Kenneth Arnold, 1947

News clipping from the Denver Post, May 10, 1959, reviewing Kenneth Arnold's sighting of June 24, 1947At 3:00 p.m. on June 24, 1947, Boise, Idaho, businessman Kenneth Arnold, flying his small private airplane from Chehalis to Yakima, Washington, saw a string of nine objects flying in an echelon formation past Mount Rainier. At first he assumed they were jets, but he could see no trails. They covered the 50-mile distance between Rainier and another peak in 1 minute 42 seconds. He estimated their speed to be at least 1,200 mph. The objects swerved in and out of the smaller peaks, flipping from side to side in unison, dipping, and presenting their lateral surfaces, which reflected the bright sunlight. They were in view for about two and a half minutes and were last seen heading south over the last high peak of Mount Adams.

Kenneth Arnold’s NICAP case files

The Singular Adventure of Mr. Kenneth Arnold, paper by Martin Shough, June 2010

The Roswell Incident, 1947

News clippings on the Roswell incident from the Roswell (N.Mex.) Daily Record, 1947In early July 1947, rancher W. W. “Mac” Brazel found debris scattered across a square mile of his ranch near Corona, New Mexico. A few days later, he brought some of the debris into the sheriff’s office in Roswell, New Mexico, and the sheriff alerted nearby Roswell Army Air Field about the material. On July 7, Brazel returned to the ranch with Maj. Jesse Marcel and Counter Intelligence Corps Capt. Sheridan Cavitt to examine the site. A gouge starting at the northern end of it extended for 400–500 feet toward the southern end. It looked as if something had touched down and skipped along. The largest piece of debris was recovered at the southern edge of the gouge. The debris was as thin as newsprint, but incredibly strong. There was foil that, when crumpled, unfolded itself without a sign of a wrinkle, I-beams that flexed slightly and had some symbols on them, and material resembling Bakelite. Marcel and Cavitt gathered up as much debris as they could, loaded up their vehicles with it, and returned to Roswell.

Early on July 8, Marcel and Cavitt visited with the Roswell base commander, Col. William Blanchard, who then reported the find to Gen. Roger Ramey at Fort Worth (Tex.) Army Air Field. Ramey ordered them to fly the material to Fort Worth on a B-29 immediately. At 11:00 a.m., Blanchard dictated a press release about the debris recovery to Public Information Officer Lt. Walter Haut, who then delivered the release to radio stations and newspapers in Roswell. By 2:30 p.m., the release reached the Associated Press wire. The story announced that “The army air forces here today announced a flying disc had been found” and by 4:30 p.m., the Roswell Daily Record carried the headline, “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer.” However, in Fort Worth, Ramey issued a statement saying the Roswell officers were fooled and that the material was a Rawin target device suspended by a Neoprene rubber weather balloon.

That is the basic story, but many new details surfaced in 1980 when Stanton Friedman and William L. Moore investigated the case and presented some preliminary findings in Charles Berlitz’s book The Roswell Incident. Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt continued exploring leads—some false, many intriguing—throughout the 1990s. Confronted with a complete lack of documentary evidence in official military records, some researchers abandoned the case, accepting the weather balloon theory. Others still suspect a Manhattan Project–level cover-up of what could be the crash of an extraterrestrial spaceship, as the incident took place during the first widely reported UFO wave of the 20th century.

Roswell Case Summary

The Roswell Report: A Historical Perspective, ed. George M. Eberhart (1991)

“The CUFOS Response to the Air Force’s 1997 Report, The Roswell Report: Case Closed,” by Mark Rodeghier (1997)

“The Glue Explanation Just Won’t Stick,” by Robert A. Galganski (1998)

“An Engineer Looks at the Project Mogul Hypothesis,” by Robert A. Galganski (1998)

“A Conversation with Jesse Marcel Jr.,” by Robert A. Galganski (1999)

“Roswell Trajectory Feasibility,” by Donald R. Burleson

“Roswell: 52 Years of Unanswered Questions,” by Donald R. Schmitt and Thomas J. Carey (1999)

“Roswell: The Whole Story,” by skeptic Kent Jeffrey (1999)

“Roswell: Clashing Visions of the Possible,” by Michael D. Swords (1999)

“Project Mogul Still a Flight of Fancy,” by Robert J. Durant (2001)

“Frank Kaufmann Reconsidered,” two scenarios, by Kevin D. Randle and Mark Rodeghier (2002)

The Mantell Incident, 1948

Capt. Thomas Mantell's crashed F-51, January 7, 1948On January 7, 1948, at 2:50 p.m., Capt. Thomas F. Mantell Jr., a 25-year-old Kentucky Air National Guard pilot, and three others were flying F-51D fighters to Louisville, Kentucky. After Mantell reported his position to Standiford Field in Louisville, Tech/Sgt. Quinton A. Blackwell at Godman Army Airfield at Fort Knox broke in over the radio to request Mantell to intercept and identify the object. The object maintained a constant angular position as seen from Godman as it apparently moved away at about 240–300 mph at an altitude of 50,000–60,000 feet during most of Mantell’s pursuit. Flying at 300 mph and gradually climbing to about 22,000–23,000 feet, Mantell gradually overtook the UFO from below, past Bowling Green, Kentucky, at about 3:10 p.m. In one of his last radio reports, Mantell said the UFO “appears to be a metallic object or possibly reflection of sun from a metallic object, and it is of tremendous size.” At 3:15 p.m., at 22,500 feet with oxygen running low, two other F-51Ds quit the chase. Mantell continued to 25,000, blacked out, and crashed at 3:18 p.m. about 4 miles south-southwest of Franklin, Kentucky. The UFO disappeared from view behind a cloud at Godman Field at 3:50 p.m.

The US Air Force’s Project Sign staff, still not yet formally organized, were under pressure to come up with some kind of answer, so they quickly floated Venus (offhandedly suggested by Ohio State University astronomer J. Allen Hynek) as an explanation. This implausible explanation was not even believed by the Air Force, but it remained unchallenged for several years. In 1952, Project Blue Book Head Capt. Edward Ruppelt reopened the case and identified the object as a secret Skyhook balloon, although he could not confirm a launch that day. Army veteran Clifford Stone found later that there had been no Skyhook launches since late December. However, Barry J. Greenwood and Robert Todd have tentatively identified the balloon as one launched from Camp Ripley near Little Falls, Minnesota, on January 6.

Mantell clippings and case materials, part 1

Mantell clippings and case materials, part 2

Mantell clippings and case materials, part 3

Mantell clippings and case materials, part 4

Bentwaters–Lakenheath, 1956

Bentwaters-Lakenheath sightings mapA radar-visual UFO sighting began at RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk, England, at 9:30 p.m. on August 13, 1956. A blip traveling approximately 4,000–8,000 mph on an east-west course was picked up on radar. It moved in a straight line to a position about 15 miles northwest of Bentwaters. Within a few minutes, about a dozen normal targets were spotted 8 miles southwest, moving northeast at about 100 mph. In front of the targets were three objects in a triangular formation, about 1,000 feet apart. All the targets then appeared to converge into one extremely large target (several times the size of a B-36), which continued moving to the northeast, then stopped for a few minutes, resumed, then was lost to radar. The entire sighting up to this point took 25 minutes. Five minutes later, another solid target appeared, flying east to west at 4,000 mph or more, then vanished when it moved out of range. A T-33 trainer from the 512th Fighter Interceptor Squadron crewed by 1st Lts. Charles Metz and Andrew Rowe was sent to investigate the radar contacts, but saw nothing. No visual sightings of the objects were made from Bentwaters in this period, with the exception of a single amber star-like object which was subsequently identified as probably being Mars.

At 10:55 p.m., another target was picked up 30 miles to the east, traveling west at 2,000–4,000 mph. It passed directly overhead and was seen as a white light by both air and ground observers. Bentwaters notified RAF Lakenheath, also in Suffolk, about what was going on, and Lakenheath personnel saw a luminous object stop, then zoom off to the east. Also, two white lights were seen joining from different directions, which were tracked on two screens at Lakenheath. According to T/Sgt. Forrest Perkins, watch supervisor at the Lakenheath radar center, at midnight Lakenheath notified RAF Neatishead in Norfolk that a strange object was buzzing the base. A de Havilland Venom night fighter was scrambled, directed by Neatishead radar controller Flight Lt. Freddie H. C. Wimbledon. Perkins and Wimbledon claimed the jets were sent up around midnight, but the crews thought it was at 2:00 a.m. The Venom, crewed by flight officers from RAF Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire, found the object on radar north of Cambridge and saw it as a bright white light, which then disappeared. The navigator said it was the “clearest target I have ever seen on radar.” The object, however, was behind the plane and stayed there for some time, despite climbs, dives, and circling. Ground radar operators said that the object was glued right behind the fighter. After 10 minutes, the fighter headed back. The UFO followed briefly, then stopped and hovered. Another Venom was scrambled at 2:40 a.m. but it experienced engine problems and aborted.

Ministry of Defence officer Ralph Noyes said that one of the Venom pilots had taken a gun-camera film, which was later shown at a briefing in Whitehall. The object was tracked on two radars, leaving the area at 600 mph. The encounter was classified until 1969, when it was analyzed by the Colorado project. Analyst Gordon Thayer suggested that the “apparently rational, intelligent behavior of the UFO suggests a mechanical device of unknown origin as the most probable explanation of this sighting.”

Case documents, part 1

Case documents, part 2

Case documents, part 3

The RB-47 Radar-Visual-ELINT Case, 1957

RB-47 event mapBefore dawn on July 17, 1957, the crew of a USAF RB-47 reconnaissance aircraft was flying out of Forbes Field in Topeka, Kansas, on an electronic warfare training flight over Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The RB-47 was carrying a six-man crew, of whom three were electronic warfare officers manning ECM gear in the aft portion of the aircraft. The crew detected on its Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) equipment an airborne radar source that mimicked some but not all of the signal characteristics of a common air defense ground radar. Aircraft normally did not carry such high-powered radars. As the key ELINT officer on the RB-47 put it, “an antenna bigger than the airplane” would be required to emit as strong a signal as the one detected from the UFO. Because the UFO signal appeared to have comparable or greater received signal strength than the one-megawatt ground radar beam and the UFO’s distance was about five times closer than the ground radar, a crude estimate of the UFO radar power output using the inverse-square law would be about 40 kilowatts.

The maneuvering radar signal coincided in location with a bright UFO. At times the signal moved ahead of the RB-47, then circled around as if airborne, highly maneuverable, and flying faster than the RB-47. The 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing Intelligence report stated that the Wing’s director of intelligence “has no doubt the electronic D/F’s coincided exactly with visual observations by a/c numerous times thus indicating positively the object being the signal source.”

An air defense radar station near Dallas, Texas, reportedly confirmed tracking a UFO at the same location reported by the RB-47 crew but later tried to deny it in an unclassified message to ATIC. The UFO was reportedly tracked by the RB-47’s airborne navigation radar as well, though the crew had differing recollections on this point. Twice the UFO blinked out visually when pursued by the RB-47. At the same time the strange signal disappeared; either that, or the ground radar site and the RB-47 onboard radar lost the object from their scopes. At least once, the UFO suddenly reappeared visually at about the same time the ground radar regained tracking of the object.

The main part of the incident occupied 30 minutes over the Fort Worth, Texas, area from 5:30–6:00 a.m. Some earlier ELINT and visual incidents were noted as early as about 4:30 a.m., but they caught the crew off guard; consequently, reports at the time and later recollections have had to be carefully reconstructed. The UFO may have trailed the RB-47 up to 6:40 a.m. following the main events, for a total duration of possibly more than 126 minutes.

The RB-47 incident is the first conclusive instrumented proof for the existence of UFOs. Calibrations of the RB-47’s electronic measurements provide an irrefutable case.

Brad Sparks case file

James McDonald case file

NICAP case file

Trindade Island, Brazil, 1958

Ilha da Trindade photoAround 12:00 noon on January 16, 1958, the International Geophysical Year (IGY) research ship Almirante Saldanha was anchored on the south side of Ilha da Trindade, Brazil, 730 miles off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean. The commander and many crew members, including photographer Almiro Baraúna, saw a Saturn-shaped object maneuvering over the island. It reportedly came toward the island from the east, flew towards the Pico Desejado, made a steep turn, and went away very quickly to the northwest.

Baraúna took four photos with a Rolleiflex 2.8 model E. Commander Paulo Moreira da Silva of the Brazilian Navy Hydrography and Navigation Department (who technically outranked the ship’s captain, José Santos de Saldanha da Gama), was apparently an eyewitness and stated, “the object was encircled by a greenish glow, our [meteorological] balloon was of a red color.” Baraúna was officially there to take photos of the island, underwater photos, photos of the IGY activities, and the ship’s operations. Radar detection of an unexplained supersonic target had reportedly occurred the day before, at about 12:05 p.m.

There was a power failure on the ship when the object was seen; the power returned upon the object’s departure. Instruments like radio transmitters and apparatus with magnetic needles ceased operating while the flying object remained in the island’s proximity. Researcher Willy Smith’s April 20, 1983, interview of Baraúna takes on more significance: “I asked if the object had been detected by ship’s radar. He [Baraúna] replied that it hadn’t because all the electrical power aboard ship was out at the time. He was sure of the reality of the power outage because just before the object appeared, a launch was being hauled up from the water by electric pulley, and it stopped midway just as the UFO appeared!”

The ship’s log was probably incomplete since it did not even mention the UFO photo incident. A 1999 analysis by Martin J. Powell seemed to indicate that the object photographed was an airplane, distorted by Baraúna through a double-exposure process. In August 2010, a major TV show in Brazil aired information stating that the original photographer had made hoax photographs in the past.

“The UAO Sightings at the Island of Trindade,” Olavo Fontes (1960)

“Exclusive IGY Photo Analysis,” John T. Hopf (1960)

“New Evidence on IGY Photos” (1965)

“Trindade Revisited,” Willy Smith (1983)

“Trindade Island Photographs,” by Jerome Clark (1998)

Eagle River, Wisconsin, 1961

SimontonAt 11:00 a.m. on April 18, 1961, Joe Simonton heard a whining sound on his farm four miles from Eagle River, Wisconsin, and saw a silvery object—30 feet in diameter and 12 feet high, with exhaust pipes around the periphery—land nearby. A door opened and a man appeared, about 5 feet tall and wearing a black, turtle-neck pullover with a white band at the belt, and black trousers with a vertical white band along the side. Two other figures were visible inside. The creature was holding a metallic jug and making gestures that suggested he wanted a drink. Simonton took the jug into his basement, filled it with water, and returned it to the man. Simonton noticed one man frying on a flameless grill and motioned for some food. Simonton was given four ordinary pancakes or cookies, 3 inches in diameter, perforated with small holes. The object took off after 5 minutes.

Simonton gave one of the pancakes to Judge Frank Wellington Carter, who then passed it on to the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena; another he gave to J. Allen Hynek for Project Blue Book; and the third he kept for himself. A thorough analysis was performed on one of the pancakes by the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and the food was found to be made of terrestrial but tasteless ingredients, including hydrogenated oil and buckwheat flour. The Air Force concluded that Simonton was honest but had mistakenly conflated the reality of his breakfast with a dream.

J. Allen Hynek’s case file

Hynek photo 1

Hynek photo 2

Lex Mebane’s case file

NICAP case file

“The Pancakes of Eagle River,” Jerome Clark (1996)

The Socorro, New Mexico, Landing, 1964

Socorro UFO landing markAround 5:50 p.m. on April 24, 1964, Socorro, New Mexico, police officer Lonnie Zamora, while chasing a speeder, heard a continuous roaring sound and saw a brilliant blue “cone of flame” in the sky to the south-southwest. The bottom of the flame was out of sight behind a hill. Thinking there had been an explosion, he tried to pursue it, turning off to the right on a rough gravel road, but lost sight of it while trying to get the car up a steep hill. By the time he reached the top, the sound stopped and the flame was no longer visible. He then noticed a metallic object in a ravine about 450 feet away. At first, he thought it was an overturned car, but then he saw “two figures in what resembled white coveralls, pretty close to the object on the northwest side, as if inspecting it.” One seemed to turn in a startled way as if he heard Zamora’s car approaching. The figures were small, and the object was oval-shaped and positioned so its long axis was horizontal.

Zamora lost sight of the object as he drove through a dip in the road. He radioed headquarters that he was investigating a possible car accident. He stopped a second time and got out, hearing 2–3 loud thumping noises like a door shutting hard. He walked three steps to the front of the car to possibly 50 feet away from the object when he heard a very load roar increasing in volume and saw a smokeless blue-orange flame coming from beneath. He noted a red insignia or lettering on the side of the object. Zamora thought it was going to explode and ran away, putting the car between him and the object and dropping to the ground. He felt some slight heat from the flame. The roaring noise stopped, and Zamora looked up to see the UFO flying away to the southwest at a level height, just clearing an 8-foot dynamite shack. He ran back to the patrol car and radioed headquarters, just as the object climbed slowly and went past Box Canyon or Six Mile Canyon Mountain (about 6 miles away). The entire incident took place in less than 2 minutes.

Police Sgt. M. S. Chavez arrived, and they found burning brush (including a badly damaged creosote bush) where the UFO had been, as well as four asymmetrically placed, trapezoidal imprints 12–16 inches long, 6–8 inches wide, and 4–6 inches deep. An FBI agent, D. Arthur Byrnes Jr., who had heard about it on the police radio, spoke with Zamora in the evening. He notified army intelligence at White Sands Missile Range, who sent Capt. Richard T. Holder. Military police arrived and collected samples, working by flashlight.

J. Allen Hynek arrived on April 28 and interviewed Zamora and Chavez. Richard H. Hall and Ray Stanford arrived for NICAP and obtained some metal traces on a rock in the landing area; they took the sample to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where metallurgist Henry E. Frankel agreed to analyze the material. His tentative analysis suggested a zinc-iron alloy, perhaps from a zinc pail.

In 1966, Project Blue Book chief Maj. Hector Quintanilla wrote in a classified article in Studies in Intelligence that “This is the best-documented case on record, and still we have been unable, in spite of a thorough investigation, to find the vehicle or other stimulus that scared Zamora to the point of panic.” Some investigators think the case might involve a test of a Lunar Surveyor module from White Sands.

Correspondence by J. Allen Hynek, William T. Powers, and Philip J. Klass

Socorro miscellaneous material

Zamora file 1

Zamora file 2

Zamora file 3

Zamora index and miscellany

CUFOS newsclips

NICAP newsclips

“Socorro, New Mexico: Revisited,” Kenneth Eugene Firestone and Ronald L. Firestone (1981)

The McDivitt Gemini 4 Photo, 1965

Gemini 4On June 4, 1965, during the Gemini 4 mission, astronaut James McDivitt spotted an object that he described as a “white cylindrical shape with a white pole sticking out of one corner of it.” He took two photos of it. His partner, Ed White, was asleep at the time. McDivitt maintained that it was some unknown but man-made piece of debris, while James Oberg, flight controller at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, argued that it was most likely the Titan II second stage of the craft.

McDivitt clippings and documents

Exeter, New Hampshire, 1965

Police, civilians sight UFO in Exeter areaAround 1:00 a.m. on September 3, 1965, Exeter, New Hampshire, Police Officer Eugene F. Bertrand Jr. came across a woman parked on State Highway 101. “She was real upset,” he said, “and told me that a red glowing object had chased her.”

Around 2:00 a.m., while walking home to Exeter on Route 150 (Amesbury Road) near Kensington, New Hampshire, teenager Norman J. Muscarello was terrorized by a large object with four or five bright red lights that approached from a nearby woods and hovered over a field. Horses were spooked. Muscarello got a ride to the Exeter police station, pale and shaken, and reported the incident at 2:24 a.m. Officer Bertrand drove him back to the field along Route 150 to investigate. When he was called to investigate Muscarello’s report, the earlier incident caused him to pay attention. At first Bertrand and Muscarello could see nothing, but when Bertrand flashed a light around the field around 3:00 a.m., a huge dark object with red flashing lights rose up over the trees, moving back and forth, tilted, and came toward them. They both saw pulsating red lights that dimmed from left to right then right to left in a 5-4-3-2-1 then 1-2-3-4-5 pattern. Each cycle took about 2 seconds. The object hovered for several minutes, and everything was silent except for the dogs and horses. Then it darted, turned sharply, slowed down, and began to move away. Another patrolman, David R. Hunt, pulled up and saw the pulsating lights and the UFO. Bertrand said the lights were always in a line and at a 60° angle; when the object moved, the lower lights were always forward of the others.

In the daytime, the police station called Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth to reconfirm the incident. By 1:00 p.m., 2–4 police officers arrived to interview the three witnesses at length. Journalist John G. Fuller investigated the case during the next month. He found a huge gap between media coverage and local perceptions. Investigator Raymond Fowler found that the local advertising plane operated by Sky-Lite Aerial Advertising Agency of Boston was not running between August 21 and September 10.

Raymond Fowler’s case file

Raymond Fowler’s transcripts, part 1

Raymond Fowler’s transcripts, part 2

Dexter-Hillsdale, Michigan, 1966

Dexter, Michigan, case, 1966At 7:30 p.m. on March 20, 1966, after his dogs started making a racket, Frank Mannor and his 26-year-old son Ronald saw strange lights over a swampy area in Dexter Township, Michigan. They walked over to the area for a look, taking about 30 minutes, and saw a pyramid-shaped object with a rounded top, corrugated surface, and blue, red, and white lights. Mannor’s son-in-law Bob Wagner, back at the house, saw the object light up and rise to 500 feet, then come down again making some noise. Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputies David Fitzpatrick and Stanley McFadden arrived about 9:00 p.m. and drove toward the swamp on Quigley Road. They saw a brilliant light that dimmed and then reappeared. By this time a crowd had gathered. One man reported that when two flashlights appeared in the distance, the object seemed to react by flying away at high speed. At another point the object passed directly over the Mannors with a whistling sound like a rifle bullet ricocheting. It remained in the swampy area for 30 minutes.

Hillsdale, Michigan, studentsThe  following night, at 10:32 p.m., Cynthia “Pinky” Poffenberger and 16 other Hillsdale (Michigan) College students at the McIntyre dormitory watched a football-shaped object with red, green, and white pulsating lights descend from the sky and pass close to their dorm. It settled in a hollow in the Slayton Arboretum about 1,500 feet away. Some 87 students collected to watch the UFO, then they notified Civil Defense Director William Van Horn, who arrived with police. From the dorm, the landed lights appeared yellowish-white, dimming and intensifying. Only student Barbara “Gidget” Kohn stayed most of the night, watching the lights vanish, reappear, and recede. Around 5:10 a.m., Kohn saw a lighted object move away and disappear from sight. Radiation was later detected at the landing area of about 330–600 microroentgens/hr, roughly 10–20 times the background level.

On March 23–25, Northwestern University astronomer and Project Blue Book consultant J. Allen Hynek spent three days in Michigan, interviewing witnesses in Dexter and Hillsdale, finding the reports contradictory and vague, and encountering a media frenzy. He interviewed two Hillsdale students, Sara Robechek and Jo Wilson. William Van Horn told him that he at first thought the lights were marsh gas until they rose into the air 150 feet and he seemed to perceive a “convex-shaped” solid mass between two lights.

Hynek at the The Air Force needed quick answers, so Blue Book chief Hector Quintanilla scheduled a press conference on March 25 at Selfridge Air Force Base near Mount Clemens, Michigan, for Hynek to make a statement. Hynek, disappointed with the quality of the sightings and suspecting a mundane explanation, announced: “It would seem to me that the association of the sightings with swamps, in these particular cases, is more than coincidence. No group of witnesses observed any craft coming to or going away from the swamps. The glow was localized there…. It appears to me that all the major conditions for the appearance of swamp lights were satisfied.” The swamp gas theory did not go over very well with the witnesses, the media, or the public.

J. Allen Hynek report on the case, plus other materials

Rendlesham Forest, UK, 1980

The Rendlesham Forest caseA series of reported sightings of unexplained lights near Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, England, have become linked with claims of UFO landings. The events occurred December 26–29, 1980, just outside RAF Woodbridge, used at the time by the US Air Force. USAF personnel, including deputy base commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles I. Halt, claimed to have experienced a UFO event.

A security patrol (A1C John Burroughs and S/Sgt Budd Steffens) near the East Gate of RAF Woodbridge at 3:00 a.m. on December 26 witnessed lights apparently descending into nearby Rendlesham Forest. These lights were attributed by astronomers to a piece of natural debris seen burning up as a fireball over southern England at the time. The observers initially thought it was a downed aircraft but, when others (S/Sgt James Penniston, Burroughs, and A1C Edward Cabansag) entered the forest to investigate they saw, according to Halt’s memo, a glowing object, metallic in appearance, with colored lights. As they attempted to approach the object, it appeared to move through the trees, and “the animals on a nearby farm went into a frenzy.” Penniston later claimed he and Burroughs encountered a “craft of unknown origin” while in the forest, which he photographed and touched, although there was no publicized mention of this at the time and no corroboration from other witnesses. (Burroughs only reported a blinding white light.)

General map of RAF Woodbridge and the alleged UFO landing areaShortly after 4:00 a.m., the Suffolk Constabulary were called to the scene, but they reported that the only lights they could see were those from the Orfordness Lighthouse, a few miles away on the coast. After daybreak, Burroughs and Penniston returned to a small clearing near the eastern edge of the forest and found three small impressions on the ground in a triangular pattern, as well as burn marks and broken branches on nearby trees. At 10:30 a.m., the local police were called out again, this time to see the impressions, which they thought could have been made by an animal. Georgina Bruni, in her book You Can’t Tell the People (2000), published a photo of the supposed landing site taken on the morning after the first sighting.

At 1:48 a.m. on December 28, Halt visited the alleged landing site with 20–30 servicemen (including John Burroughs, Sgt. Adrian Bustinza, Sgt. Bobby Ball, and Sgt. Monroe Nevels). They took radiation readings in the triangle of depressions and in the surrounding area using an AN/PDR-27, a standard US military radiation survey meter. Although they recorded 70–100 microR/hr at the landing site, in other regions they detected only 30–40 microR/hr, around the background level. Furthermore, they detected a similar small “burst” over half a mile away from the landing site. Halt recorded the events on a microcassette recorder, the “Halt tape,” released to UFO researchers in 1984 by Col. Sam Morgan, who had succeeded Ted Conrad as Halt’s superior. The tape chronicled Halt’s investigation in the forest in real time. During this investigation, a flashing light was seen across the field to the east, almost in line with a farmhouse, as the witnesses had seen on the first night. The Orfordness Lighthouse was visible further to the east in the same line of sight. Later, three star-like lights were seen in the sky, two to the north and one to the south, about 10° above the horizon. The brightest of these hovered for 2–3 hours and seemed to beam down a stream of light from time to time. Astronomers have explained these as merely bright stars.

Map of alleged events in Rendlesham ForestIn June 2010, Halt, by now retired, signed a notarized affidavit, in which he again summarized what happened, then stated he believed the event to be extraterrestrial and covered up by both the UK and US military. Contradictions between this affidavit and the facts as recorded at the time in Halt’s memo (dated January 13, 1981) and tape recording (made December 28) have been pointed out. In 2010, base commander Col. Ted Conrad provided a statement about the incident to UFO researcher David Clarke. Conrad stated that “We saw nothing that resembled Lieutenant Colonel Halt’s descriptions either in the sky or on the ground” and that “We had people in position to validate Halt’s narrative, but none of them could.” In an interview, Conrad criticized Halt for the claims in his affidavit, saying “he should be ashamed and embarrassed by his allegation that his country and Britain both conspired to deceive their citizens over this issue. He knows better.” Conrad also disputed the testimony of Sgt. James Penniston, who claimed to have touched an alien spacecraft; he had interviewed Penniston at the time and he had not mentioned any such occurrence. Conrad also suggested that the entire incident was a hoax.

Around 12:00 midnight on December 28–29, USAF A1C Larry Warren claimed he was on patrol at RAF Woodbridge with other servicemen who were bringing lighting equipment to a large clearing called Capel Green. At 12:30 a.m., he was directed into the woods to “investigate a disturbance.” They soon came to a large field where about 40 military personnel were gathered. They were ordered to surround what appeared to be a bright fog or mist. When his group entered the field, Warren saw it was a glowing, yellow-green, circular object not more than 12 inches in height. Two officers walked around it with Geiger counters, someone took photos, and another operated a movie camera. Warren heard shouts of “Here it comes!” and saw a small red light that quickly approached his group at 1:30 a.m. The basketball-sized object made a downward arc and hovered at 20 feet above the ground. It then exploded in a blinding flash that gave off no heat. Instantly, about 25 feet away, Warren claimed he saw a large, pyramid-shaped object topped by a glowing red light. Covering the entire surface were what looked like boxes and pipes. An officer ordered Bustinza and Warren (now feeling nauseous) to approach within 10–15 feet of the object. Before long they were ordered further back. A staff car arrived, carrying Col. Gordon Williams and his staff. From far behind the object came a bright bluish ball of light. Warren claimed he could see large-headed beings inside. He saw Col. Williams approach the beings and stare at them. Warren arrived back at Security Control at 4:30 a.m.

Most ufologists find Warren’s account unreliable, and the book he coauthored, Left at East Gate, was withdrawn by the publisher, Cosimo, in 2017 after finding “inaccurate or embellished” testimony. In 2010, Jenny Randles, who first reported the Rendlesham case in the London Evening Standard in 1981 and coauthored with local researchers the first book on the case in 1984, Sky Crash: A Cosmic Conspiracy, emphasized her previously expressed doubts that the incident was caused by extraterrestrial visitors. While suggesting that an unidentified phenomenon might have caused parts of the case, she noted: “Whilst some puzzles remain, we can probably say that no unearthly craft were seen in Rendlesham Forest. We can also argue with confidence that the main focus of the events was a series of misperceptions of everyday things encountered in less than everyday circumstances.”

The most plausible skeptical explanation is that the sightings were due to a combination of several factors. The initial sighting on December 26, when the airmen saw something apparently descending into the forest, coincided with the appearance of a bright fireball over southern England; such fireballs are a common source of UFO reports. The supposed landing marks were identified by police and foresters as rabbit diggings. According to the witness statements from December 26, the flashing light seen from the forest lay in the same direction as the Orfordness Lighthouse. When the eyewitnesses attempted to approach the light, they realized it was further off than they thought. Timings on Halt’s tape recording indicate that the light he saw, which lay in the same direction as the light seen two nights earlier, flashed every five seconds, which was the flash rate of the Orfordness Lighthouse. The star-like objects that Halt reported hovering low to the north and south are thought by some skeptics to have been misinterpretations of bright stars distorted by atmospheric and optical effects.

No evidence has emerged to confirm that anything came down in the forest. However, Nick Redfern in The Rendlesham Forest UFO Conspiracy (2020) alleged that the events were created by US and UK military as part of a series of top-secret experiments involving ball lightning and the “use of sophisticated holograms and hallucinogens” to test the reactions of the personnel exposed to them.

IUR articles on Rendlesham Forest

Barry Greenwood’s case file