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UFOs, “Project Blue Book,” and NATO’s “Operation Mainbrace”

Although I’m not a fan of the History Channel’s show Project Blue Book, I had to watch the latest episode, as it was titled “Operation Mainbrace.” My dad, who was a U.K. Royal Air Force radar mechanic for three years, was directly involved in the radar aspects of several UFO events that occurred during the operation. For those who may not know, Mainbrace took place in September 1952 in the North Sea and the English Channel. It was a NATO operation designed to show the Russians what the West could do in the event that things threatened to turn bad. It was my dad’s decision to tell me – when I was a kid – about his UFO experiences and that’s what got me interested in the UFO mystery. As usual for Project Blue Book, the History Channel exaggerated the real story to a laughable degree. We are “treated” to (A) the sight of a gigantic UFO coming out of the raging, stormy waters, (B)  a U.S. Navy cover-up, and (C) mysterious activity deep under the churning depths. We even see an appearance from none other than John F. Kennedy – not as president, of course, but when he was a senator. I gave my dad a call this morning (March 25) to tell him about the show. He thought it sounded hilarious, and we had a good laugh about it.

The big irony is that there was no point in altering the Mainbrace story in a crazy and convoluted fashion. There were plenty of genuine, weird aspects to the Mainbrace story that could have made for a very cool episode. The show, however, has its own approach. Of the episodes I’ve seen so far (which is around 6 or 7 episodes) the production company insists on chopping and changing history to an incredible degree. For example, there were the episodes on (A) the Flatwoods Monster and (B) the Kelly-Hopkinsville “goblins” saga, both of the 1950s. They were two episodes I watched. Just like the Mainbrace episode, those two stories also had enough real, fantastic aspects attached to them. But, distortion was the name of the game – even though it was clearly not needed. With that said, let me acquaint you with some of the genuine encounters that occurred during Mainbrace – and how they would have been perfect for the show.

One of the men who was involved in Mainbrace was Ken Dayman, who worked on radar during the NATO exercise. He told me: ““We would do shifts, and I would read out the plots and the girls would then plot them on a big map. Well, over the course of two days in 1952, something strange happened. On the first day, somebody said: ‘Look, there’s something happening on the screen!’ There were about three or four of us watching as something was speeding across the screen; and this was fast, very fast. It looked like there were actually two objects and they were approaching from the North Sea and flew across Lincolnshire, Peterborough and then up the country at about 2,000 miles per hour. Well, an officer was called and he made some comment. But then our commanding officer arrived and reminded us not to talk about this as we’d signed the Official Secrets Act. But this happened over a couple of days and the UFOs were tracked by several shifts – not just ours.”

Now, let’s take a look at the story of William Maguire, who I was also able to interview personally. As Bill told me: “From the early part of 1950, I did my basic training for a few months, and the rest of the year I did technical training and worked on radar and became an instructor. By 1951 I was operative at RAF Sennen, near Land’s End in Cornwall. I was a junior NCO [Author’s Note: Non-Commissioned Officer], a corporal; but at the time of this incident in 1952, I was a senior aircraftsman; I was on the sports committee and helped edit the station magazine. Most of my five years in the RAF was peace and quiet.”

Bill continued: “We would be called out to go to different RAF stations when they required an accurate reading of their radar instruments from experienced people. So, I was all over the damned place. Usually, it was made clear to us where we were going. You’d get a travel warrant and there’s a truck waiting and usually it’s got windows you can see out of; but in this case they were closed. Well, we were driven to a location which I believe was very close to RAF Sandwich in Kent and this was night-time. I’d been to Sandwich before, but the actual location was just a field – sort of nowhere. I have a feeling that this particular place is not in any book. It was very hush-hush. The machinery looked quite standard – all to do with detection and observation – but what did surprise me as an experienced radar operator was the extent of the machines. They were able to see right across to Eastern Europe and parts of Russia and way over to Sweden, which I hadn’t realized at that time we could do. My memory was that everything was in a complete flap. Normally, in a military situation everything is ordered, regular and set out. But here was a situation that was plainly out of control. Mechanics were flying about all over the place.”

Bill concluded: “The mechanics were being blamed for not calibrating the instruments properly; we were being blamed for not interpreting the readings properly. But the obvious answer staring us in the face, on every single instrument on the base, was the fact that there was sitting up at an unbelievable height, this enormous thing with the equivalent mass of a warship and it just stood there…and stood there…and stood there.”

Now, we come to another amazing story that occurred at the height of Mainbrace. It all went down at Royal Air Force Topcliffe in Yorkshire, U.K. Flight Lieutenant John Kilburn prepared a report on what happened for senior officers. It reads as follows: “Sir, I have the honor to report the following incident which I witnessed on Friday, 19th September, 1952. I was standing with four other aircrew personnel of No. 269 Squadron watching a Meteor fighter gradually descending. The Meteor was at approximately 5000 feet and approaching from the east. [Flight Officer R.N.] Paris suddenly noticed a white object in the sky at a height between ten and twenty thousand feet some five miles astern of the Meteor.”

Kilburn added: “The object was silver in color and circular in shape, it appeared to be traveling at a much slower speed than the Meteor but was on a similar course. It maintained the slow forward speed for a few seconds before commencing to descend, swinging in a pendular motion during descent similar to a falling sycamore leaf…After a few seconds, the object stopped its pendulous motion and its descent and began to rotate about its own axis. Suddenly it accelerated at an incredible speed towards the west turning onto a south-easterly heading before disappearing. All this occurred in a matter of fifteen to twenty seconds. The movements of the object were not identifiable with anything I have seen in the air and the rate of acceleration was unbelievable.”

So, what we have are multiple radar-based UFO incidents during Mainbrace. We have the words of Bill Maguire, who was involved in the tracking of a UFO “with the equivalent mass of a warship.” And, a group of military personnel at Topcliffe witnessed a UFO perform incredible maneuvers over a military base. And that was just the start of things: there are now dozens of Mainbrace-based cases on record. You may disagree with me, but as I see it, the reality of Mainbrace is far more intriguing than the History Channel’s version of events!


Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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