It was out of the blue on a clear summer’s afternoon when the UFOs came.
Retired RAF air traffic control supervisor Alan Turner, from Shrewsbury, remembers it only too well – it’s a moment he has kept secret for more than 35 years.
“The radar room was completely darkened and you had the glow of the radar tubes and there were six people on three consoles, then myself and a duty NCO, plus the co-co-ordination team, so there were ten pairs of eyes in total,” says Alan recalling the scene in the air traffic control operations room at RAF Sopley, Hampshire, in 1971.
“I was sitting at a desk waiting to see if anything might happen when I heard somebody shout ‘What was that?’ I leaned over to the chap who had shouted and he pointed to four blips coming into radar cover east of the Salisbury Plain danger area, an area where the military fire guns.
“We had blips coming into radar cover at 3,000 feet climbing very fast and tracking south east at speed, and you had six or seven of them, all climbing, with one in excess of 60,000 feet. It was constant for about 20 to 25 minutes – that means there would have been 35 to 40 of them.”
Now aged 67, Alan says “UFOs are a fact and I don’t care who knows” and is suspicious of the shroud of secrecy thrown up in the wake of his experience.
He says normally controllers would be told in advance of any aircraft flying in the area that might initially seem to be unexplained and which could cause alarm, but on this occasion there was no word, no explanation from the MoD.
As the supervisor of the control room, he immediately contacted Heathrow Airport to see if they knew anything.
“They could see the same thing,” says Alan. “I contacted fighter control at Suffolk and they could see them as well.”
At his home in Monkmoor, he tells how he scrambled a bomber to fly in and take a closer look. A quarter of a mile from the suspect objects the pilot became concerned, telling Alan over the radio: “I don’t know what that was but it was shifting like the clappers.”
Alan impounded the radar tapes and submitted his operations report to the squadron leader.
Everyone who’d been in the radar room that day was also filed reports on what they had seen and a couple of days later were summoned to an interview with two faced men who did not identify themselves.
“Everybody was interviewed separately and as supervisor I was first and last,” Alan continues. “I was introduced to them as Flight Officer Turner – I had no idea who they were. We were all told later – in no uncertain terms – not to talk about it, so we didn’t.”
Of course, Shropshire has become a hotspot for UFO sightings and groups flock to the county, but on the whole these have been anecdotal and largely explained in some quarters as being aircraft taking part in military operations from one of the nearby RAF airbases.
On the wild side, there have even been reports of people claiming they have been abducted by aliens – not a belief that Alan subscribes, although when he delivers a keynote speech to the International UFO Conference tomorrow in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, he admits that he has been asked to meet one woman who says that just this happened to her.
Other people have reported unidentified lights in the sky that have been verified by independent sightings.
“Shropshire is a major area for aircraft training so you get a lot more activity – I’m sure 99 per cent of sightings can be explained but there’s always that odd blip that can not.”
With any so-called UFO sightings there are sceptics and theorists. Alan was taken to task by a professor at Sheffield University who claimed the ‘blips’ he witnessed were most probably Lightning aircraft.
“I wrote him three sides of A4 as to why they were not aircraft,” he says, explaining that the MoD at the time had a total fleet of only around 40 and there wouldn’t be a commander on earth who would fly the lot at the same time.
“And Lightnings are loud – are you telling me that Joe Public would not have heard something?”
Until recent weeks, Alan, who later rose to the rank of Wing Commander, has only talked about what he saw that day on his radar screen with close pals. He reveals that an RAF colleague from Church Stretton who manned the north of England radar had seen similar unknown objects on their screens – objects that “defied all logic”.
He also knows people in the county “with all their brain cells in the right order” who have seen unexplained objects with the naked eye, and whose reports Alan believes in.
If he never talked about his own mystery sightings, his curiosity about them never waned. Now he wants the public to know that UFOs – whatever they are – quite possibly do exist.
“I had no idea what they were but I do keep an open mind – I tracked something that was unknown. I would like to think they were aircraft but I don’t think it was. You cannot get that many in the same place without somebody knowing about it.
“I did not speak about it until I retired because of professional integrity. People look at you and say ‘you are mad’.
“Well I’m not mad.”
He adds: “I think it’s arrogant to think that we are alone. I don’t think we are but I’ve got no proof.”
By Ben Bentley
Seems like a reliable witness to me.