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The UFO Conspiracy
Ian Ridpath

Sunday Times, March 19 1978


"On a clear moonlit night over East Anglia, the pilot of an RAF jet, scrambled to investigate an unidentified flying object, radioed that he had radar contact and 'gunlock'.

"For almost an hour, the flying saucer had already been radar-tracked by American technicians at RAF Bentwater and at RAF Lakenheath . . . otside the tracking stations, the object - a luminous white blob - was also seen with the naked eye, streaking across the sky at enormous speed . . ."

Dramatic stuff. It appeared in the Daily Express on February 2, part of what that newspaper termed THE GREAT DAILY EXPRESS UFO PROBE - THE FACT BEHIND THE FICTION. And the Lakenheath incident, as it is called, is certainly among the most famous cases in the vast literature on Unidentified Flying Objects. But is it true? The answer is No.

[. . . .]

. . . The Express went on to recount how the RAF Venom fighter sent up to investigate the "luminous white blob" - the date was August 1956 - was itself "tailed" by the UFO, which it was unable to shake off until the pilot, his fuel running low, returned to base.

What the Express did not tell its readers was that the incident was examined four years ago by Philip Klass, of the authoritative American journal Aviation Week - who found a rather different story. [Klass 1974]

The East Anglian terrain is, firstly, notorious for generating false radar tarces - radar operators call them "angels." And angels display exactly the stop-start motion and sudden right-angled turns that RAF Bentwater's UFO showed. Secondly, the event occurred at the height of the Perseid meteor shower, which passes the earth each year and is readily visible as a series of "luminous white blobs." Thirdly, two jet fighters diverted to investigate found nothing.

The Venom then sent up had no radar operator aboard and the pilot had thus to fly as well as grapple with unfamiliar radar gear. (He reported "gunlock" for instance; yet his Venom was not fitted with the gunlocking device.) A second Venom was sent up but found nothing. And, finally, not until two hours after the UFO had disappeared from the Bentwater screens did the Lakenheath operators, only 35 miles away, pick up an image.

At no time did Lakenheath and Bentwater radars display the same traces; nor were traces reported by any other radar in the area.