SO IS THERE SOMEBODY OUT THERE, AFTER ALL?
by Mary Greene
It was a dark, cloudless evening in early January, and British Airways Flight 5061 from Milan was over the Pennines, coming in to land at Manchester Airport. All was going to schedule. Just another routine landing... And then it happened.
First Officer Mark Stuart saw the thing first and instinctively ducked. A strange wedge-shaped object, illuminated like a Christmas tree, flashed soundlessly past the Boeing 737's starboard side. Within seconds, it had vanished, but Mark Stuart and his co-pilot Captain Roger Wills were in no doubt about what they'd seen.
The two BA pilots, both sober-minded types not given to flights of fancy, had just experienced a close encounter with what's become known as the Silent Vulcan.
And theirs was by no means the first encounter. Over the past ten years, the Silent Vulcan -- so called because its shape resembles the old Vulcan bomber -- has apparently been stalking the skies over Europe and North America. First sighted over the USA, there have now been hundreds of reported sightings, many of them in the Pennine Corridor which runs from the Midlands up through Yorkshire [in England]. In 1990 it was spotted in Belgium and, on that occasion the Belgian air force scrambled fighter planes in a fruitless bid at interception.
Now even the sceptics in the corridors of power are beginning to take it seriously. The UFO phenomenon, long associated with little green men in starships, can no longer be easily dismissed as simple fantasy. Even senior-ranking MoD officials have now admitted publicly what they have privately been convinced of for many years: that the Unidentified Flying Object actually exists.
Foremost among them is Nick Pope, head of Secretariat (Air Staff) 2a between1991 and 1994 and, as such, the British Government's expert on the UFO phenomenon. He began his three-year tour of duty as a fair-minded sceptic but, remarkably, ended as a believer. Still working for the MoD, he has written a book, "Open Skies, Closed Minds," due to be published in June (Simon & Schuster) -- and, significantly, has actually been promoted since he articulated his extraordinary claims.
Of course, the vast majority of the 200 to 300 reports Pope received each year could be explained away. There are, after all, many logical explanations: freak meteorological conditions, an exceptionally bright meteor, even the earthlights that glow in the sky around the time of an earthquake.
Yet, as Pope explains: "That left a hard core of five to ten per cent which defied explanation. I am now convinced that there may be an extraterrestrial explanation."
So, too, is Timothy Good, a leading UFO authority, whose new book, "Beyond Top Secret: The Worldwide UFO Security Threat," due to be published on April 26 (Macmillan), examines the potential threat of extraterrestrial beings.
So why is the extraterrestrial theory finally being taken seriously?
Significantly, earthly science is at a loss to explain the extraordinary speed of UFOs such as the Silent Vulcan (or, as Nick Pope prefers to term it, the Flying Triangle). Could a superior force be at work?
"The Flying Triangle clearly behaves in a way that is beyond the cutting edge of our own technology," says Pope. "It can move from hover to speeds of about 5,000 mph in less than a second, acceleration that would kill any human occupant... and who knows if indeed there is an occupant?"
Just a few years ago, such suggestions would have been laughed at. Now, however, even the Civil Aviation Authority is taking the matter seriously.
After First Officer Stuart and Captain Roger Wills filed a formal report of their near-miss above the Pennines, the CAA spent a year investigating their claims. Last month, it agreed they had seen an Unidentified Flying Object -- or, as they prefer to term it, an "unassessable" object. They commended the pilots, and British Airways, for their courage and enlightenment in making the report.
Not surprisingly, the CAA's response was seen as a milestone in official recognition of the UFO phenomenon.
To understand the UFO's sudden rise in credibility, it is necessary to trace the history of what later became known as the Silent Vulcan. As early as 1983, there was an extraordinary surge of sightings in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people, many of them professionals, bore witness to a spectacular phenomenon, that reappeared over a period of more than three years. It was described as a pattern of brilliant flashing coloured lights, generally in the form of a V or boomerang. It moved slowly, silently, and was as big as a football pitch; some said it was as big as three football pitches. Often, it was no more than a few hundred feet from the ground, and generally stayed in view for ten minutes or more. If it turned, it did not bank as a plane would, but simply moved sideways.
The Federal Aviation Authority denied its existence, and no rational explanation was forthcoming. Sightings in the Hudson Valley tailed off during 1986, though there were sporadic reports of triangular or boomerang-shaped phenomena elsewhere in the country. But as sightings of the 'Silent Vulcan' waned in America, reports came in from the Midlands and North of England throughout 1986 and 1987.
In October 1986, Mark Smith, 30, a company director from Leeds, and his wife Allyson, 28, an office clerk, had a mysterious encounter on the M1 just south of Nottingham. As Mark recalls: "There were no other cars about when we saw this light in the sky, about 200 feet above ground level but coming down on us at a 45-degree angle. It seemed to be travelling at about 50 mph, but slowed down as it crossed the motorway, at a height of about 50 feet. It was round, nearly as wide as the motorway itself, with what looked like windows around it and oblong structures that seemed to protrude from the sides. It seemed to be made of a grey metal.
"A very bright light lit up the whole motorway but the object didn't make any sound: it just seemed to glide on. It landed in fields about 200 yards away from the motorway, and its light went out. I say it landed, but as it was dark. It could have disappeared over the brow of a hill.
"At first I thought it was a plane going to crash and I slowed down. It wasn't a helicopter, it wasn't an aeroplane. If I'd been on my own I'd have thought I was just imagining things, but we both saw it."
Other witnesses gave similar accounts. August 1987 showed intense UFO activity over this part of the country, and on the night of August 16, more than 20 people in Derby reported a brilliantly-lit object "that seemed to change shape, opening out from an oval into an arrow-shape." Among them was Audrey Boon, 66, a retired catering assistant from Belper, Derby, and her husband Trevor, 69, a former RAF sergeant. According to Audrey, they saw a massive object "with big square lights all the way round... all lit up like a couple of double-decker buses end to end in the sky."
Not long afterwards, on September 29, 1987, Tony Goodwin, 53, a JCB excavator from Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, and his three companions saw a similar glowing object coming towards them. "It was huge, about 100 feet long, triangular in shape and surrounded by about 30 brightly-coloured lights flashing in sequence, pulsing red underneath," he recalls.
Then came the best-documented manifestation of all. On November 29, 1989, a wave of mysterious sightings was reported across Belgium. In the early evening, two police officers observed a "dark, enormous triangle," seemingly solid, lit by white lights in each corner. It moved very slowly, at low altitude and they followed it by car; suddenly it rose up, vertically and soundlessly, sharply maneuvering to begin what appeared to be a slow, circular reconnaissance of the area. The policemen described what they saw as a dark, flat structure, with a windowed platform on top "like the windows of a train at night." Nearly three hours after they logged it, the object accelerated and disappeared.
Hundreds of similar sightings were reported across Belgium: small triangles, jumbo-jet-sized triangles, triangles with windows, triangles that flew backwards. They continued for more than a month.
Next, on March 30, 1990, on a cold, cloudless night, at 23.03 hours, the Belgian air force observed three strange lights in the sky, constantly changing colour, forming the points of an isosceles triangle. Soon a second set of lights was spotted, forming a smaller triangle. The air force recorded blips on its radar screens and at 00.05 hours scrambled two F-16s to intercept the "intruder." Several times they obtained a radar lock-on, once for as long as 20 seconds, but nothing was sighted. As soon as contact was made, the object seemed to maneuver out of the way, dropping in seconds from several thousand to just a few hundred feet.
No rational explanation could be made of the events of that night. Had the Belgian air force scrambled to intercept the Silent Vulcan, which is alleged to have been heading towards Dover at more than 1,000 mph when it was lost?
In this country, meanwhile, the evidence is steadily growing. Since the Fifties, our own Ministry of Defence has accumulated information on more than 8,000 UFO sightings, information that is withheld from the public under the 30-year rule. There is a standard response to such reports: "Our only concern is to establish whether or not they pose a threat to the security of the United Kingdom. Unless we judge that they do, and this has not been the case so far, we do not attempt to investigate further, or to identify whatever might have been seen... We are not aware of any evidence that might support the existence of extra-terrestrial life."
Now, though, the MoD's united front is starting to crack. Some, like Nick Pope -- ironically, the man who until recently signed such letters -- have been persuaded "by the sheer breadth and depth of the evidence over the years."
Nor is Pope a one-off maverick at the Ministry of Defence. Retired Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton, a former Chief of Defence Staff and the senior military officer in NATO during the mid-Seventies, has gone on record accusing the Government of covering-up UFO incidents, including the Belgian air force sighting.
"It is absurd to pretend there is nothing going on when it is perfectly plain that there is," he has said.
So is there a high level cover-up? Or simply bafflement? Ralph Noyes, now retired, was head of Defence Secretariat 8 (as Air Staff 2 was known before reorganisation) from 1969 to 1972. Like Pope, he was a sceptic when he first took up his post. "I thought it was nonsense," he says. "That was the official line but I know a number of my Air Staff colleagues were pretty uneasy about what was going on.
"There wasn't a cover-up. There was ignorance," he alleges now. "Ninety-five per cent of cases can probably be explained in rational terms but there is a hard core that nobody understands."
He himself claims to have sighted a UFO, over London's Chelsea in 1984. Intriguingly, he does not believe the UFOs' behaviour is simply random.
"There is a persistent phenomenon around this planet which manifests itself in a very odd way and which seems to indicate a degree of intelligence. The experience of the military is that it flickers in and out, it appears on radar, then disappears... it teases them. The indication is that it targets: there's an aircraft, it plays tricks on it. There's usually a lonely witness, out in the country, and it teases.
"The fact is that on a number of occasions it has come jolly near to causing aircraft accidents, though it hasn't been directly blamed for any accident. Hard-headed civilian airline pilots are extremely reluctant to report sightings. But it would be intellectual cowardice to argue away the hard core of these UFO reports."
So what is behind the phenomenal rise in sightings -- and what do they really mean? As yet, no one is offering answers. What does emerge, however, is a new and worrying suggestion -- that the UFO activity may not be as benign as the authorities would like us to believe. As Philip Mantle, director of investigations for the British UFO Research Association, points out: "They call it an 'unassessable' object... but I wonder how they would have tabled a collision instead of a near-miss? Whom would they have blamed? The Russians? The IRA? Speculation would have been about bombs and terrorists. If I were part of the powers-that-be at British Airways or the CAA, I'd be worried..."
If the experts are right, and UFO sightings continue at their present rate, one thing seems likely: that sooner or later the "near miss" may become a collision. Only then, perhaps, will we begin to understand a phenomenon once dismissed as fantasy, now recognised as the greatest mystery of our times. Until then, witnesses such as Mark Stuart and Audrey Boon can only wait and wonder...
Original file name: CNI - Brit UFO.Serious 3.25
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