then at around 4am the following morning, residents were woken by a huge explosion. The following morning, damage was spotted to one of the wind turbines at a wind farm run by power company Ecotricity. The turbine is 290 feet high and each of the three blades were 65feet in length. One blade was bent out of shape and another had been knocked off completely. Residue from the damaged blades has been sent to the German manufacturers for forensic analysis, the result of which is expected shortly. One theory put forward by what The Sun called "defence insiders" was that a prototype BAe Systems Unmanned Aerial Vehicle named Taranis was involved. A search of the site with a metal detector failed to turn up evidence of anything unusual. This story also spawned two amusing and creative headlines, when The Sun ran follow-up stories. One story, featuring a picture of the wreckage at the wind farm, was headlined "Farmageddon". My favorite, however, was a story that ran under the headline "Close Encounters of the Turbine".
As January drew to an end, there was a final surprise in store. David Cameron is the leader of the Conservative Party and therefore a man who could be Britain's next Prime Minister. At a public meeting he was asked about the UFO issue: what did he think, what was his view on UFO secrecy and what would he do if elected Prime Minister? "I don't think any of us have any clue whether there's intelligent life out there and it is certainly not something that any Government should seek to hide from anyone," he replied, before adding "If I became prime minister I would always be entirely open and frank about these things".
This then is the story of Britain's ongoing UFO flap. What started last year as our very own 'Summer of the Saucers' has now run on into Autumn and Winter. The sightings, the mainstream media coverage and the public interest continue unabated. UK Forteans are holding their breath and wondering what's next. Time will tell.
Nick Pope worked for the Ministry of Defense for 21 years. In the early Nineties he held a position where his job involved his investigating UFO sightings and other strange phenomena. He now works as a freelance journalist and PR consultant.