The Rendlesham Forest UFO Sightings: An Unresolved Enquiry
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. The Rendlesham Forest UFO incident is without question one of the strangest tales, defined by considerable evidence and also serious questions. On December 28, 1980, US Air Force deputy base commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt received word of bizarre sightings near and around the RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge airbases. These multiple first-hand observations of supernatural lights and craft sightings occurred during the dead of night and the truth behind these facts is by no means easy to unravel. What the Rendlesham Forest UFO incidents suggest are still hard to comprehend but that doesn’t necessarily make them a hoax.
The accounts from airmen personnel Sargent Jim Penniston, officer John Burroughs, officer Budd Stevens and others included vague descriptions of sightings ranging from unusual supernatural lights, triangular spacecraft as dense and as glossy as obsidian and burned marks in the ground. Although Penniston and Burroughs were perfectly clear about what they saw, their commanding officer told them to remain silent and not mention the full story in their report . . . until the sightings happened again. The second time word was sent directly to deputy base commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt, who was eating in the mess hall. The Lieutenant Colonel had no choice but to put aside his dinner and his doubt, grab his tape recorder, and see what was happening outside for himself.
The First Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident: What Was Seen?
The Rendlesham Forest UFO incident is one of the most famous UFO sightings ever recorded, almost as well covered as the Roswell crash of 1947. The Rendlesham incident has created a wide range of first-hand sightings, audio recordings, multiple reports, and continuous testimony. And this has created a popular phenomenon that keeps bringing UFO enthusiasts back to this forested area for more. But with so many angles and perspectives to this story, which are actually correct and what happened exactly? To understand all the evidence related to this extraterrestrial mystery, it is essential to review the key figures, variations to the story, and the primary alternative explanations of other experts. Only then can anyone reach an objective conclusion about what these reports are saying and what, ultimately, lies behind them.
Of all the accounts that exist, the most notable experiences came from Jim Penniston, John Burroughs, and Colonel Halt. They recounted bright burning multi-colored lights, mimicking a kaleidoscopic collage of red and blue lights, coming from a mysterious aircraft . This event took place on two consecutive days starting on December 26, 1980, for Penniston and Burroughs, and then again on December 28, 1980, for Colonel Halt and his team of soldiers. In both encounters, the mysterious aircraft reflected lights, hovered, landed, took off at alarming speed, and then appeared to “magically” dissolve or fade.
The East Gate at RAF Woodbridge, where the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident began. (Taras Young / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
The First Incident: What Penniston And Burroughs Saw
On December 26, 1980, at the east gate of the RAF Woodbridge base, security patrol Budd Stevens and Sargent Jim Penniston saw strange, intensely bright fiery-red lights gleaming through the trees of Rendlesham Forest . When they reported their sightings at the guard shack, their commanding officer confirmed that something was detected descending into a small clearing near the forest's eastern edge. It was then, at 3:00 am, that Penniston was given the order to investigate what was seen. Though Stevens stayed at his post, Penniston was accompanied by John Burroughs in a jeep to where the “bogie” reportedly landed. It was here that Burroughs and Penniston saw a mysterious glowing craft whose movement and speed defied the laws of physics . Despite its rapid speed hardly any sound was made by the craft. Of the two men, only Penniston provided a report on the sighting. In his statement, he said:
"…The craft was three meters tall, and about three meters wide at the base […] No landing gear was apparent, but it seemed like she was on fixed legs... I moved a little closer… I walked around the craft, and finally, I walked right up to the craft. I noticed the fabric of the shell was more like a smooth, opaque, black glass…" (Young 2020)
But as they observed the craft it suddenly took off at full speed, heading towards a barn, causing further havoc as its bright lights disturbed the local wildlife and farm animals. Burroughs and Penniston raced after it, climbed over a fence, and then watched as the red and blue lights shining from the craft vanished as it passed the barn.
When both Penniston and Burroughs returned to the base, they were wary of writing their report of the incident for their commanding shift officer. Both decided to write a version that downplayed what they had seen. In their testimonies, they simply stated:
"…Saw a mechanical object with red, blue and white lights, but the craft disappeared before we could get a better look…" (Cutler and Castro 2019).
To their dismay, both Penniston and Burroughs were ordered to keep silent about what they saw. However, this command did not stop Penniston from returning to the area the next day to examine the landing site. On the forest floor, Penniston discovered circular impressions made by a heavy object, which were spaced 9.8 feet (3 meters) apart. He immediately made plaster cast impressions of the landing marks. Burroughs and Penniston also revealed that burn damage and broken branches were present near the indentations in the ground. Though their commanding shift officer told them to remain silent, the plaster casts and the tree damage made other servicemen extremely curious, turning the sight into a curiosity hotspot for military personnel.
The Second Incident: What Lieutenant Colonel Halt Saw
On December 28, deputy base commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt was informed that the UFO had returned, near where the original sighting took place. Though the claims made by Burroughs and Penniston had been dismissed, Lieutenant Halt decided to assemble a team of personnel armed with floodlights, night scopes, audio recording devices, and radiation detectors to record everything that was happening.
As he ordered the floodlights to be set up around the perimeter of the site, Lieutenant Halt told his men to take radiation readings with Geiger counters in the area. However, the floodlights malfunctioned forcing his men to investigate further with night vision scopes. When viewed through the night scopes, the abrasions on the trees gave off heat signatures . The Geiger counters read immense radiation burns. And then the UFO appeared again, approaching from the south, flying by at incredible speed and pulsing a vibrant red light through the branches of the trees. One of the best quotes from Halt's recording captured the feelings of that experience:
"…It looks like an eye winking at you…Here he comes from the south, he's coming towards us now…now we're observing what happens to be a beam coming down to the ground. This is unreal…" (Ridpath, Halt transcription)
The lights fluttered invitingly through the trees, but as the craft moved it seemed to fall apart. The light shining from the craft was so strong that the sensors on the night scopes burned out. The lights continued to hover and beam over the forest and the field. Clearly, Lieutenant Colonel Halt and his team had confirmed a UFO sighting.
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When Halt shared his story with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), like Boroughs and Penniston, he was told to keep quiet about his experience to protect his own reputation and, more importantly, the reputation of the U.S. Air Force. Though Boroughs and Penniston were sworn to secrecy, Lieutenant Colonel Halt was allowed to write a memo to the Ministry of Defense about the events that had occurred. Thanks to the U.S. Information act of 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Halt’s memo is on public record, for anyone to read.
Soon others came forward to discuss the Rendlesham Forest UFO sightings. And before long it became obvious that there were a number of perplexing contradictions between the Colonel's tape recording, an anonymous informant's testimonial, and the memo that Lieutenant Colonel Halt wrote.
The Contradictions Between The Various Accounts
On January 25, 1985, The Guardian published an article discussing what was seen in the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident. Before gaining the attention of The Guardian, a mysterious U.S. airman, using the alias “Art Wallace,” had participated in many local television and newspaper interviews about what he saw on December 26 th and 28 th 1980.
Art Wallace, who was later confirmed to be Larry Warren, claimed to be a witness to the UFO lights alongside Burroughs, Penniston, and Halt. However, his accounts appeared to be more colorful than the other three. In Wallace's version, he claimed that Colonel Halt and a few other key officers met the landing spacecraft and introduced themselves to the tiny aliens that had landed on our planet. This account contradicted what Colonel Halt had stated since he only mentioned that he and his crewmen bore witness to strange forest lights. Halt never mentioned any information regarding meeting aliens either in his recorded audio report or the memo he produced for the Ministry of Defense.
Wallace also claimed that the ISO brainwashed him by injecting him with truth serum and forced him to watch films about UFOs to frame him as a mentally disturbed individual in order to dismiss the story he was already leaking to the press.
Because of these contradictions, Halt, Burroughs, and Penniston stayed away from Wallace, because they felt his inaccuracies were downplaying what actually happened that night.
Many Years Later Lieutenant Colonel Halt Tries Harder
In another peculiar incident, in June 2010, former Lieutenant Colonel Halt agreed to have his memories of the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident committed to paper in a two-page affidavit. His memories, unfortunately, were also contradictory in terms of the lights' direction, the positions of the “landing marks,” and the numbers of objects that appeared in the sky. Though he intended to validate the original events of December 26 th and 28 th, he inadvertently cast more confusion and doubt on the entire story. In 2015, the elderly Lieutenant Colonel Halt tried to re-establish his reputation by obtaining written statements from the RAF Brentwater radar operators working on the nights in question.
The old ATC control tower at the former RAF Bentwaters airfield, where the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident occurred. The location is now a park. (Juan Jimenez / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
In their statements, the radar operators admitted to tracking the objects on the 26 th and 28 th of December. But they only felt comfortable discussing what they were tracking after they retired from the military. The anonymous former radar operators mentioned that they saw the lights traveling 60 miles (96 kilometers) in three seconds, rotate and come to a sudden stop by a water tower, and return again to the forest where Colonel Halt's team were on the ground investigating. This additional information from the radar operators lend support to the previous statements made by Halt, Burroughs, and Penniston.
However, even with convincing statements from more retiring servicemen, skeptics have doubted the eye-witness accounts. These skeptics believe their alternative explanations are more believable than UFOs.
Rendlesham Forest UFO: What’s True And What’s Not?
After almost forty years of retired U.S. servicemen coming forward with more contradicting details in the Rendlesham Forest UFO story, there have been just as many alternative explanations that have created further confusion about what actually happened on those days in December 1980.
In one alternative possibility, it has been mentioned that what the U.S. airmen were seeing was, in fact, a meteor shower that was seen over southern England. The British Astronomical Association Meteor section reported that an intensely bright meteor shower occurred while Lieutenant Colonel Halt was looking for the UFO. The intensity and brightness of the meteor shower may have caused the blinding hot spots that burned out the night scope sensors.
The Orfordness Lighthouse, the brightest lighthouse in the U.K., which may have been the source of the strange lights in the Rendlesham Forest UFO sightings. (David Merrett / CC BY 2.0 )
Another allegation was that at the same moment of the meteor shower, the servicemen may have been catching glimpses of light from the Orfordness Lighthouse, which at the time was considered by the Ministry of Defense to be the brightest lighthouse in the U.K. The lighthouse was on the same sightline where the alleged UFO lights were seen.
These two alternate theories are based on atmospheric and industrial lighting explanations. However, another possible explanation seems to be the most outrageous of all.
According to UFO researcher Dr. David Clark, his anonymous sources claimed that the entire Rendlesham Forest UFO incident may have been a “revenge” hoax by the British Special Air Service (SAS) on the U.S. Air Force personnel stationed at RAF Woodbridge and RAF Bentwaters. The explanation as to why the SAS would attempt such an elaborate prank relates to an earlier security test performed on both bases. Allegedly, according to Dr. Clark, the SAS had parachuted in several troops to simulate an invasion attack, which spurred the U.S. servicemen to corral and capture the parachuting SAS soldiers.
This resulted in the internment, abuse, beating and humiliation of the captured SAS soldiers, ending with the American Air Force claiming that the captured prisoners were “unidentifiable aliens.” Due to such an act of aggression against a playful simulation, the SAS decided to plot their revenge by staging a real “alien Invasion.”
Dr. Clark went on to detail how the SAS prank was carried out. The SAS apparently devised multi-colored flares rigged to go off at certain times in the forest while certain SAS personnel remote-controlled dark-colored helium balloons along with gliders and controlled kites to mimic a single moving craft. Given the American obsession with aliens after the Rosewell crash of 1947 and popular films released during that time, they hoped to convince the U.S. that the aliens were indeed coming, and hopefully it would teach them a lesson.
With all the different alternative explanations, the Rendlesham Forest UFO event appears impossible to solve. If reputations were on the line, why were memos and testimonials still allowed to be written, submitted, and even broadcast shortly after the event occurred?
The Rendlesham Forest UFO incident was just the beginning. Other sightings continue to be reported. (Tim Marchant / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Why Was The Rendlesham Incident Discussed At Senior Levels?
Though the first-hand accounts recorded by several U.S. military personnel painted an elaborate picture of extraordinary circumstances, why were these events ever discussed at senior levels?
In one statement, it was said that the Ministry of Defense believed that the sightings came from the mass confusion created by the Orfordness Lighthouse due to its luminescent power and proximity to the sightings of the “UFO” lights. Because of this, the Ministry of Defense felt that the event was insignificant and posed no threat to national security. Therefore, no further investigation was required. But this doesn’t answer the question of why reports were submitted to the Ministry of Defense by Lieutenant Colonel Halt, the senior ranking officer at the bases.
In another account, the ISO claimed that “Project Blue Book,” a series of systematic studies of UFOs conducted by the United States Air Force (USAF), was discontinued on January 19, 1970. And therefore there was no need to discuss UFO sightings anymore. Yet, all the memos about the event mentioned mysterious lights. So, if the U.S. government wanted it covered up, why did they even bother writing the memos in the first place?
Why was it that both the U.S. and the British Ministry of Defense did not completely bury the eyewitness accounts, and why were they never pursued? Was this because no one would believe them, or could it be that the stories were a complete work of fiction?
Last of all, even though this event happened almost forty years ago, why is it then, that UFO sightings continue to be reported in Rendlesham forest today?
Top image: UFO landing in the forest at night: This is the story of the Rendlesham Forest UFO sightings! Source: dottedyeti / Adobe Stock
By B. B. Wagner
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