My new Mysterious Universe article focuses on the one, key issue that got me interested in the UFO phenomenon: a wave of UFO encounters that occurred during a NATO exercise - titled Mainbrace - which took place back in September 1952.
As for why it got me so interested, the reason is simple: my own father (pictured above in November of last year) was involved in the exercise (he spent 3 years as a radar mechanic with the British Royal Air Force) and knew of several of the incidents that attracted official, secret attention.
I prepared the following on my father's experiences, which, in various, updated and expanded incarnations, served as the prologue to my 1997 book, A Covert Agenda, and as stand-alone articles in various glossy magazines of the 1990s and 2000s.
But, the following is the 1987 original, which is comprised of my own memories of the night my dad first told me the story in 1978, as well as a follow-up, recorded interview I did with him in 1987.
UFOs: My Father's Experiences:
As someone who writes about UFOs and other weird things, I am sometimes asked: How did you become interested and involved in the worlds of the unexplained and the paranormal? It was 10.30 p.m. on a dark Wednesday evening in late 1978 as I walked with my father, Frank Redfern, through the deserted streets of the town of Walsall. A biting wind sliced through the air and I buried my hands in my coat pockets in a vain attempt to keep warm. We headed for a nearby car park.
‘Well, what did you think?’ asked my father.
‘I thought it was great,’ I replied, continuing: ‘Do you think it could really happen?’
My father looked at me out of the corner of his eye; and a knowing smile crossed his face: ‘Maybe it already has,’ he replied, his voice dropping ever so slightly.
The subject of this cryptic conversation: Steven Spielberg’s classic film, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, which told the story of humankind’s first face-to-face meeting with an alien species, and that we had just seen at Walsall’s ABC cinema. We climbed the stairs of the car park and headed for my father’s Ford Capri car, and my thirteen-year-old mind mused upon his comment.
‘What did you mean by that?’ I asked in reference to his curious words.
‘Hang on,’ he replied. ‘Let’s get out of the car park and I’ll tell you,’ he said. And as we drove home on that late autumn evening, the startling facts surrounding my father’s involvement in the UFO subject came tumbling out.
Like the majority of young men in Britain in the 1950s, my father was required to serve a three-year-term in the military under British National Service regulations. Because of his keen interest in aviation, he chose the Royal Air Force. During his service with the RAF, he served at various RAF stations, but by far the most memorable experience of his career occurred near the East Coast of England at a place called RAF Neatishead, Norfolk.
It was September 1952 and my father was working as a radar mechanic.
‘So what happened?’ I asked, as we drove home.
‘Well,’ he began, ‘I remember that we were taking part in an exercise – Mainbrace, it was called – and I was on duty. It was early in the morning – four or five o’clock – maybe a bit later. Things were pretty normal until the radar picked up something on the scopes.’
‘What was it?’ I asked eagerly.
‘At first,’ he explained, ‘we thought it might have been an aircraft, but we knew soon enough that it was something else. We had this object, this UFO, whatever you want to call it, on the scopes at fifty thousand feet, and flying over the North Sea and parallel to the English coast. The speed of it meant there was no way this was a plane.’
He continued: ‘The report went up the chain, and aircraft were scrambled from Coltishall – which was a base nearby. Coltishall sent up Venom and Meteor aircraft to try and get a look at the object. We were watching all this on the screens thinking that it would turn out to be something ordinary. But when the planes closed in, the UFO suddenly streaked away and headed towards Norway. The pilots didn’t have a chance.
‘The next day,’ he added, ‘something strange happened. A bunch of people came – a photographic team from Coltishall – and they had some really good gear which they set up to record the radar’s Plan Position Indicator tube in case the UFO came back. Well, the day following this, it did come back. We tracked it; the planes went up, but this time we had it all on film.’
‘What happened then?’ I wondered.
My father replied: ‘We never knew. The guys from Coltishall removed everything: the radar tapes, the records, all of it. Everyone was told not to discuss it outside of the base. They never told us what the result was, and the UFO never came back, but I won’t forget it.’
I sat back in the car-seat, amazed at what I had just heard. UFOs – so often the subject of ridicule – really existed. And, more significantly, Britain’s military knew it, too. The remainder of the journey was made in silence; me trying to take in these remarkable facts and my father recalling his long-gone days with the Royal Air Force.
Today, my father still vividly recalls the events of September 1952 and is convinced that something truly strange did indeed occur to both him and his colleagues on those fateful nights. I agree. And, were it not for my father, I would not have set out on the journey that has ultimately led me here. Thanks, Dad.