Ten years since the Ministry Of Defence (MOD) declassified a major study into UFOs featuring a sighting reported in Runcorn this newspaper has looked back on the landmark study and the mystery that still surrounds what the intelligence staff strategically referred to as ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ (UAP), and heard from one of the world’s top experts on the topic – who even investigated sightings for the MOD.
Project Condign was launched by the UK’s Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) in 1996 and finally published in 2000, but remained secret until it was declassified in 2006 as a result of a Freedom Of Information request.
The report, available for public viewing on The National Archives website, had the official aims of assessing whether UAP presented a security threat and also whether the science behind them could be appropriated for military means.
However, despite these goals, the document contains comments that may well appear startling to anyone who has pondered the origins of sightings.
In the Project Condign executive summary, the anonymous author leaves no doubt as to their belief in the existence of ‘UAP’.
It said: “That UAP exist is indisputable. Credited with the ability to hover, land, take-off, accelerate to exceptional velocities and vanish, they can reportedly alter their direction of flight suddenly and clearly can exhibit aerodynamic characteristics well beyond those of any known aircraft or missile – either manned or unmanned.”
Despite this tantalising description and its inevitable evocation of the popular idea of mysterious aircraft, the report’s summary rejected the likelihood of extraterrestrial or even terrestrial origins for the most baffling cases.
It said: “No evidence exists to suggest that the phenomena are hostile or under any type of control, other than that of natural forces.”
In the ‘key findings of defence interest’ section of the report, it added: “There is no evidence that any UAP, seen in the UK Air Defence Region, are incursions by air-objects of any intelligent (extra-terrestrial or foreign) origin, or that they represent any hostile intent.”
The summary attributed most sightings of all UAP to man-made vehicles with ‘unfamiliar or abnormal features’ reported by ‘credible witnesses’ in ‘unusual circumstances’, natural but not unusual phenomena which has been misunderstood by the observer and natural but rare phenomena.
These include ‘buoyant plasmas’ formed from meteors not fully burning up during entry to the atmosphere and that can be visible either to the eye or radar or both.
In addition, the report said these plasma objects in loose formation may generate a physical field ‘from which the reflection of light does not occur’ meaning they appear as ‘black ‘craft’, often triangular and up to hundreds of feet in length’.
The presence of these plasmas can also cause malfunction in vehicle engines and radios when in ‘close proximity’ and even impact on the viewer’s brain to cause effects such as ‘vivid but mainly incorrect’ recollections of events as well as ‘extended memory retention and repeat experiences’.
Could this ‘triangular type’ of unidentified aerial phenomena be an example of a naturally-occurring ‘buoyant plasma’ formed from the remnants of a meteor heated into oblivion while entering the Earth’s atmosphere or something else? The picture features on the first page of the Project Condign report, although it does not specify any more details of the image’s origins.
According to the Project Condign report, the buoyant plasmas do not pose a risk to aircraft unless ‘violent manoeuvres are undertaken to avoid or chase them’.
In one section of the summary, it added that fatalities had occurred in other countries as a result of attempts to intercept ‘the unexplained objects, which can clearly change direction faster than aircraft’.
Although it said the conditions for the formation. movement, separation and general activity of ‘buoyant charged masses’ was ‘not completely understood’, the report added that an increase in atmospheric dust and emissions can contribute to the formation of ‘dusty plasmas’ and may have been responsible for an increase in sightings.
Furthermore it went on to say that Russia was interested in the ‘UFO phenomena’, had identified a ‘close connection with plasma technologies’ and was ‘pursuing related techniques for potential military purposes’.
The author recommended that plasma masses could be used as radar decoys if the ability to create them could be harnessed by scientists.
Among the 450 pages of analysis and data was a slew of case files from sightings investigated by the MOD.
The declassified report detailing the sighting reported in Runcorn on October 25, 1996. National Archives/MOD
One was in Runcorn.
The MOD files revealed the viewer – a Runcorn resident – contacted an unknown agency at 5.40am on October 25, 1996, to say that 15 minutes earlier he had seen a kite-shaped object featuring four white and green lights, four ‘fins’ underneath and six red lights in the centre at an altitude of 250ft.
It was ‘circling round above his head then shot off at high speed’.
The viewer reported it at 5.40am and said they had also seen it in November 1994.
Nick Pope, who worked for the MOD investigating UFOs during the early 90s, is also a published author and journalist and respected expert in his field.
Nick Pope, whose job in the early 1990s was to investigate UFOs for the MOD, said this week that the Runcorn sighting had some ordinary aircraft features but not everything about it was ordinary.
He said: “The Runcorn sighting is certainly a fascinating one, and while red, green and white are – of course – the colours of standard aviation lights, not much is flying at 5.30am, and the sudden acceleration is more difficult to explain in conventional terms.”
At a recent conference in Canada, Nick told the audience the MOD adopted the term ‘UAP’ to ‘avoid the pop baggage’ of ‘UFO’.
He said that the one of the highlights of the report is what it revealed about the MOD’s interest in these mysteries and claimed this was at odds with the MOD’s official stance.
He said: “I think the most fascinating thing about Project Condign is this – for decades the MoD told Parliament, the media and the public that UFOs were of no defence significance and of very limited interest.
“Project Condign was a highly classified intelligence assessment of the UFO phenomenon which recommended that further study be made of aspects of the mystery that might result in ‘novel military applications’, so it’s clear that Parliament was misled.”