Revealed after 32 years, the top secret picture one MOD insider calls ‘the most spectacular UFO photo ever captured’
So why do officials want to keep the identities of the men who took it secret for another 50 years?
On August 4, 1990, two young men were working as chefs in a hotel in Pitlochry, a beautiful Highland Perthshire town, just outside the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland.
At 9pm, after a long day in a hot kitchen, they drove about 13 miles north along the A9 to Calvine, a spot on the edge of the Cairngorms, for a walk in the hills.
They hadn’t gone far when they saw a huge, solid, diamond-shaped object, about 100ft long, hovering silently in the sky above them. Terrified, they hid in some bushes and looked up.
Minutes later, they heard the scream of a jet aircraft going north: In 1990, RAF Leuchars in Fife had two squadrons of Tornado fighters on 24-hour standby to intercept Russian intruder aircraft.
The jet came back and circled the ‘thing’ before heading off on its original course, as if the pilot had seen the object too and had come back for a closer look.
Eventually the two men stuck their camera out from where they were hiding and fired off six frames. At that point, the object shot vertically upwards and disappeared way, way up in to the sky.
Convinced they’d just seen a UFO, they took their photos to the Daily Record, one of Scotland’s leading newspapers. But no story was ever printed: The paper passed the pictures on to the Ministry of Defence.
And then, the photographs simply vanished — along with the two young chefs.
Until now. Here, for the first time, we can reveal that missing picture — a photograph one MoD insider described as the most spectacular UFO picture ever captured, and the Holy Grail in terms of hard evidence that these things really exist.
It’s a picture the MoD and The National Archives have tried their utmost to keep hidden. While the information would normally have been released after 30 years, the Ministry has not released the original photo and wants the names of the witnesses sealed for a further 54 years — until 2076 — because of ‘privacy concerns’.
Unearthed: Former RAF officer Craig Lindsay with the photo he kept hidden for 32 years
As a university lecturer and investigative reporter who’s spent three decades immersed in the world of UFOlogy, I heard the story of the mysterious ‘Calvine file’ — as the missing photo and report of that incident at Calvine came to be known — many moons ago and have devoted the past 13 years doggedly searching for the images the men took.
What happened to the file, the men who pictured the UFO and how and why its very existence has been suppressed for 32 years, was a puzzle I was determined to crack. Wherever I searched for answers, however, I found insiders blocking my inquiries — until I struck lucky and found retired RAF officer Craig Lindsay, the first official to speak to one of the young chefs after that night.
He was willing to talk to me and, most exciting of all, I discovered that he’d broken protocol that day and stashed a copy of the image before, on Whitehall’s orders, sending the entire dossier — negatives included — to the Ministry of Defence in London.
He’d kept the secret copy in his desk for 32 years — hidden inside his copy of Great Aircraft Of The World. When I eventually tracked him down, now 83 and still living in Scotland, he sounded almost relieved.
‘I have been for waiting for someone to contact about this for more than 30 years,’ he said.
So, what do I make of it? The moment Craig showed the photograph to me I knew I was looking at something exceptional. Yes, it is a black and white image, printed on colour paper, and the trees and fence look a little blurry, as if the photographer took it in a moment of panic — which is consistent with their story. But the camera is focused on the weird diamond shaped object in the centre of the frame. Unlike many other UFO images, this is clearly a structured craft of unknown origin. It looks other-worldly and unlike any conventional aircraft.
And it is by far the best UFO photograph I have ever seen.
Believe me, I’m no gullible, deluded conspiracy theorist. I’d grown cynical after viewing hundreds of unconvincing photographs and films: Blurry, grainy, out of focus shots of what easily could have been frisbees, streetlamps or even seagulls.
But this was clearly something different. I’ve since had it analysed by Andrew Robinson, a senior lecturer in photography at Sheffield Hallam University. He is convinced it is genuine, and if it is a hoax, then a highly elaborate one, involving expensive, sophisticated equipment and flying models, not at the disposal of two jobbing hotel chefs.
He told me: ‘My conclusion is that the object is definitely in front of the camera, that is, it’s not a fake produced in post-production, and its placement within the scene appears to be approximately halfway between the foreground fence and the plane in the background.’
Mr Lindsay, a pragmatic, logical former civil servant who spent ten years in the military, is convinced the image — and the frightened man he spoke to on that day — are genuine. Initially, he was worried about speaking to me in case he was in breach of the Official Secrets Act. But after 32 years of doing what he was told, and keeping quiet, he now wants the truth to emerge.
‘As a press officer for Scotland, I dealt with many UFO reports but most were just of lights in the sky. It was obvious this one was different. When I asked what sort of noise it had made, the man said, “It didn’t make any noise at all.” Up to that point I wasn’t treating it very seriously but when he said it was silent, I suddenly realised there is no aircraft that I know of that is silent.’
Lindsay arranged for the negatives the men had handed to the Daily Record to be collected and faxed a copy of the best print to the Ministry of Defence’s now-defunct UFO desk in London.
‘Before I could even get back to my desk the phone was ringing and my contact said, “Tell me more about this. Can you get the negatives?”’
When he visited the MoD later that year, however, he saw the Calvine photo blown up to poster size on the UFO office wall.
‘I asked how they were getting on. They said it was being investigated. I was told to “leave it to London”… they asked me not to get involved, so I have done exactly that,’ he said.
‘The years passed and gradually I just forgot about the print in my drawer. Now I hope the two witnesses will come forward and tell their own stories.’
I hope so too. My interest in UFO sightings started in the 1990s when, working as a journalist in Yorkshire, I began using the Freedom of Information Act to request access to MoD files on famous UFO sightings such as the Rendlesham Forest incident that is often called Britain’s Roswell (an incident in 1947 in New Mexico long believed to have been a cover-up of UFO evidence).
In 2008, shortly before the MoD disbanded their UFO desk, I had become such an authority on the MoD files that I was offered the opportunity to curate the release of thousands of once secret UFO papers at The National Archives.
Fast forward: How the spot in Calvine where the mysterious photo was taken looks today
In here, among the hundreds of drawings from schoolchildren and letters from UFO conspiracy theorists demanding to know where the aliens were being kept, I found a poor-quality, photocopied drawing of a UFO with a Harrier beside it.
Yet, even more intriguingly, alongside the image there was a briefing prepared for Defence Ministers in Margaret Thatcher’s government of the time if they were approached to comment on the sighting.
The wording was vague and non-committal, the typical ‘swatting away’ investigators are used to. Under the sub-heading ‘Defensive Lines to Take’ is the official response the MoD should give, if asked.
‘Have looked at the photographs, no definite conclusions reached regarding large diamond-shaped object. Confident that jet aircraft is a Harrier. Have no record of Harriers operating in location at stated date/time. No other reports received by MoD of unusual air activity or sightings at location/date/time.’
I checked, but of course, no one did ask. The story was immediately shelved. I went looking for more.
Although the sparse MoD papers on the Calvine sighting were declassified, the names of the photographer (and Craig Lindsay) were removed from the file under Data Protection laws. Normally, these would have been released after 30 years — on January 1, 2020 — but the MoD and The National Archives continue to insist they must be kept secret for another 54 years — until 2076 — because of ‘privacy concerns’.
Even the Daily Record’s decision not to publish the story is intriguing. Had it been spiked by a D-Notice — a gagging order based on national security concerns, served by the MoD?
While this might sound like something from TV’s The X-Files, some clever sleuthing by my fellow UFOlogist Matthew Illsley discovered that the Record’s editor, the late Endell Laird, had been a member of the MoD’s D-Notice committee at the time. A coincidence?
Matthew from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire is challenging the extended closure decision that he says is unjustified, asking: ‘What have they got to hide after all these years?’
So what was it? Sadly, I do not think that mysterious aircraft arrived from another galaxy. I believe it was man-made somewhere in a secret hangar — and whatever it was remains on the secret list and highly sensitive. The witnesses had simply been in that ‘million to one’ chance of being in that particular place at that particular time, and needed to be shut up.
Remember, this was 1990, the Cold War was still a year away from thawing. The Gulf War started literally days earlier. The world was — as many would argue it still is today — divided along ‘them and us’ battle lines.
Since the mid-Eighties, there had been rumours of a top secret, exotic, American reconnaissance aircraft named ‘Aurora’ — a silent, supersonic, geometrically shaped craft, used for spy missions.
Although there has never been any substantial evidence that it was ever built or flown, there have been numerous unexplained sightings and incidents in both the US and the UK over the years that have fuelled the Aurora myth — Calvine included.
In 1991, Defence Ministers denied in Parliament that the US had been given permission to fly or land their secret spy plane in UK airspace after reports that Aurora had been spotted leaving RAF Machrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre.
But papers I obtained using the Freedom of Information Act suggest that some MoD intelligence officers did believe Aurora existed but were not allowed to say anything publicly.
A source in the MoD tells me that once Britain’s intelligence chiefs realised the Calvine photographs showed a top secret US project they were immediately classified secret — UK Eyes Only.
Last June, the Pentagon released its long-awaited report on what it now calls UAPs or ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ after a spate of similar sightings and the release of films showing fast-moving UFOs taken by US Navy pilots. The new American UAP Task Force listed five categories that most sightings, when resolved, would likely fall into — and one of these is ‘classified programs’ developed by the US government.
I am convinced the Calvine photograph shows one of these classified programs. Meanwhile, the American, and possibly our own, government have found it useful to ‘keep the myth of UFOs flying’ because it provides a useful cover for their own covert military activities.
But in this case their cover was blown by two young men who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The MoD must explain to the public why, if there are no such things as UFOs, how they can justify keeping their identities secret for a further 54 years. And it also needs to explain what happened to the negatives and their file on the case — otherwise they are simply adding further grist to the mill of the conspiracy theorists who believe the authorities are hiding ‘the truth’ about visits to Earth by aliens. The pictures surely cannot be said to damage state interests.
I remain open-minded about the possibility that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. But I remain unconvinced that it has ever visited Earth.
The Calvine photograph is, in my opinion, the best image showing an unidentified flying object ever taken. But as Dr J. Allen Hynek, consultant to the USAF’s former UFO Project Blue Book, once said: ‘Unidentified to whom?’
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