The U.K. Government and UFOs
By Julian J.A. Hennessey
In July 1967, the author received a communication from The Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson, OBE PC MP, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom stating, "As reports of these objects (UFOs) continue to appear from many parts of the world, it is quite understandable that there should be a growing interest in seeing some responsible effort made to seek explanations of these phenomena." Yet, whilst reports of UFOs continue to be made in the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Defence fails to take cognizance of them from a scientific standpoint and belie the words of the former Prime Minister by claiming, according to Mr. Merlyn Rees, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, in August 1967, just one month later,
"Of the many reports received here...the vast majority have proved to have very simple, even mundane explanations. The number of unexplained reports is very small; and there is nothing to indicate that we would not have discovered that similar explanations applied to these unexplained reports also, had we had sufficient and precise information to work with."
If such contradictions existed on other more sensitive issues of the day, a Minister or even a Government may well be forced to resign. As it is, such a contradiction, on what the Ministry considers is purely a defence matter, makes mockery of the British principle of 'collective responsibility'.
On what premise does the Ministry investigate UFO reports? According to a March 1970 letter from Lord Winterbottom, a successor to Mr. Rees, "This Ministry investigates reports of UFOs because of their possible implications for the air defence of the United Kingdom." Then, in May 1970, another letter from Lord Winterbottom, via Sir John Langford-Holt MC, MP, stated, "The Ministry of Defence has not carried out a general study on the scientific significance of UFO reports; as you know our interest is in possible defence aspects of reports." Therefore, without studying reports from a scientific standpoint, the Ministry is able to explain them away and, as we see, claims to have no 'unidentified' cases... a truly remarkable record which must place the Ministry in a super-investigative class of its own. Even when the U.S. Air Force's Project Blue Book closed down, it officially listed 701 'unidentifieds'.
As in the United States, the then British Air Ministry began investigating UFOs in 1947 when they first emerged into public limelight following the now famous sighting by private pilot Kenneth Arnold on 24th June of "nine peculiar-looking aircraft" without tails, which flew in a chain-like line and "swerved in and out the high mountain peaks" north of Mount Rainier, Washington. In the United Kingdom, the first reports to claim public attention were made by Service personnel involved in the NATOs "Exercise Mainbrace" which involved 8 NATO countries including 80,000 men, 1,000 planes and 200 ships under the direction of Britain's Admiral Sir Patrick Brind. On 19th September 1952, during "Exercise Mainbrace," 3 Flight Lieutenants and others from the Coastal Command Shackleton Squadron H.Q. at Topcliffe, Yorkshire, England, were watching a Meteor jet coming down at an altitude of 5,000ft to land at Dishforth RAF Station when they first observed a silvery circular-shaped object at an altitude of 10,000ft travelling 5 miles astern of the aircraft at a lower speed, but on the same course. The object maintained a slow forward speed for a few seconds and then started to descend in a swinging pendulum fashion from left to right. The Meteor turned to start its landing run and the object started to follow it for a few seconds before it stopped its descent and hung in the air rotating on its own axis. It then accelerated at tremendous speed westwards, changed course, and disappeared southeast within 15-20 seconds. Each eye-witness attested that the subject was
about the size of a Vampire jet, and that they had never seen anything like it before. After 11 weeks of intensive investigation, the Air Ministry could offer no explanation as to the identity of the object and when a question was put to Mr. Ward, Secretary of State for Air, several years later, he replied "No object was identified." Many other reports were made by participants of the NATO Exercise, including one by 6 RAF pilots who unsuccessfully attempted to intercept a shiny spherical object that approached them from the direction of the fleet in the North Sea. On the return to base, one of the pilots looked behind and again observed the object coming after him. On turning to intercept the object, it sped once again into the distance and out of sight. The object was tentatively identified as a balloon, but the Air Ministry later admitted that it could not be positive. On the 20th September, personnel on the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt observed another silvery spherical object which was photographed in colour by reporter Wallace Litwin who was taking shots of aircraft landing on the flight deck. The series of photos, which have never been made publicly available, were reported by the late Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, the USAF UFO Project Chief, to have "turned out to be excellent. He had gotten the superstructure of the carrier in each one and judging by the size of the object in each successive photo, one could see that it was moving rapidly." No definite identification of the object has been made by either the U.S. or U.K. authorities.
In the 1950s, one of the most prominent proponents of UFOs was the late Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, former head of the RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, who stated in an article for the London Sunday Dispatch on July 16th 1954, "I am convinced that these objects do exist and that they are not manufactured by any nation on earth. I can therefore see no alternative to accepting the theory that they come from an extraterrestrial source." This statement, coupled with the following account from the London Reynolds News of June 16th 1954, caused great consternation in the Air Ministry,
"In room 801 of what was once the Hotel Metropole, Britain's Air Ministry is investigating Flying Saucers...and that's official... At airfields all over Britain, fighter planes are kept ready to intercept, and if necessary engage, any unidentified flying object within combat range...(the room's) existence was admitted last night by an Air Ministry spokesman. He disclosed that it had been investigating Flying Saucer reports since 1947. 'We have something like 10,000 on our files,' he said."
Following these disclosures, which also showed that, as in the United States, there were two factions in the Ministry pro and con the existence of UFOs, which the author has had indications exist to this present day, the Air Ministry began to formulate its debunking policy akin to that of the United States. Despite this, however, another RAF report hit the headlines of the national press. On 4th October 1954, a Meteor jet, piloted by Flt Lt J.R. Salandin of the 604 Fighter Squadron, almost collided head-on with a huge metallic object "shaped like two saucers pressed together, one inverted on top of the other". At the last second, the object flipped to one side at "tremendous speed". Shortly before, two other objects had been sighted speeding between two other Meteor jets that were in the vicinity. No explanation was advanced by the Air Ministry. Through Wing Commander Sir Eric E Bullus, MP, the author queried related reports and received the following reply in December 1967 from Mr. Merlyn Rees, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the RAF,
"It is a well established practice in government departments, as in most offices, to dispose of papers
of transitory interest rather than to retain them indefinitely. In view of the mundane explanations which are found to apply to reports of unidentified flying objects, these papers are only retained for five years and are then destroyed. It is not the practice of the Ministry of Defence to destroy important records and, if the investigation of the reports to which Mr. Hennessey refers had brought to light anything of significance of matters contained in reports and papers of this nature which are now 10-15 years old or in speculating about the explanations which were found to apply when the reports were investigated."
Thus, while no public explanation was ever made to account for these reports, the official records no longer exist for study by scientists. The Ministry alleges that "mundane" explanations account for past reports leaving none of "significance". However, even when the U.S. Air Force's sponsored University of Colorado Scientific Study of UFOs investigated a case which is a perfect illustration that the Ministry has destroyed papers of scientific "significance", and shows that there is "value" in disputing "10-15" year old reports" which should have been subjected to rigorous scientific investigation and not a "limited" defence one. The following details are extracted from a lengthy excellent account presented by the late Dr James E. McDonald to the Symposium on UFOs at the 134th Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on 27th December 1969; The initial UFO reports centred around Bentwaters RAF Station, located about six miles east of Ipswich, near the coast, while much of the subsequent action centres around Lakenheath RAF Station, located some 20 miles northeast of Cambridge. Sculthorpe RAF Station also figures in the account. GCA radars at two of those three stations were involved in the ground radar sightings, as was an RTCC radar unit at Lakenheath. The entire episode extended from about 2130Z, August 13, to 0330Z, August 14, 1956. Owing to the complexity in detailing the sequence of events, the following is a summary of the scientifically provocative features found by Dr McDonald:
(1) At least three separate instances occurred in which one ground-radar unit, GCA Bentwaters, tracked some unidentified target for a number of tens of miles across its scope at speeds in excess of Mach 3. Since even today, 14 years later, no nation has disclosed military aircraft capable of flight at such speeds (we may exclude the X-15), and since that speed is much too low to fit any meteoric hypothesis, this first feature is quite puzzling.
(2) In one instance, about a dozen low-speed (order of 100 mph) targets moved in loose formation led by three closely-spaced targets, the assemblage yielding consistent returns over a path of about 50 miles, after which they merged into a single large target, remaining motionless for some 10-15 minutes, and then moved off-scope. Under the reported wind conditions, not even a highly contrived meteorological explanation invoking anomalous propagation and inversion-layer waves could account for this sequence observed at Bentwaters.
(3) One of the fast track radar sightings at Bentwaters, at 2255Z, coincided with visual observations of some very-high-speed luminous source seen by both a tower operator on the ground and by a pilot aloft who saw the light moving in a blur below his aircraft at 4000ft altitude. The radar-derived speed was given as 2000-4000mph. Again, meteors won't fit such speeds and
altitudes, and may exclude aircraft for several evident reasons, including absence of any thundering boom that would surely have been reported if any near hypothetical 1956-vintage hypersonic device were flying over Bentwaters at less than 4000ft that night.
(4) Several ground observers at Lakenheath saw luminous objects exhibiting non-ballistic motions, including dead stops and sharp course reversals.
(5) In one instance, two luminous white objects merged into a single object, as seen from the ground at Lakenheath. This wholly unmeteoric and unaeronautical phenomenon is actually a not-uncommon feature of UFO reports during the last two decades.
(6) Two separate ground radars at Lakenheath, having rather different radar parameters, were concurrently observing movements of one or more unknown targets over an extended period of time. Seemingly stationary hovering modes were repeatedly observed, and this despite use of MTI. Seemingly "instantaneous" accelerations from rest to speeds of order of Mach 1 were repeatedly observed. Such motions cannot readily be explained in terms of any known aircraft flying then or now, and also fail to fit known electronic or propagation anomalies.
(7) In at least one instance, the official report on USAF files makes clear that an unidentified luminous target was seen visually from the air by the pilot of an interceptor while getting simultaneous radar returns from the unknown with his nose cone radar concurrent with ground-radar detection of the same unknown. This is scientifically highly significant, for it entails three separate detection-channels all recording the unknown object.
(8) In at least one instance, there was simultaneous radar disappearance and visual disappearance of the UFO. This is akin to similar events in other known UFO cases, yet is not so easily explained in terms of conventional phenomena.
(9) Attempts of the interceptor to close on one target seen both on ground radar and on the interceptor's nose radar, led to a puzzling, rapid interchange of roles as the unknown object moved into tail-position behind the interceptor. While undergoing radar observation from the ground, with both aircraft on and unidentified object clearly displayed on the Lakenheath ground radars, the pilot of the interceptor tried unsuccessfully to break the tail chase over a time of some minutes. No ghost-return or multiple-scatter hypothesis can explain such an event.
Of this case, based on lesser details than was available to Dr McDonald, the Colorado Study concluded that the "probability that at least one genuine UFO was involved appears to be fairly high." As Dr McDonald rightly pointed out, "the Lakenheath case exemplifies a disturbingly large group of UFO reports in which the apparent degree of scientific inexplicability is so great that, instead of being ignored and laughed at, those cases should all along since 1947 have been drawing the attention of a large body of the world's best scientists" It would be interesting to know what "mundane" answers the Ministry of Defence found for the Lakenheath case! Almost two months later, on 9th October, Captain Jimmie J. Pollock, Flight Commander of the 55th Fighter Bomber Squadron, and Lt James W. Beisheim, 55th FBS Armament Officer, and their wives, made four ground-visual sightings at Little Easton, Essex of UFOs. First sighting was a bright yellow-orange object which faded to dim red and disappeared. He later saw what appeared to be the same object two more times. His second sighting was
over an hour in length. During this period a second similar object was seen to approach the first object, and then disappear. During the hour period the object climbed very slowly west. The final observation was only two or three minutes. The first object was round, elongating occasionally to two round objects one above the other and had rays shooting from it, five or six rays predominating with smaller rays between. Once or twice a broader or longer ray, yellow in colour, and varying in length three to six times the diameter of the object, appeared. When the object elongated or became two round objects, the one above was always smaller. The Air Intelligence Information Sheet of this case rated Captain Pollock as "very reliable", but, it apparently never reached the United States, for the top right hand corner contained a rubber-stamped 'DESTROY'. One can't help but wonder if the Lakenheath case hadn't already given too many headaches for another puzzling report to be submitted.
The first indication that the author had that the Ministry practiced a policy of destroying its UFO papers, came in June 1967, during a telephonic conversation with Mr. W. F. Allen, a High Executive Officer at the Ministry, who confirmed that all reports prior to 1959 (an embarrassing period when Service reports made news headlines) had been destroyed including the "unsolved" cases. He stated that there was no sense in keeping reports over 10 years old because no scientist could possibly explain them today. As already illustrated, Mr. Allen's surmise is incorrect. Confirmation of this statement was sought through Wing Commander Sir Eric Bullus, MP, and in August 1967, Mr. Mervyn Rees replied,
"All Ministry of Defence papers, however, are retained only for a specific period once action is complete. The period relates to the importance of the papers and in the case of unidentified flying objects is five years. Thus, only reports which have been received since 1962 are currently retained. Nevertheless, should it appear that a report was of special significance, then the papers would, of course, be retained for more than five years. This has not yet been found to be necessary. In the circumstances, I cannot comment on the object said to have been observed over London Airport in 1959. We have no records of the other incidents in which Mr. Hennessey refers in paragraph 7 of his letter and I assume that these also took place before 1962. We have maintained a separate statistical record of incidents dating back to 1959 but I regret that I cannot comment on statistics relating to the period between 1947 and 1956."
Being convinced from personal investigation of reports that the Ministry was destroying records that were of great interest to the scientific community, the writer was fortunate to obtain the assistance of a prominent long-standing Member of Parliament, Sir John Langford-Holt MC, MP, who took this matter and others relating to the University of Colorado Study up with Lord Winterbottom at the Ministry of Defence.
It was about this time that the USAF-sponsored University of Colorado Scientific Study of UFOs came under attack from John G. Fuller in a LOOK magazine April 30 1968 article entitled "The Flying Saucer Fiasco". In the article, Mr. Fuller published extracts from a memorandum written by Dr. Robert Low, Project Co-ordinator of the Colorado Study, which revealed that the Study was established in such a way that it could only have a negative result. During a visit to the Ministry of Defence, the author discussed with members of S.4f (Air), the section handling UFO reports, whether, on his visit there, Dr. Low had requested details of cases, the reply was "No". The following confirmation letter was received in February 1968, from Mr. W. F. Allen of the Ministry.
In May 1968, the author wrote to the Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson expressing his concern about the scientific validity and purpose of the Study and received the following reply from Mr. L. W. Akhurst of the Ministry of Defence,
"I have been asked to reply to your letter of 30th April addressed to the Prime Minister about the University of Colorado UFO Project. We are, of course, aware of speculation about the purpose of this project. But, as I told you on the telephone the other day, we have received no information to support the view that this project is not a serious study. As far as I know the study will not be completed for a month or two."
The writer then submitted extracts from the U.S. Congressional Record in which Congressman Edward G. Roush raised doubts about the study and Mr. Akhurst replied,
"Thank you for your letter of 18th May. We found the extracts from the Congressional Record very interesting.
In essence the speeches made by Mr. Roush express doubts about and call for an investigation into the conduct of the University of Colorado project on UFOs. No firm conclusions are drawn.
Our attitude to unidentified flying object reports is based mainly on our own experiences but, like Mr. Roush, we have an open mind on the possibilities of new evidence and are interested in seeing the results of any projects sponsored by other countries. In considering what weight we give to the conclusions of any projects we would, of course, take into account, inter alia, the reliability of the study group. So far as the Colorado project is concerned, you have drawn attention to doubts about its objectivity. The contacts we have had so far do not support these doubts.
As regards further action by the United Kingdom, I am sure you will understand that we must not overlook a basic responsibility not to use public money to duplicate efforts elsewhere, particularly in a field where positive proof is so noticeably lacking. At present we see no need for further action by the United Kingdom."
Therefore, the fact that two scientists, Drs Levine and Saunders, had been fired from the Colorado project and the personal assistant to its head, Mrs. M. L. Armstrong had resigned, had no effect on the Ministry's opinion that the project was a scientifically valid one.
Following the publication of the Colorado Study Report of UFOs in full, a review of it by Dr J. Allen Hynek was published in the April 1969 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist. In the words of Dr Hynek, the report was, "...a strange sort of scientific paper," which "does not fulfill the promise of its title." He continued,
"Physical scientists who know Edward U. Condon (Project Director) through his work in molecular physics and quantum mechanics will find the hand of the master strangely missing in The Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. Not only is his talent for organizing and deftly attacking a problem unapparent, but, for example, he is not listed as having personally looked into any of the 95 cases to which various members of the rather fluid committee addressed themselves...While devoted in the large part to exposing hoaxes or revealing many UFOs as misindentifications of common occurrences, the book leaves the same strange, inexplicable residue of unknowns which has plagued the USAF investigation for 20 years. In fact, the percentage of "unknowns" in the Condon report appears to be even higher than the Air Force investigation (Project Blue Book) which led to the Condon investigation in the first place."
Dr Hynek also mentioned provocative statements that were buried deep in the report which
"do not support its overall conclusion that UFO studies do not offer a fruitful field in which to look for major scientific discoveries...The cases...are glaringly there...an outright challenge to human curiosity, the foundation stone of scientific
progress. It is difficult to understand why the National Academy of Sciences has fully endorsed Dr Condon's opinion that no further work on the UFO phenomenon should be done"
On the 17th December 1969, the U.S. Secretary for Defence announced the termination of Project Blue Book, citing the findings of the Colorado report and Air Force experience as the reasons for closure. Concerned that the Ministry of Defence would follow the policy of the U.S. Department of Defence and close its own investigation and destroy its records, the author discussed the matter with Sir John Langford-Holt MC MP, who already had taken up the matter of the Ministry destroying its records, and he sent the following letter to Lord Winterbottom,
"I note that the U.S. Air Force has closed its U.F.O. Project Blue Book. As it has been your Ministry's policy to follow closely the policy of the U.S. in this field, I presume that you will close all investigations into and assessments of U.F.O.s in this country. Under these circumstances I would like two assurances and one piece of information. Firstly, I would like to be assured that no records of U.F.O.s have, or will be, destroyed. Secondly, as the reports and evaluations have been considered by H.M.G. to be of no significance, will you make available to reputable scientific bodies who wish to study the matter any material you have. Lastly, I should like to know after what period of time these reports are to be made public, like other records."
The following reply was received from Lord Winterbottom in March 1970.
View Letter as .Pdf Document
Thus, for the first time in its history of investigating UFOs since 1947, the Ministry is to retain its UFO files without destroying them after a 5-year period. Although not available to the public for 30 years, it has left the door open for the papers to be studied by a scientific organisation of high standing. It is only hoped that every report, including radar and Service ones, will be available without exception.
The question still remained, however, whether the Ministry still considered the Colorado report to be scientifically valid. From the review by Dr Hynek, any many other subsequent ones by other scientists in scientific publications, it is
clear the report was not accepted by science as the final word in the UFO controversy. Letters to Sir John Langford-Holt MC MP, solicited the following reply from Lord Winterbottom in May 1970,
"...The best available scientific opinion seems to be that contained in the Report of the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects conducted by the University of Colorado, which was published in 1969. The general conclusion of that report, which was endorsed by the panel of the National Academy of Sciences, is that nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge and that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby. The Colorado Study Group reached this conclusion after examining many cases including reports on the incidents referred to by Mr. Hennessey. I am sorry I cannot be more helpful."
One year later, in May 1971, Mr. L. W. Akhurst of the Ministry's S.4f (Air) wrote the author,
"The Report by the University of Colorado on Unidentified Flying Objects was endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences and we accept that this august body would not have done so had it considered the study scientifically unreliable. As you know the Ministry of Defence has not carried out a general study of the scientific significance of UFO reports, our interest is in possible defense aspects, but our experience of UFO reports is consistent with the findings of the Colorado Study. Based on our own experience then we accept these findings."
The letter of Lord Winterbottom infers that the Ministry has studied the Colorado study, this being the case, why did he merely dismiss the Lakenheath case, which I had detailed to him earlier, by referring merely to the general conclusions of the Report's Summary. Had he, or a member of his Department, taken the time to look up the case in the Report, he would have read the Colorado investigator's conclusion which states, "...the probability that at least one genuine UFO case was involved appears to be fairly high.". The Ministry has also, but possibly unwisely, jumped on the bandwagon of those who believe that an endorsement by the National Academy of Sciences makes the Colorado Report scientifically valid and beyond reproach. On this point, there is absolutely no evidence that the Academy panel did any independent checking of its own; and none of that 11-man panel had any significant prior investigative experience in this area. One should also bear in mind that the National Academy of Sciences has been regarded as losing its credibility in its role as government adviser on scientific matters. Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, at an annual December meeting of the American Association for the Advancement for Science, described the Academy as a "virtual puppet of the government," and urged citizen groups to challenge the Academy's reluctance to oppose establishment policy "on controversial public issues. Although Mr. Udall's remarks were not aimed at the UFO problem, it nevertheless challenges the ability of, what the Ministry termed an "august body" to make scientific assessments, independent of establishment policy and therefore the validity of its endorsement of the Colorado Report. The writer conveyed these points to Lord Winterbottom and stated, "There can be no doubt that the Condon Report and its Academy endorsement have exerted a highly negative influence on clarification of the long-standing UFO problem and I would be glad to learn if the Ministry of Defence still intends to accept the Report's findings." In February 1972, a reply was received from Mr. Antony
Lambton, successor to Lord Winterbottom, via Mr. Julian Ridsdale MP,
"In his letter, Mr. Hennessey also questions the credibility of the US National Academy of Sciences in its role of government adviser on scientific matters. I can confirm that, in our view, the National Academy of Sciences remains a highly reputable body which is not tied to the US Government, although it often carries out work for that government. We know of no reason to discredit the work done by the panel from the National Academy of Sciences in reviewing the report on UFOs by the University of Colorado."
This endorsement still stands today.
During 1967, the author and a colleague personally investigated a number of selected UFO reports out of the many hundreds that were extensively reported in the national press. These investigations, deliberately made after those by the Ministry, gave a valuable insight as to the 'thoroughness' with which the Ministry conducted theirs. It is interesting to note that the Ministry never operated on an immediate capability basis, but waited until press interest had died down before making a foray into the field. One report investigated was made by a Wing Commander W. A. Cox and his wife. W/Cmdr Cox is a reliable witness of solid character and high standing in his local community, who served 36 years in the Royal Air Force.
On the evening of 24th October 1967, the W/Cmdr and his wife were visiting a relative and had watched the news on television that had included an interview of two policemen concerning their 90 mph patrol car chase of an unidentified light in the sky over Devon. After the news, they both watched another programme for a short while and decided it was time to leave. At the door, Mrs. Cox jokingly remarked to her sister, "I am going to look for lights in the sky tonight on my way home." At 2146 hours whilst W/Cmdr Cox was driving along the Cadnam to Fordingbridge Road in Hampshire, his wife noticed seven lights in a 'V' formation in the sky to the north of their position. Trying to draw them to her husband's attention, W/Cmdr Cox immediately retorted, "Oh rubbish!" and continued to drive for a further quarter of a mile before his wife's persistence made him pull the car into a lay-by. The following is part of a transcript from the author's personal interview with W/Cmdr and Mrs. Cox:
W/CMDR COX ...And then I looked across to the north and, sure enough, there were these lights, so I wound the car window down and had a look. Then I got out of the car, we both did, and leant on the roof and watched them. Now, I thought, and said at the time, that they were a squadron of helicopters, this is what they looked like to me with landing lights on. But, then I looked at them more closely, this could not have been so because landing lights don't show sideways so brightly, they are downward lights.
MRS. COX: Well, in any case there wasn't any noise, was there?
W/CMDR: There was no noise. There was not enough movement for them to be helicopters, so we just dismissed it.
W/CMDR: ...as soon as we finished looking at these objects, we got back here and it is 4 to 5 minutes away, no more. I looked at the time straight away because I decided to ring up the police, this is why I know the time within 10 minutes.
MYERS: Why did you call the police?
W/CMDR: Because the police had been pooh poohed about what they had and hadn't seen, I thought it is only fair to let an outsider ring up. I rang the police and told them this, I said in case you don't feel too happy about this thing, because the police had been pulled over the coals, here is an
outsider who has also seen something, so you can make them laugh at that. This was my attitude and the only reason for telling them.
W/CMDR: Of course the police had been doing some ringing around Boscombe Down and Larkhill ranges to find out whether there was any lights going up or any aircraft, and they said there was none. When I said they might been choppers, they rang up Middle Wallop, but there were no choppers up.
HENNESSEY: Do you know what sort of response they got from Larkhill? (an artillery range on Salisbury Plain)
W/CMDR: Yes, earlier in the evening, much earlier.
HENNESSEY: What is your reaction to the possibility that these could have been flare illuminating projectiles of the type fired by 25 pounders?
W/CMDR: If you fire any projectiles of any sort, you first of all have upward movement if you see the light as it lights and then a slow descent. If it is on a parachute, it has a fast descent, this did neither, it could either be something going away from us very very fast indeed, so that the light disappeared, or it could be a very powerful light being switched off.
HENNESSEY: You said that three of the lights departed or seemed to fade first.
W/CMDR: Yes that's right. They appeared to be a very good formation of lights and made me think it was helicopters, because it was a very good formation. But they were a stationary formation, this is the thing that also made me think they were helicopters when, suddenly, three on the right broke away as three and the lights went out.
HENNESSEY: When you say broke away, did you actually see them move?
W/CMDR: They moved away.
HENNESSEY: You actually saw them move away?
W/CMDR: They moved away. They didn't move away all three together, they moved away in a higgeldy piggeldy manner as though they could have each been an individual something. Now if they had been flares, they would have fallen at the same rate, wouldn't they? But these went up and around, they did not fall in a pattern.
HENNESSEY: So looking straight at them, they would have moved to the right?
W/CMDR: Yes, to the right, upwards and away as though they were individually controlled. As soon as they did that, the remaining four lights formed a perfect formation of a plus sign and, this is the other thing that struck me, it was such a perfect formation, that it looked as though it was controlled. Whether it was radio controlled equipment or not, I do not know, but this is what it appeared to be. These four lights went out absolutely simultaneously as though you had a large object with one stuck on four points and it went away from you, it could happen like that. It was from one source it looked to me.
MYERS: And after that it was completely blank when those final lights had gone?
W/CMDR: As soon as the lights had gone, we noticed the lights of Salisbury, you know the lights in the sky, not the actual lights themselves.
W/CMDR: And so we know the precise position they were, and I reckon that Boscombe Down (Aircraft Experimental Research Establishment) and Larkhill are away to the west of where we saw these, in fact I know they are.
At this point I will quote from the letter of Mr. L. M. Akhurst, of 29th January 1968, in which he gave to W/Cmdr Cox the Ministry's findings; in order that we can see W/Cmdr Cox's reaction further on tape;
HENNESSEY: So far as you are concerned, Larkhill and Boscombe Down are not visible. If they had any flares up at the time, they would not be in the direction that you had seen the objects?
W/CMDR: I very much doubt it, but Boscombe Down is so laughable, that it was an aircraft landing is absolutely stupid. The clouds were low although it was very clear up to whatever height the clouds were, because we could see the moon, but it was very low on the horizon over on the east. But you certainly would not have seen an airplane, that is absolutely certain.
HENNESSEY: The aircraft landed at 2144 hours (confirmed to me in writing by the Senior Air Traffic Controller at Boscombe) and your sighting started at 2146, so the aircraft was not in the air at the time.
W/CMDR: I would not have seen that anyway.
HENNESSEY: What is your reaction to the Ministry's letter?
W/CMDR: Well, I was going to write to them and say lay this on... this light business, the flare business and get an aircraft to land at Boscombe Down and come down here and I will accompany you to the spot, we will then have a look and see. Now that is a scientific check in my opinion. If they say that this is so, well it is very easy for them to lay it on, no difficulty at all. We could have had a neutral observer as well, they have got my report as you have and they could say this is what you said then.
MYERS: You can't change that!
W/CMDR: You can't change that, this is what you are looking at now, we think it is similar or otherwise. I mean I am quite happy if they say there you are, but this is what they ought to do and, until they do, I think this is the biggest load of tripe that I've heard in a long time.
HENNESSEY: You are definite about the length of time of the observation?
W/CMDR: You can't be definite about the length of time.
HENNESSEY: But you think you were reasonably accurate?
W/CMDR: From the time that my wife first saw it to the time the lights went out, I would say it was approximately six minutes. I could let you say four minutes and let you get away with it.
HENNESSEY: If I said it was ninety seconds?
W/CMDR: But if you said it was ninety seconds, I would say you just weren't there and just didn't know what you were talking about.
HENNESSEY:M That it what the Ministry said to us, it was just ninety seconds. (This information was given us during an interview at the Ministry of Defence with some of the investigators who also indicated that they considered W/Cmdr Cox an unreliable witness. The wife's testimony seems to have been forgotten or ignored).
W/CMDR: Yes, well look at this, it was quarter of a mile before I
stopped the car, I then lowered my window and looked out at them. I then stopped the car engine, opened the door, got out, walked behind it, leant on the roof, and looked across it. if that is ninety seconds!
All the points made by W/Cmdr Cox's were substantiated by the author and colleague who retraced the route taken by Cox and followed the actions described. All timing was consistent with W/Cmdr Cox's estimate that he observed the objects for 6 minutes. The investigators also visited the Hampshire Constabulary Police Station at Fordingbridge, Larkhill School of Artillery and Boscombe Down, all of whom gave later written confirmation proving that, whatever W/Cmdr Cox and wife did see, it was certainly not flares or the landing lights of a Hastings aircraft coming down to land at Boscombe Down.
In March 1968, I submitted through Wing Commander Sir Eric E. Bullus MP, our findings to the Ministry of Defence requesting their comments. In May 1968, the following reply was received from Mr. Merlyn Rees;
"We have not heard from Wing Commander Cox since we told him of our findings in January. This exchange of views was, of course, a personal one between Wing Commander Cox and the Department and, as Mr. Hennessey has been told by the Department on a number of occasions, we do not discuss with third parties the detailed information included in such exchanges without the consent of the member of the public concerned. However, I can tell you that in reaching our conclusions we took into account all the information provided to us both in writing and verbally by Wing Commander Cox about the time and duration of the incident, the distance and bearings and the description of the lights. We also took account of the experience in observation Wing Commander Cox must have accumulated over the years. Mr. Hennessey's personal assessment of the information which he has obtained does not give us cause to amend our views."
Need more be said about the Ministry's 'thoroughness' and 'open-mindedness' in investigating UFO reports. It is clear that the Ministry was unable to positively identify the objects because its investigating methods were unsatisfactory. It made unwarranted assumptions and disregarded important relative information given by the eyewitnesses.
As a classic example of the Ministry's 'shotgun' type examination, for which the U.S. Air Force was a past master, the author investigated a 1967 case in which thirteen H.M. Coastguards observed a large UFO for a 20-minute period which was circled by a jet interceptor. The Ministry at first explained the object as car headlights on a cloud until they realized that the time of the sighting was near noon midday and not midnight. The UFO was subsequently listed as a "probable balloon" (capable of flying diagonally into a strong wind) but, even more surprising to the writer, the Ministry could not identify the jet nor where it came from! This case was also discussed during the author's visit to the Ministry when Mr. Cassells, then head of S.4f(Air), admitted that the Ministry had been "a little embarrassed" here. Due to a "mix-up", the radar film of the object and intercepting aircraft was destroyed before they could get to it. However, the film could not have shown anything untoward or it would have been retained. A talk with the radar operator revealed that he had observed nothing unusual on scope. It was now impossible to identify the interceptor or where it came from. Drawings of the UFO suggested it was a high-altitude balloon. The question of the Ministry's inability to positively identify the object was taken up. In an October 1967 letter, Mr. W. F. Allen of the Ministry stated, "As far as the Berry Head sighting is concerned, as we cannot positively state that the object was a
balloon its identity must obviously remain unknown. We have no record of any RAF aircraft being in the vicinity at the time and nothing was observed by radar which gave any concern from the air defence point of view." In October 1969, Mr. L. W. Akhurst wrote, "We have received no further information about this report and the position is as stated in our letter of 4th October 1967. That is, the drawings seen in the Ministry of Defence suggest that the object may have been a high altitude balloon." Then, in May 1971, he wrote, "The category in which a report is placed depends on the particular circumstances; this could mean that a report referred to as 'probably a balloon' could be placed in the 'Balloon' category." Thus, statistically, the H.M. Coastguards' report became a "Balloon"
Another case, which is on interest from the point of view that no official body was interested in investigating, despite its puzzling nature, occurred on 11th September 1967, when an Air Ferry DC-6, piloted by Captain F. E. C. Underhill, a training Captain of British United Airways on loan to Air Ferry, observed a dark object in the west travelling across his flight path parallel with the Pyrenees, Spain. At the time, Captain Underhill was at an altitude of 16,000ft and estimated the object to be about 60 miles ahead at an altitude of 25,000ft. The following is part of a transcript of a tape-recorded interview by the author:
CAPT UNDERHILL: I want to go back to answering your questionnaire here. First of all, the distance (of the object at first sighting) would be 55 miles, as by Mr. Hope (First Officer), and the second one, likewise, would be 17.05 GMT, again as recorded by Mr. Hope. The estimate of speed, well I find this very difficult...ultrasonic, well up in the thousands, before that I wouldn't be able to say, other than the fact that I've watched very high-speed performance aircraft, but never saw anything as fast as this. It was really going too fast, it really drew my attention to it. Above that, it was just a black speck.
You asked me to answer what happened when I reported it. Now on the question of reporting it, I am not sure of the procedure, to be absolutely honest, in this particular case and I've never had anything like this before. I called up Manston (Manston RAF base) and they said would I phone them as soon as I got down. I phoned up the Duty Officer there, he then said he was extremely interested and that he would like details of which he took down over the phone, so I never actually filled in a complete report. The whole thing was done over the phone to him, which was more or less exactly the same as I told you, with a description of which he took all down. He was the Duty Officer and in fact was extremely interested at the time because he said he experienced something similar to this a number of years ago when he was with Transport Command over the Mediterranean.
...I'll now deal with your second one (question), which there was this effort from the Air Ministry. Now I would like to say right away, unless, of course, they have got something I don't know about, but I would have said right from the start it was not mistaken for an aircraft
In an October 1967 letter, the Ministry stated, "We have been unable to positively identify the object seen by the crew of a DC-6 aircraft but on its face-value this report has no defence implications for the United Kingdom. It
may possibly have been an aircraft seen in an unusual attitude."
CAPT UNDERHILL: This was not something which seen...you know, an aircraft seen in an unusual attitude. The only time it looked like an aircraft, at any stage, was when it was in this turn and the First Officer said, "It looks like a formation" and we all stared at it and said "well it could be you know"...because it was probably the shape, you know how a formation sort of wheels and sort of gets this shape out of it (indicating a triangle shape with his hands)... sort of black and in the distance. But, when it came nearer, to me there was no doubt that it was nothing like an aircraft anyway, but the fact that it was sort of up in this attitude (here he indicated that the point of the cone-shaped object was at a 2 o'clock position) with the pointed part sticking up here (almost vertical), I can't possibly see how it could have been, unless it was something we have no knowledge of whatsoever.
HENNESSEY: Was there any report made at all to Barcelona?
CAPT UNDERHILL: Yes I did. Actually, I called up Barcelona and asked them if they had any knowledge of any other activity in the area at the time. They said they would call back and said they had no knowledge, they were a bit vague. We were in touch with Barcelona, but I thought they might pass it on to the Americans who have got quite an extensive radar set-up, I believe, there in Spain. I thought that they might have done some liaison..this went through my mind. I did not expect the Spanish to deal with it, but the Americans who are operating there from a number of NATO airfields, I thought they probably would have been able to do something. As I say, to my mind there was no doubt about it whatsoever that, whatever it was, it was controlled, this you know was apparent to me. The fact that it came across at an angle, did a turn and came at us from about here (raising hand to slightly above eye-level) and dropped down. Initially when we saw it, it was higher than us, I would not like to say how much higher, a few thousand feet at least, but then it came down and passed below us.
HENNESSEY: Did it slow down?
CAPT UNDERHILL: Yes it did, slowed right down actually.
HENNESSEY: You had the impression though that it had seen your aircraft?
CAPT UNDERHILL: Well, this is what really impressed me..but I mean, you know, I could be guessing, but to me it was under control. Whether he had seen us or not, I don't know, but the fact that he was coming very fast along here, then slowed right down as it came into the turn, then, of course, you can't check on speed when it was coming head-on towards you, but as it came past us, there was very little motion on it in actual fact. There did not appear to be any real speed at all. We were all so engrossed in looking at this thing that I never thought..I undid my strap and sort of leaning across, but I didn't think of the fact we ought to cut the auto pilot out and turn the airplane or do anything like this, but I should have done if I thought more..everything was happening and we were all sort of rivetted on this thing and I just didn't do anything about it.
HENNESSEY: Were there any markings on it?
CAPT UNDERHILL: We couldn't tell because it was in the base, anyway it was just beginning to get about dusk and it was on the port wing and we were on the starboard. It was lighter than it is now (dusk), but it was a sort of evening haze. You could tell it had this silver appearance and appeared to be metallic, even still define it, but you couldn't identify anything else and.. after that it had a completely rounded bottom. We all agreed on everything there and then, excepting we couldn't make out whether it was completely rounded.
In this case, had the DC-6 been approached by a conventional aircraft, no doubt a strong protest would have been made by some official U.K. body, but, because it was unconventional, nobody was interested, including the Board of Trade responsible for civil aviation matters. The author contacted Project Blue Book to see whether U.S. radars in Spain had picked up any UFOs, but the reply from a Major Hector Quintanilla was negative. Yet, it is interesting to note, Mr. Merlyn Rees, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for State for Defence for the RAF, stated in Parliament on 8th November 1967, "We have complete radar coverage to a very great height all over these islands and have access to that over Europe, and none of this leads us to believe in any sense that this is anything else than something which we know nothing about." Indeed! Either radar in Europe has blind spots, which is not a happy prospect, or the Ministry here and abroad are 'in the know'. In December 1967, the following letter was received from Mr. R. Broadbent, Deputy Director of Flight Safety (B) of the Board of Trade,
"Thank you for your letter about the near collision between an unidentified flying object and a DC-6 aircraft of Air Ferry. We have sent it to the Director of Civil Air Traffic Operations who looks after these matters and he has asked me to say that, since the incident occurred over a foreign country, it may take a little time to get details."
The author's interest was aroused in what role, if any, the Board of Trade had in UFOs. In October 1967, the author received the following statement from Mr. J. H. Riddoch, Under-Secretary for the Aviation Safety & General Division of the Board of Trade,
"Before the Board of Trade could define their nature and extent of their interest, more positive interest would be required than is available now about the characteristics, behaviour and intentions of any such objects that are proved to exist."
The author then placed a number of specific questions to the Board and received the following reply from Mr. J. R. Neill, Director of Flight Safety,
"There are no special rules or authorizations applicable to any such objects. Rules of the Air which are made under the authority of the Air Navigation Order prohibit the low flying of aircraft. Any reports of aircraft flying in breach of these regulations are considered by the Board of Trade and when appropriate are referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for proceedings in the Courts. No reports concerning unidentified flying objects have been received by the Board of Trade. The answers to the questions you put are as follows:-
From the above, it was clear that the Board has no interest in UFOs. Therefore civil aviation pilots have no rulings as to whom they should report any such observations. In May 1968, whilst investigating combined visual-radar tracking of a UFO over Northern Island, the author received a letter from the Board of Trade Air Traffic Control at Belfast Airport which stated, in part, "...4. You may be interested to know that Air Traffic Service Units have, since February 1968, instructions to report details of U.F.O.s to the Military Aeronautical Information Service at Uxbridge and these details will be recorded." Therefore, four months after the author's enquiries into Board of Trade involvement, or rather non-involvement, in the UFO problem. A rather remarkable coincidence! In May 1968, following numerous but unsuccessful telephone enquiries for details about the work of MAIS Uxbridge, the author wrote them and received the following reply from Mr. L.W. Akhurst of the Ministry of Defence in June 1968, a whole month later, "I am writing to let you know that MAIS Uxbridge has passed on to me your letter of 19th May about UFOs. Any reports received by MAIS Uxbridge are passed on to the Ministry of Defence. You are, of course, aware of our position on the release of or access to documents." A further letter from Mr. Akhurst was received in May, 1971,
"With regard your enquiry about ATC radar reports, I cannot recall when we last received one. As I told you in my letter of 25th March 1971 we received none in 1970. It is true that reports received by ATC centres from, for example, members of the public are normally routed through MAIS to MOD. This line of communication was arranged by the ATC authorities and is, I assume, organisationally convenient for them. MAIS has no direct responsibility for investigating UFO reports but does provide MOD with information as required."
Through Sir John Langford-Holt MC MP, I put a number of questions to the Board of Trade and the following reply was received from The Minister for Trade in May 1971,
"NATCS units have instructions that, in the event of a report concerning an unidentified flying object, they should obtain as much as possible of the information required to complete a prescribed report form. The details are to be passed by telephone to the parent Air Traffic Control Centre (ATCC), while the completed report form is forwarded to the Ministry of Defence. The ATCC is required to give the details without delay to the Military Aeronautical Information Service. These instructions were first issued in January 1968, and published in the Manual of Air Traffic Control. I enclose copies of the relevant pages from the manual, which include the report form. The NATCS does not keep statistics of these reports once they have been passed on this way, but I understand that Anthony Lambton has recently written you about reports received by his Department during 1970. I would suggest that he may be able to supply similar information for earlier years should you so wish, and am copying this letter to him."
The following is from the Manual of Air Traffic Control No. A.T.C.1 No. 2 part 1-19 Chapter 5;
5.5 Reporting of Unidentified Flying Objects
5.5.1. In the event of a report concerning an unidentified flying object being received by an ATS unit the following action should be taken.
5.5.2. The ATSU receiving the report shall obtain as much as possible of the information required to complete the report form shown at Appendix "F" and pass all details by telephone to the watch supervisor at the parent ATCC (Scottish ATCC, Preston ATCC or London ATCC). The completed form shall be sent by the originating ATSU to the Ministry of Defence (AFOR), Royal Air Force, Main Building, Whitehall, London SW1.
5.5.3. The Watch Supervisor at ATCC concerned shall pass all details without delay via the operational telephone network to the Military Aeronautical Information Service section at West Drayton. If it is necessary to use the GPO network the information should be passed to West Drayton 4077 extension 5343.
5.5.4. Such reports shall be entered in the ATC log.
In May 1971 the author, through Sir John Langford-Holt MC MP, again queried the Board to establish whether separate instructions were given the Board of Trade's radar operators about reporting UFOs and whether different reporting forms were used. The following reply, addressed to Sir John's Private Secretary, was received from Mr. R. J. Ager, Private Secretary to the Minister for Trade, in November 1971,
"The only instructions to air traffic controllers concerning unidentified flying objects are those published in the Manual of Air Traffic Control about which the Minister informed Sir John in his letter of 21 May. No special form is used for this purpose but the report is required to be made on the lines of the Appendix F to the Manual which was copied to Sir John. While the Ministry of Defence take film records of radar displays at some units this is not for the purpose of gathering information about unidentified flying objects. There is no requirement for such recordings at our civil air traffic control units, at which incidentally there have been no UFO reports over the past two years."
On 8th September 1971, the author paid a visit to the LATCC (Military) and was permitted to view some UFO records, which were kept on well-stocked files, and was given photostat copies of reports that related to current investigations being undertaken by the author. During his visit, the author was informed that there had been quite a "deal of activity in the South East" which kept the "fighter chaps busy." Other information obtained included the fact that some reports, depending on their nature, were teletyped to the Ministry of Defence Operations Room with copies to the Royal Air Force Strike Command at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire and marked 'PRIORITY'. It is not known what action is taken on them immediately thereafter. In December 1971, the author made an application for permission, as an accredited investigator for Dr J. Allen Hynek of the Northwestern University, to review future such reports received at LATCC (Military) as received from ATCs without necessarily knowing how these were investigated nor the conclusions of the Military of Defence. In December 1971, Mr. A. N. Davis DSO, DFC, then the section head of S.4(air), replied,
Thank you for your letter of 19th December about UFO reports. I know of your visit to the LATCC (military) on 8th September but I must confess that I am at a loss to know how on that visit you managed to see UFO reports received 26/27th October 1971. No doubt you will be aware that on the 25th November the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force wrote to Mr. Julian Ridsdale M.P., who had taken up a question on your behalf, advising him that UFO records remain closed to public scrutiny until they become available under the rules laid down
in the Public Records Act. i.e. at the end of thirty years. I regret therefore that I cannot accede to your request periodically to view reports of UFO sightings received by MAIS. In view of this ruling there will be no point in our meeting to discuss the matter further."
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Another avenue of information was again closed.
In October 1971, the author personally handed in a letter to the private residence of Lord Carrington, Secretary of State for Defence, pointing out "inherent shortcomings" of the Ministry's policy in handling the UFO problem as follows:
Firstly, the Ministry does not appear to operate on an immediate capability basis. Often, witnesses in major cases were not interviewed until weeks after making their report. The value and validity of doing so is certainly in question. The Ministry has stated in the House (of Commons) that it is often difficult to assess what a witness observed several days later, let alone several weeks.
Secondly, judging from my correspondence with the Ministry, it appears unable to positively identify an extremely high number of the reports made. Yet the annual statistics never support this fact. UFOs listed as "probable balloons" suddenly become definite balloons statistically. Cases have even occurred where the Ministry was even unable to identify jet interceptors involved.
Thirdly, explanations given witnesses are often more puzzling to them than the nature of the UFO reported. In many cases, the witnesses, often trained competent observers, have regarded these Ministry explanations as an insult to their intelligence and certainly would never again report any other such observation to the Ministry. My discussions with airline pilots revealed that a majority of them would never make a report to the Ministry for fear of ridicule. A highly unsatisfactory situation caused by the present policy.
Fourthly, once an explanation has been given, the Ministry will not, even when the evidence has been presented to the contrary, review its findings if the evidence presented does not fit in with theirs. It has a strong tendency to ignore valid points in the statements of witnesses simply because it does not support what they think is the probable cause of the sighting.
Lastly, the Ministry only investigates the air defence implications of reports and admits that it has never carried out a study into their scientific implications. Scientists or serious UFO researchers have no access to these unclassified reports on file. Indeed, it is only over the recent years that such reports are permanently retained. Previously they were destroyed after a 5-year period.
From the above, it is clear that, in the first instance, a major public relations problem exists. My opinion is certainly not an isolated one, a prominent scientist, who visited the then Air Ministry for a discussion of UFOs, stated to me in a tape-recorded conversation, "I am probably speaking treason here, but there seems no point to follow things up and no basic rapport between the British Air Ministry and the public...they say the public be damned!" The same attitude has not changed six years later! If one accepts the above as the only "true" picture, which is how the public now sees it, then the Ministry's investigation is one of gross incompetence that endangers National security. However, my observations lead me to believe that it is not the only investigation."
The author's letter was personally acknowledged by Lord Carrington in November 1971,
"Thank you for writing me on 24th and 26th October expressing your concern about material available to UFO researchers. Since this is a matter for the Air side of the Department I have passed your letter to Mr. Lambton, the Under Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force, for action. You should be hearing from his office shortly."
At the end of November 1971, Mr. Antony Lambton replied via Mr. Julian Ridsdale MP as follows,
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Julian Hennssey's article ends here. Not long after it was written, a series of events led to his gradual withdrawal from UFO research. As outlined in the Hennessey Introduction, the competing needs of work and family life, along with the closing down of NICAP, led to a cessation of his UFO research. Julian left behind a rich collection of historically important UFO material which will be highlighted further in due course.