The truth is out there… UFO expert Nick Pope talks about aliens
I’ve been involved with the subject of UFOs since 1991, but unlike most people with this interest, this didn’t result from my having a sighting and it wasn’t a hobby – it was my government job! I worked for the Ministry of Defence for 21 years, from 1985 to 2006. I had a varied and enjoyable career, but by far my most bizarre MoD job was one that I did from 1991 to 1994, when my responsibilities included researching and investigating UFOs.
The MoD’s UFO project dates back to the Fifties and the wonderfully-named Flying Saucer Working Party. This had been set up in 1950 by MoD’s Chief Scientific Adviser, the great radar pioneer Sir Henry Tizard, who said that UFO sightings should not be dismissed without first carrying out some sort of proper scientific investigation.
In fact, the Working Party’s conclusions were sceptical. Their final report – issued in 1951 – concluded that UFO sightings were misidentifications, hoaxes or delusions and they recommended that no further investigations be carried out. But in 1952 the MoD was reluctantly dragged back into the subject after a wave of sightings during a large NATO exercise, where UFOs were seen by numerous RAF pilots, and tracked on radar, performing extraordinary speeds and manoeuvres.
The suspicion, of course, was that we were dealing with Russians, not Martians. However, the MoD and the RAF kept open minds and the terms of reference of the MoD’s UFO project simply involved investigating all UFO sightings to see whether there was evidence of any potential threat to the UK, or anything of more general “defence interest” – a phrase we carefully avoided defining.
When I was posted to this section in 1991 I had no idea what to expect. I had no interest in UFOs and no particular beliefs on the subject. So far as I can recall, the first sighting that I investigated involved white, red and green lights not far from Heathrow! My conclusion, unsurprisingly, was “probable aircraft”. Most of the 200-300 sightings that I investigated each year turned out to have simple explanations: aircraft lights, weather balloons, meteors, satellites and various other conventional objects and phenomena. But around 5% remained unexplained and some of these cases involved sightings from police officers, military personnel and pilots.
One of the most fascinating cases I investigated took place in March 1993 and involved a UFO that flew over two military bases. One of the RAF witnesses described seeing a large triangular-shaped craft which flew very slowly over RAF Shawbury in the Midlands, before accelerating away to the horizon many times faster than a military jet. Our first suspicion was that this was a prototype aircraft or drone – a new spy plane, perhaps. But our investigations drew a complete blank.
The job involved more than simply investigating UFOs. A typical day might involve anything from responding to questions from the media to helping a child with a school project on UFOs. It was a fascinating job, but although I became known as the real-life Fox Mulder, MoD’s UFO project wasn’t quite as glamorous as The X-Files!
Despite lots of conspiracy theories suggesting that we were covering up the truth about UFOs, there was no conspiracy. Or rather, if the authorities really do have a crashed UFO hidden away somewhere, I’m afraid they didn’t tell me. People can see for themselves, because the MoD is in the process of declassifying and releasing the entire archive of UFO files. That’s because when the Freedom of Information Act was introduced, MoD received more requests about UFOs than on any other subject!
I’m often asked what I think aliens will look like or what might happen if we ever encounter extraterrestrials. Hollywood has come up with a variety of answers to the first question: some cute, others frightening. My own view is that aliens may look like nothing we’ve even remotely imagined. But one thing I think is quite likely is that we’ll be dealing with robots or cyborgs. Our first encounter with extraterrestrials might involve artificial intelligence and that being the case, they might make contact via our computers: an email from ET, so to speak!
When I left the MoD, I became a journalist and broadcaster. Unsurprisingly, given my previous experience, I’ve specialised in the unexplained, conspiracy theories and science fiction. I often get involved with movies, TV shows or computer games with an extraterrestrial theme and I’m currently involved in promoting the new alien invasion computer game XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It’s a turn-based strategy game in which you build a headquarters, select a team and undertake various missions, which can involve anything from shooting down a UFO and battling aliens, through to researching alien technologies. The game combines tactical gameplay with some incredible action sequences and on-the ground combat. It’s challenging and great fun.
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