The Rendlesham Incident rears its head again, with an announcement by Col Charles Halt, formerly of the United States Air Force, that he has new evidence supporting the claim that a ‘UFO’ landed in Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk in 1980.
According to a BBC report, Col Halt has claimed that he now has written statements from radar operators who were covering RAF Bentwaters that night; staff who hadn’t wanted to give statements until after they retired. They’ve now confirmed, the colonel says, that they recorded contacts which travelled “across their 60 mile (96km) scope in two or three seconds”.
Actually, here’s the full quote, as provided by the BBC:
“I have confirmation that (Bentwaters radar operators)… saw the object go across their 60 mile (96km) scope in two or three seconds, thousands of miles an hour, he came back across their scope again, stopped near the water tower, they watched it and observed it go into the forest where we were.
“At Wattisham, they picked up what they called a ‘bogie’ and lost it near Rendlesham Forest.
“Whatever was there was clearly under intelligent control.”
Two or three seconds. That’s a pretty important detail.
Let’s just recap, very briefly, what happened that night.
On 26 December 1980, security personnel operating at RAF Woodbridge – then serving as a US Air Force base – reported seeing a bright light descending into the nearby Rendlesham Forest. They went into the forest to investigate, and reportedly saw a metallic object, glowing, with coloured lights. They called local police, who attended the scene but reported seeing nothing other than lights from the nearby lighthouse at Orford Ness.
Two days later, then-Lt Col Charles Halt led a team into the forest to survey the alleged ‘landing’ site. He reported elevated levels of radiation in the area, noted a flashing light to the east, and claimed that several bright objects hung in the sky above the forest for some time following his investigation.
The Rendlesham Incident is occasionally referred to as ‘Britain’s Roswell’ – it’s by far the most (in)famous UFO incident on record in UK airspace. But it only really holds onto its air of mystery and foreboding as long as you’re able to dismiss the explanations offered for the various phenomena observed.
The initial light seen to be descending into the forest was likely a meteor falling way beyond the forest. This is dismissed by UFO enthusiasts on the grounds that meteors just don’t do that: meteors are shooting stars – bright points of light that appear for an instant, arc across the sky, and are gone.
There’s probably a name for this sort of reasoning: the idea that we think we’re familiar with something because we’ve seen one variety of it, to the point that we won’t accept it can look any different. It’s the same flawed reasoning that lies behind most of the Moon Hoax conspiracy claims: a photo taken on the Moon looks wrong because it’s not showing things how they’d look on Earth. Advocates of these claims don’t consider, or deliberately discard, the fact that the Moon is a completely alien environment, and things look very strange there.
Ask anyone who’s ever observed a fireball meteor, and they’ll tell you those can be damned unsettling things. A few years ago a fireball was seen in a city near to me. People thought it was a plane coming down. They could see bits falling off it, flames, sparks – and it was moving quite slowly; not like a ‘shooting star’ at all. And some people swore they could hear it crackling. But it was a boulder skimming the atmosphere and breaking up. Not a crashing plane and not an alien spacecraft.
If you’re in any doubt about this, it’s worth watching this short video clip from a Russian driver’s dashboard camera in 2013.
That’s the meteor that fell over Chelyabinsk in February 2013, damaging property and causing injuries to people on the ground. Definitely more than just a ‘shooting star’. And since we’ve observed space debris falling like that, we have to find a way to discount that possibility before we can argue for less likely things, like alien craft landing.
(As for meteors falling across the sky, obviously that depends entirely on where you’re facing. If you’re beneath the orbital path of the object, looking prograde, then it’s falling from behind you and heading away ahead of you. That’s going to look to you as though it’s descending straight down in the sky – and it’s going to look way slower than it actually is. It’s not unlikely at all that it will look like a slow, careful descent rather than a freefall plummet.)
The flashing light that Col Halt later observed on his followup visit to the site was in the same direction as the Orford Ness lighthouse, which has been shown to be visible from where he was standing. He’s argued ever since that what he saw wasn’t the lighthouse – but, again, to accept that assertion we first have to get the awkward lighthouse out of the way. The lighthouse is there, it flashes, and it can be seen from Col Halt’s position. That’s a very likely explanation – and one the Suffolk Police seemed to agree with – so how do we discount it? If we can discount it, then we can start looking for aliens – but until then, it’s by far the most likely explanation.
Then there’s the radiation, which Col Halt described, having used his measuring tool, as ten times higher than normal background levels.
The problem here is that Col Halt was using a counter – an AN-PDR 27 meter – which was designed to measure very large levels of radiation, and not to take detailed counts at background rates. Such a device would struggle to give an accurate reading, even if the levels were ‘ten times background’: that’s still not terribly high, and at those levels, using that device, there’d have been no way to distinguish a spike caused by an actual increase in detected radiation from a spike caused by uncertainty in the detector and its display.
In any case, Halt’s readings actually peaked at .07 milliroentgens per hour – happily within the normal accepted range for background radiation, between .05 and .1 milliroentgens per hour; so we’re forced to conclude that despite the colonel’s interpretation of his results, there’s no evidence of any notable increase in radiation levels at the Rendlesham site in 1980.
Finally, we’re now offered Halt’s new evidence – the statements from his radar operators, who didn’t want to speak out before they retired. I presume they would at least have alerted their supervisors at the time to evidence of intelligently controlled unknown aircraft performing extreme manoeuvres in UK airspace near a sensitive military installation. If not, then this alone raises enormous questions about their reliability. But let’s put this aside for the moment: we’re still left with a claim that an unidentified contact was observed to cover 60 miles in 2-3 seconds. Let’s say 2. That gives us a speed of 108,000 miles per hour. In atmosphere. Just to give us some perspective, when the space shuttle re-entered the atmosphere, it experienced a gravitational load of around +7g, and a hull temperature increase of nearly 2,000°C. And that was starting from an orbital speed of ‘just’ 17,500 mph – an order of magnitude lower than the sort of speeds claimed for the Rendlesham radar contact. The shuttle descended from the heavens in a ball of fire and fury, noise and light and smoke. The people of Suffolk – or Britain in general – would hardly have needed radar to tell them that something was travelling through their air at 108,000 mph.
And the claim that the object was detected by radar implies that it was solid. Had it been some sort of psychic disturbance or energy projection, then sure – such speeds wouldn’t have been a problem physically speaking – but in that case, the object wouldn’t have shown up on instruments. The whole purpose of all the claims made about Rendlesham is to prove the object was a real, solid thing. But that then raises the objection about the speed. It’s not that an object couldn’t be made to travel through air at over a hundred thousand miles per hour – but there’s absolutely no way it could do it and manoeuvre sharply without killing, injuring or at least frightening the bells out of everyone within a hundred miles. And this was still the Cold War: NATO would’ve dropped on that shit from every direction. There’s no conceivable way they could have mounted a cover-up or kept it a local matter.
In case I’m giving the impression that I just outright “don’t believe in UFOs”, you should know that I do – and I do mean in the sense of “objects under the control of an agency alien to humankind”. What I don’t think they are is “people from space”; nor do I believe that it’s sensible to push aside evidence of mundanity in the pursuit of bizarre alternatives. The bizarre incidents are out there, but this isn’t one of them. Surprisingly often they go relatively unnoticed while non-events like Rendlesham make the headlines. Rendlesham does make for a good story – but if I look at the details I don’t see anything that inclines me to believe there was anything paranormal about it.
And I think that’s a tremendous shame.