The Calvine sighting refers to a UK case in 1990, when two alleged hikers photographed a diamond-shaped flying object in the Scottish hamlet of Calvine, Scotland.
The unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) / object was flanked by what is claimed to be Harrier military jets, at the time operated by the militaries of the UK and United States.
The case first came to prominence following an account by former UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) employee Nick Pope, who described seeing a first generational printed image of the Calvine UAP at the Secretariat (Air Staff).
Although there are thought to be six photographs, the one that has caught public attention was initially released as a photocopy of a tracing (and shows two Harriers beside the UAP); it has been described as “the most spectacular UFO photo ever sent to the Ministry of Defence”¹
Following more than three decades, within which a number of UK military files and other materials (including an artistic recreation) were released, in August, 2022, a clear print of one of the original Calvine photographs was released to the public via Dr David Clarke, a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University.
On August 4, 1990, at around 9pm,² two alleged hikers near Calvine, a hamlet in rural, Scotland took a photograph of a diamond-shaped flying object hovering in the middle of the sky.
According to the witnesses (two men), the UAP was observed hovering for around 10 minutes before disappearing, shooting upward into the sky at great speed. During the incident, military jets (thought to be Harriers) were seen making low level passes. One of the witnesses had a camera and took photographs.
The witnesses obtained six colour photographs showing the UAP and the military jets. Negatives of the photographs were sent to the Scottish Daily Record on 10 September 1990.³ After receiving the negatives, a journalist from the newspapers sent the negatives to a nearby UK Royal Air Force (RAF) station, named Pitreavie Castle.⁴
The Scottish Daily Record decided to not publish the story.
2009 files released
The Calvine incident was first referenced in the mid-1990s when Nick Pope mentioned the existence of the Calvine photographs in his book Open Skies Closed Minds.⁵ Pope’s book detailed an account of his time on the MoD’s UAP desk and how he came across a first-generation print of the Calvine UAP upon his arrival at Secretariat (Air Staff) in 1991.
In 2009,⁶ papers relating to the Calvine incident were released⁷ to the public through the UK’s National Archives, including a photocopy of a tracing of the photograph that was used for aircraft identification purposes.
The papers⁸ show that the UK military responded to the incident by drawing up guidelines for responding to media questions about the incident, expecting the story to be published.
An official wrote in a memo: “Such stories are not normally drawn to the attention of ministers, and the MoD press office invariably responds to questions along well-established lines emphasising our limited interest in the UFO phenomenon and explaining that we therefore do not have the resources to undertake any in-depth investigations into particular sightings.
On this occasion, however, the MoD has been provided with six photographic negatives of an alleged UFO by the Scottish Daily Record and has been asked for comments almost certainly for inclusion in a forthcoming story.”
The MoD analysis (as detailed within the released files) concluded:
“The negatives have been considered by the relevant staffs who have established that the jet aircraft is a Harrier (and also identified a barely visible second aircraft, again probably a Harrier) but have reached no definite conclusion regarding the large object.”⁹
Speaking about the analysis, former UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) civil servant, Nick Pope, who worked on its ‘UFO desk’, recollected:¹⁰
“The MoD’s technical wizards leapt into action. The images were enlarged and analyzed, using the full resources and capabilities of intelligence community specialists.
Even now, years after these events, I can’t discuss the details of this process, as so much of the information is top secret.”
‘'Unlike any conventional aircraft & nearly 100 feet in diameter'’
“The analysis was nothing short of sensational. The photos hadn’t been faked.
“They showed a structured craft of unknown origin, unlike any conventional aircraft. There was no fuselage, no wings, no tail, no engines and no markings of any sort.”
The memo noted (despite it being asserted) that there was no record of Harriers operating in the area at the time and suggested the media should be told “no definite conclusions (were) reached regarding (the) large diamond-shaped object.”
Dr David Clarke, a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, who had conducted extensive research of the case, in 2009 stated¹¹ that the documents showed the MoD was "not in the slightest bit interested in aliens."
"They're only interested in the defence implications," he said.
Clarke added: "The question is what are the Russians testing, and could any of these sightings be something of that kind? As soon as they have eliminated that, they're not interested."
The released papers also uncovered that a briefing had been prepared for UK Defence ministers in (then UK Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher’s government should they need to answer questions if the story broke in the press.
Claims of a Coverup
In October 2020, it was reported¹² that a secret Calvine dossier (said to include five colour photographs of the UAP, although disputed by the National Archives) had been blocked from public release for a further 50 years.
For its part the National Archives contested claims that photographs were included, stating on its website the following:
“As noted on our catalogue, the full contents of DEFE 24/1940 are closed until 01 January 2076. A redacted version of the file is open and available to download from our catalogue here¹³. There are three folios within this file that relate to the incident in question (pages 35-37 of part 2). There are no photographs contained in the file. The file itself states that the original negatives were returned to the Scottish Daily Record.”
Furthermore, the National Archives added that details were withheld to protect personal details of those involved, commenting:
“The redactions you will see in the open version all cover personal information (names and addresses) of members of the public who wrote to the Ministry of Defence reporting UFO sightings and also the names of the Ministry of Defence staff who investigated these reports. These details are exempt from release under section 40 (2) (personal data) of the FOI Act. Further information on section 40 is provided in the explanatory annex below.”
Release of first-generation print of Calvine photograph in 2022
On 12 August 2022, David Clarke, in an article written in the Daily Mail,¹⁴ announced that he had attained a first-generation print of the Calvine photograph, which was revealed for the first time in public as part of the article.
Clarke had traced and spoken with retired RAF press officer Craig Lindsay, who provided Clarke what is thought to be the only surviving print of the photograph. Lindsay had kept the photograph for more than 30 years.¹⁵
Lindsay commented to Clarke:
“I have been waiting more than 30 years for someone to call me about this story…and you are the first person to do so.”
Lindsay was involved in the Calvine incident as the go-between for the Scottish Daily Record and the MoD. During his involvement, Lindsay acquired an original print of the photograph. Along with the photo, he had also kept the original envelope containing the photograph sent by the Scottish Daily Record to the MoD.
In May 2022, Clarke travelled to interview Lindsay in Scotland and was shown the original print and in June 2022, Craig agreed to donate the photograph to the Sheffield Hallam University Archives, handing it to David Clarke and Vinnie Adams, Clarke’s colleague at UAP Media UK.¹⁶
After attaining the photograph, Clarke took it to Andrew Robinson (senior lecturer in photography at Sheffield Hallam University) for photographic analysis. Robinson concluded that the photograph was not faked, stating:¹⁷
“My conclusion is that the object is definitely in front of the camera, i.e. 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 [Harrier jet] in the background.
Could this be a kite or a radio controlled model? It could be but it would have to be a very large kite/model, at least 20-30m [65-98 ft] long if not longer.”
Theories on Origin of Calvine UAP
There has been debate as to the origin of the Calvine UAP, with Clarke suggesting a terrestrial origin (possibly a black project), commenting:
“I am open-minded about the possibility that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. But I remain unconvinced that it has ever visited Earth.”
Clarke has noted¹⁸ Nick Pope mentioning in a 2001 interview, that at the time the Calvine photographs were taken, the MoD was fending off a series of press and Parliamentary questions about a hypothesised hypersonic U.S aircraft code-named Aurora.
Clarke has also noted that Aurora was first mentioned publicly in March 1990, five months before the Calvine incident, when Aviation Week & Space Technology revealed a ‘secret’ project had been inadvertently included in the 1985 U.S. budget under a $455 million allocation for “black aircraft production.”
In 1996, then Minister for the Armed Forces (and Grandson of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill) Nicholas Soames (Conservative), stated that the negatives provided to the MoD showing the UAP was “nothing of defence significance,” leading David Clarke to suggest that the MoD knew what the UAP was.¹⁹
Clarke has referenced stories by The Scotsman and Jane’s Defence Weekly in February 1992, about alleged “hypersonic flights” by U.S. aircraft from RAF Machrihanish,²⁰ situated over 150 miles from Calvine. This has led him to believe that the Calvine UAP was an experimental U.S. aircraft.²¹ Furthermore, Clarke has stated that an anonymous source told him that the UAP was from the U.S.²²
However, Pope has refuted the suggestion of the UAP being a U.S. experimental craft. Recalling a briefing conducted with an official from the UK Defence Intelligence Staff, Pope commented:
“He said the object in the photograph wasn’t Russian,” Pope added: “He said it wasn’t American. He looked at us intently and said that only left one other possibility.”²³
The official, according to Pope, then pointed up to the sky.
According to Pope, there was also a row within the MoD between those who believed the Calvine UAP reflected U.S. technology, and those who thought it originated from somewhere else and was potentially extraterrestrial.
Pope has also cited how UK officials asked U.S. authorities if they had been testing experimental aircraft over the UK, such as the rumoured Aurora, but received firm denials. According to Pope, with the Calvine photos in mind, some MoD officials did not believe the U.S. assurances, so asked again.
According to Pope, (then) Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, Donald Rice, was ‘incensed’ by the questioning and the implication that he’d lied to the U.S. Congress when he told them Aurora didn’t exist.
Calvine discussed in the UK Parliament
The release of Nick Pope’s ‘Open Skies, Closed Minds’, which detailed the Calvine incident, prompted Martin Redmond (Labour), Member of Parliament for Doncaster at the time, to bring the case up in the UK’s Parliament.
In July 1996, Redmond asked then Minister for the Armed Forces, Nicholas Soames, the following:²⁴
“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment his Department made of the photograph of an unidentified craft at Calvine on 4 August 1990; who removed it from an office in secretariat (air staff) 2a; for what reasons; and if he will make a statement. ”
Soames responded in writing:
“A number of negatives associated with the sighting were examined by staff responsible for air defence matters. Since it was judged that they contained nothing of defence significance the negatives were not retained and we have no record of any photographs having been taken from them.”
This was in reference to Nick Pope’s account that the image of the Calvine UAP he saw within the Secretariat (Air Staff) was removed by his immediate boss, following a diplomatic bust-up with the U.S. regarding the topic of experimental U.S. aircraft possibly flying over the UK.²⁵
Mystery of the Negatives
The fate of the original negatives remains unknown. These were sent by the Scottish Daily Record to RAF Pitreavie Castle. Regarding this, an MoD file states:
“The negatives have now been returned to the Scottish Daily Record.”²⁶
However, the newspaper has yet to acknowledge its part in the Calvine incident and informal approaches to staff working for the title have largely been met with failures to recall handling the negatives.²⁷
According to David Clarke, a now deceased picture editor named Andy Allan²⁸ handled the negatives before passing them on to the MoD.
Clarke has added that in 2020 a senior journalist at the newspaper admitted that negatives could have been accidentally destroyed when it cleared out its old picture library more than a decade ago.
Who were the witnesses?
The identities of the two Calvine witnesses remains unknown to this day, although it has been widely reported that they were hikers.²⁹
Clarke has claimed that the two witnesses were young chefs working at one of the local hotels, who went for a walk after a long shift. He also claims to be in touch with someone who knew the witnesses.³⁰
It has been suggested that they were not chefs, but in fact poachers. This claim was relayed to Clarke in a conversation with a member of the UK defence intelligence staff, which was recorded.³¹
Mystery of the Harriers
In 2009, the Calvine incident files, released through the National Archives, shows the MoD asserting that the military aircraft seen in the photographs were Harriers.
The UK’s defence intelligence staff (SP)OPS imagery tasking form notes state that the “task had already been discussed with Ops 4 Sqn”. This squadron was based at RAF Gütersloh in Germany at the time and equipped with Harriers.
In October 2021, Graeme Rendall of UAP Media UK checked³² the operations record books for the front-line units operating the Harrier at the time (No.1, No.3 and No.4 Squadrons) but found no reference to any aircraft that might have been flying over Scotland on the day of the incident.
One further explanation is that the Harriers belonged to the U.S., but there is no evidence to support this possibility. Although it has been noted that A U.S. Marine Corps detachment was based at RAF Machrihanish and David Clarke claims that a source told him that the UAP did originate from the base.
Clarke claims that the same source told him that the UAP was a U.S. experimental aircraft on a training exercise escorted by U.S. and UK Harrier jets.³³