Fighter Jets Chase UFO Down the M5 (Or Do They?)
By Nick Pope
YouTube and ufology are inextricably linked at present, with many of the biggest UFO stories revolving around brief video clips that subsequently get picked up by the mainstream media. The Russian Halo cloud; the Moscow pyramid; the Iran cloud split. These brief descriptions will doubtless mean nothing to those who are unfamiliar with the cases, but to those in the know, the footage will come to mind instantly. The most recent case to capture the imagination first of ufologists but then of the wider public is the M5 jet chase footage. So what’s the story and why did a 30 second film clip become an international news story?
The footage itself was apparently taken at a lay by or a service station alongside the M5 motorway. We see some trucks in the foreground and hear traffic noise. The camera then focuses on a disc-shaped object in the sky, before showing two military jets, close together. While the jets and the UFO are never seen in the same frame, the implication is that the jets are flying towards the UFO, perhaps to try to identify it or possibly even to engage it.
It’s difficult to overstate the role and influence of The Sun, in relation to ufology. Britain’s bestselling national daily newspaper has championed the UFO issue over the last couple of years, even running a UFO story as their main front page headline on two separate occasions. Following the termination of the MoD’s UFO project at the end of 2009, The Sun launched its own initiative to act as a focal point for perople to send their UFO stories, photos and videos, filling the gap left by the MoD’s withdrawal. The Sun ran this story on 10th April 2010 under the headline “Fighter Jets Chase UFO Down The M5”. I was quoted in this story, saying that the footage was interesting. West Midlands Police issued a brief statement saying “We are not aware of any reports of unidentified aircraft near the M5”. In a move that added to the mystery, MoD refused to comment, though they confirmed that it would scramble jets to meet “an air threat”.
The Story Takes Off
The Daily Mail also ran the story and once two of the UK’s national daily newspapers ran the story, numerous other media outlets followed. Tracking the story on Google News - including duplicates and stories in foreign languages - showed that hundreds of mainstream media newspapers and websites all around the world had run the story. I was also interviewed on British Forces Television about the case. The story was posted and discussed on almost every UFO-related news website, forum and email list in the world. One YouTube clip of the film alone had been viewed 60,000 times. The total number of views is much higher, but difficult to count, given the fact that the video has been posted several times on YouTube and on other video sharing websites.
For anyone producing something for the internet, the ultimate accolade is for your content to go viral. In other words, for word to spread via blogs and forums and email lists, for the clip to be repeatedly cross posted and for the view count on sites such as YouTube to go stratospheric. Obama Girl, Charlie Bit My Finger, lonelygirl15 and the various parodies of Hitler’s ranting speech from the film Downfall are good examples. The “UFO Haiti” video is a good example of a UFO clip that went viral. Made by a filmmaker showcasing his CGI skills, the clip has over 12 millions views on YouTube. This, by any measure, is a big audience. So whether you have what you believe is genuine footage of a UFO, or whether you want to fool the world, the internet – and in particular sites such as YouTube – is the key to getting out your message.
The Controversy Begins
With the M5 film footage having been featured in the mainstream media and going viral on the internet, the debate began. Hundreds of comments were posted on YouTube and in almost every other site where the footage was featured. A number of people highlighted factors they believed showed the film was a CGI fake. The trucks were too clean. The aircraft (there was considerable debate over what type they were) were flying too close together for this to be an interception. The person who took the film had inexplicably stopped filming after 30 seconds. No further witnesses had come forward and no additional imagery had emerged, despite this being a UFO sighting in broad daylight, lasting some time, in a public place – in a situation where most people’s mobile phones now have the capability to take photos and videos. Others defended the footage, pointing to MoD’s enigmatic “no comment” when a quick denial would have killed a story on one of the Department’s least favourite subjects. One person even suggested this was a CGI rendering of a real event and that the original footage was probably in a secure vault somewhere in MoD Main Building. These sorts of debates go on with all video clips of this nature.
More Footage Emerges
As debate about the footage reached fever pitch, a second clip emerged. This was 57 seconds in length and while it was essentially just more of the same, there were a couple of interesting extras. Firstly, in this clip, the jets and the UFO did appear in the same frame. Secondly, there’s an indistinct voiceover where at one point a male voice utters something that sounds like “I told you they’re going to blast it down”. In this clip the aircraft apparently make two passes and this led to debate about whether the jets would have been able to turn as quickly as they did for the second pass – if not, surely this was more evidence for this being a fake? Meanwhile, in an encouraging sign of the thoroughness of people’s research, someone had looked into the serial numbers on the sides of the P & O truck and attempted to correlate it with the serial number on pre-existing 3-D CGI renderings of such a vehicle.
On the balance of probability, I think the video is a CGI fake. MoD’s “no comment” sounds like a standard press office response to most - if not all – UFO-related inquiries from the media. It probably reflects nothing more sinister than a desire to avoid getting drawn back into the UFO debate so soon after having extricated themselves from it by virtue of releasing their UFO files to the National Archives, then terminating their UFO project.
As a freelance journalist, I’m familiar with the saying “today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper”. In the internet age, this is less true than it used to be. While the mainstream media has moved on to the next UFO story, ufologists will continue to discuss and debate this. The media stories are still available in the Google News Archive and elsewhere on the web. The clips themselves are still on YouTube. This story will run and run. Again, wearing my freelance journalist hat, I find this fascinating. Because what all of this shows is that in the internet age, the way stories like this spread is as much a part of the story as the footage itself. And while this may be heresy to some, we end up in a situation where it almost doesn’t matter if the video is real or fake. Because while this is a story that might tell us something about UFOs, it’s really a story that tells us something about ourselves.