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1956: Radar/visual jet chase over Bentwater, U-K.:

Many ufologists are aware of this case, but most people are not. This is undoubtedly one of the most important UFO events in the Blue Book files, but surprisingly was not listed among the "unknowns". The case impressed Dr. James E. McDonald and Dr. J. Allen Hynek, and even more so notable, the Condon Committee. This is also another intercept mission where a pilot faced with some form of reality was very frightened by his nocturnal encounter.


Observations of unidentified objects by USAF and RAF personnel, extending over 5 hours, and involving ground-radar, airborne-radar, ground visual and airborne-visual sightings of high-speed unconventionally maneuvering objects in the vicinity of two RAF stations at night. It is Case 2 in the Condon Report and is there conceded to be unexplained. In a word, "the proof."

Table of content:

Click! The summary of the Bentwaters 1956 case (This page).
Click! The RAF controller account.
Click! The Condon Report text about this case.
Click! The James E. McDonald study.
Click! The Gordon Thayer article.
Click! References.

The events:

In the night of August 13-14, 1956, radar operators at two military bases in the east of England repeatedly tracked single and multiple objects which displayed high speed, as well as rapid changes of speed and direction. Two jet interceptors were sent up, and were able to see and track them in a brief series of maneuvers. According to official U.S. Air Force reports, the sightings could not be explained by radar malfunction or by unusual weather.I

It began at 9:30 p.m. when Airman 2nd Class John Vaccare, of the U.S. Air Force at RAF Bentwaters, tracked one UFO on his Ground Controlled Approach radar (type AN/MPN-11A) as it flew 40-50 miles (65 to 80 km.) in 30 seconds, i.e. 4,800 to 6,000 mph (7,500 to 9,500 km./hr.).

A few minutes later Vaccare reported to T/Sergeant L. Whenry that a group of 12 to 15 unidentified targets was tracked from 8 miles (13 km.) southwest of Bentwaters to 40 miles (65 km.) northeast, at which time they "appeared to converge into one very large object, according to the size of the blip on the radar scope, which seemed to be several times larger than a B-36 aircraft [the largest operational bomber in history, with a wingspan of 230 feet or 70 m.]." The single large blip stopped twice for several minutes while being tracked, before flying off the scope.

At 10 p.m., a single unidentified target was tracked from Bentwaters as it covered 55 miles (90 km.) in just 16 seconds. This works out to over 12,000 mph (19,000 km./hr.).

Then, at 10:55 p.m., the Bentwaters GCA radar picked up an unidentified target on the same east-to-west course as the previous one, at an apparent speed of "2,000 to 4,000 mph" (3,200 to 6,400 km./hr.). Someone in the Bentwaters control tower reported seeing "a bright light passing over the field from east to west at about 4,000 feet [1,200 m.]." At about the same time, the pilot of a C-47 twin-engine military transport plane over Bentwaters said, "a bright light streaked under my aircraft travelling east to west at terrific speed." All three reports coincided.

Soon after, radars at Bentwaters and RAF Lakenheath reported a stationary object 20-25 miles (32-40 km.) southwest of the latter base. It suddenly began moving north at 400 to 600 mph (650 to 1,000 km./hr.), but "there was no build-up to this speed - it was constant from the second it started to move until it stopped." It made several abrupt changes of direction without appearing to slow for its turns. II

Around 11:30 p.m., the RAF launched a deHavilland Venom jet interceptor, from RAF Waterbeach. According to the U.S. Air Force UFO report:

"Pilot advised he had a bright white light in sight and would investigate. At 13 miles [20 km.] west he reported loss of target and white light. Lakenheath (radar) vectored him to a target 10 miles [16 km.] east of Lakenheath and pilot advised (that) target was on his radar and was 'locking on.' Pilot then reported he had lost target on his radar.

"Lakenheath GCA reports that as the Venom passed the target on radar, the target began a tail chase of the friendly fighter. Radar requested pilot acknowledge this chase. Pilot acknowledged and stated he would try to circle and get behind the target. Pilot advised he was unable to 'shake' the target off his tail and requested assistance.

"One additional Venom was scrambled from RAF station. Original pilot stated: 'Clearest target I have ever seen on radar."

The following conversation between the two Venom fighter pilots was heard by the Lakenheath watch supervisor:

"Did you see anything?" [Pilot #2]

"I saw something, but I'll be damned if I know what it was." [Pilot #1]

"What happened?" [Pilot #2]

"He - or it - got behind me and I did everything I could to get behind him and I couldn't. It's the damndest thing I've ever seen." [Pilot #1] III

The 1969 report by the Air Force-funded study at the University of Colorado under Dr. Edward U. Condon concluded:

"In summary, this is the most puzzling and unusual case in the radar-visual files. The apparent rational, intelligent behavior of the UFO suggests a mechanical device of unknown origin as the most probable explanation of this sighting. However, in view of the inevitable fallibility of witnesses, more conventional explanations of this report cannot be entirely ruled out." IV


  1. USAF Air Intelligence Information Report filed by Captain Edward L. Holt, August 31, 1956.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Gillmor, Daniel S., ibid.

RAF traffic controller report:

This is the little-known but definitive account by F.H.C. Wimbledon, RAF Fighter Controller on duty at RAF Neatishead, Norfolk:

"I was Chief Controller on duty at the main RAF Radar Station in East Anglia on the night in question. My duties were to monitor the radar picture and to scramble the Battle Flight, who were on duty 24 hours a day, to intercept any intruder of British airspace not positively identified in my sector of responsibility."

"I remember Lakenheath USAF base telephoning to say there was some thing "buzzing" their airfield circuit. I scrambled a Venom night fighter from the Battle Flight through Sector and my controller in the Interception Cabin took over control of it. The Interception Control team would consist of one Fighter Controller (an Officer), a Corporal, a tracker and a height reader. That is, four highly trained personnel in addition to myself could now clearly see the object on our radarscopes."

"After being vectored onto the trail of the object by my Interception Controller, the pilot called out, "Contact," then a short time later, "Judy," which meant the Navigator had the target fairly and squarely on his own radar screen and needed no further help from the ground. He continued to close on the target but after a few seconds, and in the space of one or two sweeps of our scopes, the object appeared behind our fighter. Our pilot called out, "Lost Contact, more help," and he was told the target was now behind him and he was given fresh instructions."

"I then scrambled a second Venom which was vectored toward the area but before it arrived on the scene the target had disappeared from our scopes and although we continued to keep a careful watch was not seen by us."

"The fact remains that at least nine RAF ground personnel and two RAF aircrew were conscious of an object sufficiently "solid" to give returns on radar. Naturally, all this was reported and a Senior Officer from the Air Ministry came down and interrogated us."

The Condon Report:

"... this is the most puzzling and unusual case in the radar-visual files. The apparently rational, intelligent behavior of the UFO suggests a mechanical device of unknown origin as the most probable explanation of this sighting. However, in view of the inevitable fallibility of witnesses, more conventional explanations of this report cannot be entirely ruled out.

Here is the full text of the Condon Report about the Bentwater 1956 case.

James E. McDonald's report:

Here is the full text of the James E. McDonald report about the Bentwater 1956 case.

Gordon Thayer's report:

Here is the full text of Gordon Thayer's report about the Bentwater 1956 case.


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This page was last updated on December 6, 2001.