On the evening of August 4 1990, two witnesses in Calvine, Scotland, saw a vast, diamond-shaped UFO. The UFO hovered for about 10 minutes before ascending vertically at high speed. For the first 5 or 6 minutes of the sighting, a military jet aircraft was seen in the vicinity of the craft, making a number of close, low-level approaches, before flying off.
The witnesses took a number of photographs, and six negatives were subsequently sent to the Scottish Daily Record, who intended to run a story on the sighting. Seeking a comment from the appropriate authorities prior to publication, the newspaper passed the negatives to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), where they were examined by subject matter experts in Secretariat (Air Staff) – the division with the policy and investigative lead on UFOs – and by various specialists in the Defence Intelligence Staff. At a later date they were examined by imagery analysts at the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre. No evidence of hoaxing was found and the consensus was that the photos did indeed show a large, structured craft, at some distance from the camera. No definite conclusion was reached about the object. A leading theory was the possibility that it was a secret, prototype aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicle, perhaps belonging to the UK or an ally (the highly classified and deeply compartmentalized nature of such a program might explain why even MoD subject matter experts like Nick Pope, who had TS/SCI security clearances, wouldn’t necessarily be cleared to know about it), or perhaps belonging to a foreign adversary. Even the extraterrestrial hypothesis was considered, and wasn’t entirely ruled out.
The first public mention of the Calvine incident came in 1996, when Nick Pope gave a brief, unclassified account of the matter in his bestselling book “Open Skies Closed Minds” (the manuscript of which had to undergo security vetting prior to publication). Nick Pope’s posting to the MoD’s ‘UFO desk’ was from 1991 to 1994, so it was his predecessor who undertook the investigation. But Nick Pope had access to the file, inherited some of the political fallout, and also described how a poster-sized enlargement of the best image was displayed on his office wall for some years, until his head of division removed it – having convinced himself (or perhaps having been told) that the object was a secret prototype aircraft, and that the photo ought not to be on display. The fact that the sighting had taken place just 2 days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait had convinced some in the MoD that this was classified U.S. aerospace technology, perhaps being readied for deployment to the Gulf region.
When the MoD UFO files were declassified and released (a process in which Nick Pope was involved), no trace of the various copies of the photos that had been taken could be found, and some of the documents (e.g. the detailed analyses themselves) were not included. The MoD stated that the negatives had been returned to the Scottish Daily Record at the time, even though nobody at the newspaper has confirmed this, and no story was ever published – leading some to believe that the MoD used various tactics to kill the story and to ensure that the witnesses didn’t speak out. Later, the MoD, the National Archives and the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that the identities of the witnesses should be withheld until 2076, in line with data protection provisions in the UK’s Freedom of Information Act. See the two links below for more details on these aspects of the story.
The issue was also raised in parliament in 1996, and the written question and answer can be viewed at the link below (to the official UK parliament website), at the bottom.
Over the years, the case has been featured in numerous TV documentaries. In 2015 Nick Pope was working on one such documentary and teamed up with a graphic artist to produce a recreation of the best of the images, based on material in the declassified MoD files, and on his own personal recollection of the photos. Nick Pope – and two former MoD colleagues who also saw the original – states that the recreation (the image posted on this page) is a very close match. In August 2022 an image that some claim to be one of the original photos was published in the media, having been passed to several civilian ufologists by a retired Royal Air Force press officer, Craig Lindsay. Neither the MoD nor Nick Pope has commented on the provenance of the Craig Lindsay image, and Nick Pope has neither confirmed nor denied that it’s one of the originals that he had access to at the MoD.
A handful of MoD documents relating to the incident have survived. Three can be seen at the link below – to a declassified MoD UFO file (DEFE 24/2048/1), on pages 27, 28 and 29.
More can be seen at the link below – to another declassified MoD UFO file (DEFE 31/180/1), on pages 36, 37 and 38, and on pages 54, 55 and 56.
Notwithstanding the above, the only images acknowledged by the MoD to be authentic are the two on pages 36 and 37 at the link above: poor quality black and white photocopies (one of which is reproduced below).
Those wanting a deeper dive into this fascinating story may wish to watch the videos at the links below: