The more cynical and dismissive (wo)man on the street may scoff on seeing the words ‘credible’ and ‘UFOs’ next to each other in a sentence. For many, the very idea of unidentified flying objects buzzing about above us is inherently ridiculous. Strange craft zooming across the night sky, perhaps with alien lifeforms aboard at the control panel… A silly concept, they think.
To others, the premise of flying saucers is not all that fanciful or unbelievable. Modern history is packed full of bizarre instances of folk witnessing inexplicable aircraft. Some eye-catching tales intrigue, others sound slightly daft.
For now, let’s ignore the slightly sillier stories and focus on the more feasible close encounters to have been experienced here in good ol’ Blighty.
Here are three of what we’ll call ‘the most credible’ UFO incidents in (fairly) recent British history:
The Rendlesham Forest Incident
We’ll kick things off with a biggy. The Holy Grail of UK UFO sightings. Such is the scale, fame and supposed legitimacy of these sightings that the ‘The Rendlesham Forest Incident’ is also known to some as ‘Britain’s Roswell’.
Here's the brief outline: Some 40 years ago, several US airmen claimed to have witnessed a UFO flying over Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk.
Here's the slightly more in-depth version of the story: On the 26th of December 1980, multiple United States Air Force security personnel, who were stationed at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk, called in reports to their superiors of strange and inexplicable lights moving over the forest. Some of the men claim to have made out a triangular shape appearing to land in the trees.
Three years later, in 1983, a memorandum written by deputy base commander Lt. Col. Charles Halt was released by the American government confirming the many reports of the UFO.
The story quickly spread and the incident achieved a high level of fame in ufology circles. What happened isn't exactly clear. Explanations range from an extraterrestrial visitation to testing out secret military aircraft. Some scientists claim the lights were natural lights or even the beam from the relatively nearby Orfordness Lighthouse.
The Broad Haven UFO sightings
The trouble with a lot of UFO sightings is that it’s never possible to know if the eyewitness really did witness something with their eye or just used a little imagination. What’s interesting about the Broad Haven UFO sightings in Pembrokeshire in 1977 is that swathes of people saw the object.
An entire class full of ten-year-old schoolchildren saw a series of saucer and cigar-shaped crafts whizzing about the sky one day. It came shortly before a local hotelier also saw something similar.
"I was a natural born sceptic so after the bell rang I decided to go to the area that the children said they had seen it," one of the children, David Davies, has since recalled. He described seeing a silver cigar-shaped craft with a 'dome covering the middle third'. “My sighting only lasted a couple of seconds. It popped up and then went back behind a tree."
In the 43 years since the sightings, not a single witness has come out to reveal that it was a hoax or that they were lying.
The Lakenheath-Bentwaters incident
Our final pick sees us heading east again and looking to the skies over Royal Air Force bases in Suffolk. Like the Rendlesham Forest Incident, the sightings over the East Anglian air bases Lakenheath and Bentwaters left many scratching their heads.
August of 1956. Radio operators at RAF Bentwaters pick up strange movements on radar. A craft of some description appears to be flying at over 1,000mph. Training aircrafts were sent up to intercept the UFO, but they found nothing. At the same time, many air force personnel on the ground saw luminously bright objects darting about the sky.
Two Venom jet fighters were then scrambled and tasked with tracking down the craft. They then - apparently - played cat and mouse with the craft for some time before it disappeared.
Project Blue Book - the most in-depth study into UFOs by the USAF - said this about the incident: "It’s the most puzzling and unusual case in the radar-visual files. The apparently rational, intelligent behaviour of the UFO suggests a mechanical device of unknown origin as the most probable explanation of this sighting."
Blue Book was mostly known for its debunking of UFOs, so this admission was unusual.
So what can we learn from these mysterious incidents? It’s tricky to say. The truth is almost certainly out there. It’s just that it’s a bit like when you lose your car keys. The truth will probably be in the last place we look.