The Calvine UFO Photo


By Nick Pope

The Calvine UFO photo is the most spectacular UFO photo ever sent to the Ministry of Defence. It's also missing. This is the story of what happened.

The saga began on 4 August 1990 when two members of the public out walking in the vicinity of Calvine, near Pitlochry, in Scotland, sighted a massive, diamond-shaped, metallic UFO. The UFO was virtually stationary and hovered silently for what the witnesses believed was several minutes, before accelerating away vertically at massive speed. During the sighting, a military aircraft, believed to be a Harrier, was seen, but it wasn't clear if it was escorting the craft, attempting to intercept it, or whether the pilot was ever aware of it at all.

A number of colour photographs were taken and passed to the Scottish Daily Record, who in contacted the MoD, probably because they were seeking a comment for the story. It’s not clear what happened next, because I didn’t join MoD’s UFO project until 1991 and this investigation was handled by my predecessor. It seems that, somehow, MoD managed to persuade the reporter to part with not just the photos, but the negatives.

The photos were then sent to the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) who then sent them on to imagery analysts at JARIC (Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre). Yet at the time, MoD hadn’t even publicly acknowledged that there was any intelligence interest in UFOs at all. The whole situation was positively Orwellian. One the one hand, our line to Parliament, the media and the public was that UFOs were of “no defence significance”. We implied and sometimes stated that we didn’t “investigate” UFOs, but merely “examined sightings to see if anything reported was of any defence interest” – as if the two were somehow different! I sometimes felt like Winston Smith working for the Ministry of Truth. This was – literally – doublethink.

So why the MoD interest and secrecy? Though we’d never say so publicly, the bottom line was that we wanted the technology. We were interested in UFO photos such as these in case they could tell us something about propulsion systems, energy sources, avionics systems, aerodynamics, etc. There was a running joke that we didn’t care if a craft such as the one shown in the Calvine UFO photo was American, Russian or Martian – all we knew was that it was better than anything we had and that we wanted the technology for our own military aircraft and drones.

I first came across this story in 1991, when I joined the UFO project. A poster-sized enlargement of the best photo was prominently displayed on the office wall. I worked in a four-person office my predecessor had put it up. It was one of the few visible UFO-related items on display; most stuff was locked away. The office dealt with some other issues too; most of us had been seconded into the Air Force Operations Room during the 1990/91 Gulf War. After the war one of my jobs was to read draft book manuscripts that had to do with Air Force aspects of the war, to ensure nothing classified, detrimental to the Service or embarrassing went in. Sometimes, people would come to our office to discuss non-UFO business and some of these people weren’t aware that the UFO project was embedded in the section. You’d have this surreal moment when they’d stop mid-sentence, stare at it, point and say “what the hell’s that?” – this wasn’t the archetypal distant, blurred UFO photo. This was up close and personal, reach out and you can touch it stuff. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s not one of ours” was our stock answer to the inevitable question.

The X-Files first aired in the UK in 1994 and I acquired the same nickname (Spooky) as Fox Mulder, for obvious reasons. Mulder famously had his “I want to believe” UFO poster on his office wall and though uncaptioned, I suppose this was my equivalent. Word got around and people would swing by to take a look, even when they had no obvious business in our section.

I asked my DIS opposite number about the image. I was told that the official assessment was that the photos were real and the craft had a diameter of around 25 metres (over 80 feet). At one particularly surreal briefing on the UFO phenomenon my DIS opposite number indicated the photo and pointed his finger to the right: “It’s not the Americans”, he said, before pointing to the left and saying “and it’s not the Russians”. There was a pause, before he concluded “and that only leaves …” - his voice trailed off and he didn’t complete the sentence, but his finger was pointing directly upwards.

Despite this sensational conclusion, MoD documents show that if the media asked, the line to take on this was to be that "no definite conclusion had been reached regarding the large diamond-shaped object".

At some point in 1994 my Head of Division (a civilian, equivalent in rank to a One Star military officer and long-since retired) had somehow convinced himself that the craft was a secret, prototype aircraft or drone – probably American. But in response to repeated sightings of triangular-shaped UFOs capable of hovering and then accelerating away rapidly at high-Mach speeds, we’d just received assurances from the appropriate US authorities that the US wasn’t testing anything like this over the UK. On the basis of these assurances, Defence Ministers had assured Parliament that no such aircraft/drones were being flown - so perhaps my Head of Division thought this was a lie and thought he was being loyal when one day he took the photo away and locked it in his desk drawer. On the other hand, he was probably the one who drafted the Parliamentary assurances, so maybe he was just covering his back.

What happened next? The suspicion was that someone had shredded the photo, but whatever the truth of the matter, it was never seen again. The same thing had happened with some Defence Intelligence Staff files on the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident that it turned out had been inadvertently destroyed and I was in the same position again: I think some people thought I’d put all this stuff through the shredder myself, but I promise I didn’t.

This was some years before the UK got its Freedom of Information Act. At the time, shredding the photo – if that’s what happened – would probably have been a legitimate (albeit unfortunate) action. If such an action happened post-FOI and was a deliberate attempt to circumnavigate the Act, it would have been illegal.

Ufologists first came across this story in 1996 when I mentioned it briefly in my first book, Open Skies Closed Minds. The story broke in the media in March 2009, when the MoD released the third batch of UFO files to the National Archives, as part of the wider program to declassify and release the entire archive of UFO files. As I'd worked on MoD's UFO project, had been involved in the release of the files and was the media's 'go-to guy' for anything on UFOs, I was asked about the matter by numerous media outlets. A detailed article on this story ran in The Scotsman and on the Sky News Website - though many others covered the story too. The story received further publicity in 2012 with coverage in the Huffington Post and The Scottish Daily Record - as well as The Sun - which continues to champion the UFO issue.

Despite the various media interviews that I did on this story, and associated public appeals, the witnesses have never come forward. Neither has anyone at the Scottish Daily Record (or any other Scottish newspaper) come forward to say that they worked on this story back in 1990. Understandably, this has generated a few conspiracy theories. I wonder if the truth is a little more mundane. In their desperation to acquire the photos/negatives (and maybe kill the story), maybe DIS staff somehow tricked the journalist into handing over all the material and never gave it back. If the journalist hadn’t briefed the editor, he may have stayed silent out of embarrassment. Similarly, maybe the witnesses were told that it would be better if they didn’t discuss what they’d seen and took this as a threat.

The MoD files that contain documents relating to this case have been released and are available at the National Archives, though MoD says that no trace has been found of the images, aside from one poor quality photocopy of a line drawing that was done as part of the original MoD investigation. The documents can be found in the following National Archives files:

DEFE 24/1940/1 - page 114
DEFE 31/179/1 - pages 157-8
DEFE 31/180 - pages 55-57
DEFE 31/180/1 - pages 37-38

I don't know if the photos or negatives will ever turn up, but I certainly hope they do. Because whatever peoples’ views on UFOs, these are the photos that changed the minds of numerous skeptical civil servants, military personnel and intelligence specialists at MoD. I should know. I was one of them.