Date: Wed, 12 Aug 2009 11:45:10 -0500
From: Francis Ridge <>
Subject: Canberra Crew Has Good Radar/Visual Over Salisbury Plain, Early 1953

Captain Edward J. Ruppelt (The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects; Chapter 10, page 130):

During the time that I was chief of the UFO project, the visitors who passed through my office closely resembled the international brigade. Most of the visits were unofficial in the sense that the officers came to ATIC on other business, but in many instances the other business was just an excuse to come out to Dayton to get filled in on the UFO story. Two RAF intelligence officers who were in the U.S. on a classified mission brought six single-spced typed pages of questions they and their friends wanted answered

Fran Ridge:
This report was extracted from The UFO Conspiracy by Jenny Randles (pages 41-42), and radar case selected and submitted by Jan Aldrich.

Page 41:
Some military officials are "seriously considering the possibility of interplanetary spaceships": FBI Memo, 27 Oct 1952

Three thousand miles from Washington DC, about the time the CIA panel met, an RAF pilot and his science officer were on another secret mission.

The officer was Flight Lieutenant Cyril George Townsend-Withers (later to become a senior scientific officer, specializing in radar and working with the MoD at the rank of Wing Commander). It was a crisp, sunny day in early 1953 and they were flying a new experimental Canberra aircraft, not yet into production.

The jet had been stripped of all removable parts to make it as light as possible. With this modification they were able to leave the RAF test base in Boscombe Down in Sussex and soar to 55,000 feet, then a record for the aircraft. At this lonely elevation they could be sure of no company and complete freedom from the problems of the atmosphere. This was necessary in order that they could test a new breed of radar being fitted to the plane.

Cruising over Salisbury Plain just after noon, Townsend-Withers picked up the blip on his screen. It showed an object travelling five miles behind them and maintaining station. His immediate reaction was to curse the 'anomalous propagation' effects which they had gone to so much trouble to avoid. Having soon established it was no such thing, however, became very aware that this was an image of something real - something actually flying right behind them.

The science officer went up to the turret to take a look at the sky behind the aircraft. Sure enough, glinting in the sun or pouring out a fantastic amount od its own light, he could make out a round shape trailing in their wake.

Townsend-Withers called his pilot on the microphone and told him that he could see an unknown. He suggested they try to fly faster and outpace it. They reached 225 knots but the thing would not be shaken off. So the pilot executed a sweeping radius turn, which meant that they lost the target from ??? because it was rearward facing only; but it was not to be gone for long.

As the Canberra came around from its turn the object swung back into

view. It was dead ahead. Both men could now see it, as they raced through the sky.

For half a minute they were on a collision course with the unknown, swiftly trying to calculate what to do next. In those seconds they had a very clear view. They could see that the object was completely unlike anything which they had ever encountered before. It was round, like a thin disc, but with two small tailfins at the rear. It seemed to be metallic and enormous, and it was simply sitting there waiting for them to fly right into it.

During the decision about evasive tactics to get out of its way the UFO suddenly made this irrelevant. It flipped vertically into the air and climbed upwards at an astonishing rate. 'Fifty, sixty, seventy thousand feet - as quick as you could say it.' Leaving no vapour trail, wake or detectable sound, the thing vanished within just a couple of seconds way into the blue.

Of course, the two RAF men knew that they had encountered something utterly fantastic. In 1986 Townsend-Withers was still describing it as 'a reconnaissance device from somewhere else - that is all I could say about it.' No earth-bound aircraft looked like it, behaved like it or could reach such a height. They knew that some sort of official report was essential, but who would believe them? They had heard tell of flying saucers' - garbled stories carried by the media. The assumption was to treat these as an American craziness, something 'Yanks' were seeing but nobody else. Certainly not conservative, stiff-upper-lip British airmen.

However, when they did report, the reaction on the ground was surprising. Townsend-Withers says, 'once we satisfied them it was not a Russian plane they just weren't interested'. He was debriefed by the radar manufacturers, who were convinced their system was working perfectly. The radar return had definitely been of a real object. Boscombe Down also apparently channelled the report through to the Air Ministry (now the Ministry of Defence) and told the science officer in confidence, that they had a project evaluating UFO sightings from the point of view that they might be extra-terrestrial. This, of course, was not to be made public as it could be interpreted as governmental support for the idea.

Yet this project never contacted Townsend-Withers again. A classic daylight UFO sighting, with two experienced officers as witnesses, radar back-up and a near collision with a secret mission, was practically ignored. Townsend-Withers was almost as concerned by such a lack of action a was by the UFO encounter itself. Surely somebody, somewhere, was taking note of such things?