[CNI News thanks Graham Birdsall and Colin Andrews for contributing to this story; and Skye Turrell and Rebecca Keith for their assistance.]
Britons awoke to sensational news headlines on Monday, April 27, 1998. "24,000 MPH UFO BUZZES BRITAIN" said the Daily Mail. "RAF SPOTS SPEEDING UFOs WITH NEW RADAR" said the London Daily Express. Other papers and TV news ran similar stories.
Citing unnamed sources within the RAF, the British press reported that sensitive new radars at RAF Fylingdales had tracked a "battleship-sized" triangular UFO over the North Sea. Reportedly, the Dutch Air Force also tracked the mystery behemoth. The same UFO was later observed heading out over the Atlantic Ocean, according to the Daily Mail.
Immediate efforts by several British UFO researchers to confirm the story were met with firm denials by RAF spokesmen, who stated that the apparent source of the story was a disgruntled and unreliable former RAF employee named Philip Burden.
However, at least one British news reporter involved in the story assured UFO researcher Graham Birdsall, editor of UFO (UK) magazine, that the main source of the story was not Burden but a reliable RAF insider.
Meanwhile, other UK investigators proposed that the story was intentionally planted to head off discovery of top-secret, super-advanced military aircraft thought to be flying from several British military bases.
At week's end, as this issue of CNI News goes to press, the RAF-UFO story remains unresolved, with several competing theories in play.
Here are excerpts from the April 27 story in the Daily Mail, followed by a sample of commentary from several UK researchers.
According to Science Correspondent David Derbyshire of the Daily Mail:
"The RAF has tracked a UFO 'as big as a battleship' off the coast of Britain, military sources revealed yesterday. They said the massive craft was tracked flying in a zig-zag pattern at 17,000 mph over the North Sea. It then accelerated to 24,000 mph and zoomed off towards the Atlantic.
"The Dutch air force also tracked the UFO, but two F-16 fighters scrambled to intercept the object were unable to keep up, it is claimed.
"RAF officials are said to be baffled by the object, spotted by the Ministry of Defence long-range listening station on Fylindales moor in North Yorkshire.
"'It was definitely under control, judging by the various maneuvres executed,' said a source. 'It appeared to be triangular and was around the size of a battleship (about 900 ft long).'
"Radar records of the craft are due to be presented to science and military experts around the world, who will examine how to exploit space for military purposes at a conference at RAF College, Cranwell, Lincolnshire, in June. Other tapes of the UFO -- thought to have been made during the last two years -- are being withheld because they give too much information about the radar base's scanning ability.
"However, military chiefs may release a second series of tapes, reported to show 12 UFOs changing shape in mid-flight.
"The latest theory gaining popularity among some dedicated UFO watchers is that the military deliberately release stories about UFOs as a "smokescreen" -- and that witnesses are really seeing top-secret experimental aircraft."
CNI News was first alerted to this story by noted crop circle researcher Colin Andrews, who spent much of the day on April 27 trying to reach UK officials who might shed further light on the sensational claims. Andrews sent this update to CNI News:
"After leaving many messages and trying contacts in the MOD in London, I have eventually spoken with Mr. Alan Patterson in the MOD Press office and in the last few minutes another source, regarding today's stories in UK national newspapers.
"I asked Mr. Alan Patterson what this story was about. and was it true? He told me that it was not true and that they knew exactly who had put it out. 'He goes around doing this kind of thing,' he said.
"'He worked it round a nugget of truth,' [Patterson said]. 'There is going to be a military seminar, which will also be open to civilians, that will be held at the RAF Cranwell staff college to discuss certain defense issues... They will not be talking about Flying Saucers... [but] how we might defend ourselves against missiles from space.'
"I guess we will have to wait for the unknown senior military officer to update us on who is behind the missiles from space, which concerns them," Andrews concluded.
Noted researcher and publisher Graham Birdsall also spent much of April 27 trying to get to the bottom of this story. He posted a progress report to the internet late in the day:
"During the last 24 hours considerable attention has been focused on the revelation in some of the British press that information concerning the tracking of one and more UFOs by RAF Fylingdales is to be discussed at a space seminar at RAF Cranwell.
"I have spent much of that time attempting to track down those responsible for the release, and am now able to confirm that the story is allegedly bogus.
"Much of the credit must go to my colleague, author and UFO researcher Nick Redfern, who was able to speak directly with Alan Patterson, RAF Press Officer at the Ministry of Defence in London.
"Mr. Patterson said that 'the only truthful part' that appeared in the press was that concerning the staging of a space seminar. The UFO angle, and everything connected with it, was not true, he said.
"The story had been concocted by a former MoD employee, whom he named as PHILIP BURDEN.
"'He was employed as a civilian within the MoD in London, but he left under a cloud,' said Mr. Patterson.
"No one can be quite certain at this moment in time, but in light of the extraordinary comments from Mr. Patterson, the focus of attention has firmly switched to what appears to be the central figure in these developments -- just who is Philip Burden?"
While Birdsall continued his inquiry into the elusive "Philip Burden," others in the UK research community took a decidedly different approach.
An influential faction with British Ufology is committed to the theory that nearly all (if not all) legitimate UFO reports can be explained as sightings of super-secret human aircraft. A leading spokesman for this group, Tim Matthews, was quick to weigh in with his analysis. Excerpts follow:
"Despite the Ministry of Defence position that UFOs are 'of no defence significance' the story was said to have been leaked by a 'military source'. This was almost impossible to believe and the story could be seen at best as a cover for the operation and testing of secret military aircraft in the North Sea and over the Atlantic.
"Despite their sophistication, it is not true that the latest Phased Array Radar systems would be able to identify the shape of a UFO -- even one '900 feet' in length -- at anything approaching the speeds reported. A science correspondent should have known this simple fact.
"The Daily Mail KNEW (!) that the story was nonsense before they printed it and it will be noticed that this tabloid has put out a great deal of alien/ET-type material in recent months.
"Just last week a diamond-shaped wing-wing aircraft was spotted by a trained observer off the Western Scottish coast near Campbeltown not far from RAF Macrahanish, previously rumoured to be a base of operations for a number of secret aircraft and still a NATO standby base.
"I have spoken to serving RAF personnel who have witnessed the operation of large triangular aircraft from RAF Boscombe in February 1997.
"In 1993/4 an aircraft not unlike the US Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System 'Tier 3' aircraft was reported to be operating over the UK as part of a series of transatlantic demonstrations involving the RAF and elements of the aerospace industry. According to US black projects researcher Dan Zinngrabe, a respected source, the aircraft cost over $150 million, used active stealth features and was able to hover through the use of an advanced jet propulsion system which might have been ducted 'fan-in-wing' technology...
"At this time, Nick Pope, former Secretariat Air Staff 2a UFO 'expert' went public with a story that UFOs were of extraterrestrial origin and this was undoubtedly part of the cover story involving the MOD and the UFO community...
"So whilst we have twaddle being put out in the tabloids, some UFO researchers are getting to grips with the reality of secret military aircraft."
CNI News agrees that the U.S. Air Force, among others, does fly super-secret aircraft that could be mistaken for UFOs; and further agrees that tabloids in the UK as well as the United States certainly run "twaddle" on occasion. However, CNI News also acknowledges that many leading UFO researchers on both sides of the Atlantic disagree with Matthews' apparent intent to explain all otherwise-unexplained UFO sightings as super-secret military aircraft.
Controversy over the alleged RAF tracking of UFOs continues to unfold.
UFO (UK) magazine editor Graham Birdsall informed CNI News on April 30 that he had made further inquiries into the sources of the RAF UFO story. Based on his latest update, it seems clear that the story is far from resolved. Excerpts from Birdsall's commentary follow:
"Alan Patterson, RAF Press Officer, claimed that the source of this story was a former MoD civilian employee named Philip Burden -- someone who left their employment 'under a cloud'.
"I have since spoken with one of the journalists concerned, who stands by the story. Speaking off the record (his name and newspaper are known to a clutch of researchers, including Nick Redfern, Nick Pope and Timothy Good), he told me that the original source of this story was a senior serving RAF official, and not Mr. Burden.
"However, journalist David Clark (who was an active UFO researcher before joining the Sheffield Star newspaper), has spoken with 'The Express' newspaper journalist John Ingham, who also covered the story. Mr. Ingham has told David Clark that yes, Philip Burden was his primary source.
"Philip Burden, it transpires, was the former editor of 'RAF NEWS'.
"I am reliably informed that since leaving RAF News, Philip Burden has provided the media with several stories, originating from his time spent while editor of that publication, and for which he was paid.
"One of these referred to an alleged UFO incident over Thailand, and took place during an official State Visit by the Queen. Allegedly, the RAF aerobatic team (Red Arrows) had to cut short a flying display when the UFO appeared.
"We are, as you can well imagine, attempting to clarify several important matters arising from these developments. Suffice to say, at least one senior newspaper correspondent is standing by the story as it appeared last Monday.
"The only concession he is prepared to make, is that the estimated speed of the UFO in question might now be in doubt, but he failed to expand on his reasoning.
"As for the 'battleship'-sized UFO, the 12 oval-shaped objects and radar tapes thereof? He maintains such references were accurately reported, but expressed sympathy towards Alan Patterson's position, who, he stressed, had no option other than to state official MoD policy on the UFO issue.
"Finally, for anyone thinking of attending the Space Symposium at RAF Cranwell (4-5 June), admission doesn't come cheap. Tickets are priced at Pound220.00 (two hundred & twenty pounds), and I'm not certain whether that's for one or both days.
"Last but not least, our journalist friend suspects that the radar tapes, and all reference to them, 'will be pulled' from the dozen-or-so sessions schedule to take place," Birdsall concluded.
CNI News will report further developments, if any, in our next edition.
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