Aug 16, 2021 I Brent Swancer

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Calvine UFO Photographs

One of the most mysterious UFO cases in Scottish history began on August 4, 1990, when two hikers were out in the remote Scottish Highlands, close to Calvine, north of Pitlochry, when they saw something very bizarre in the sky above. There hovering in the air above was an enormous diamond-shaped object estimated as being around 100 feet in diameter, and which oddly seemed to have some RAF Harrier jets circling about it, making passes, and following it as it moved slowly over the highlands and passed over the A9 expressway, where it was seen by some motorists. The men were able to take a series of six very clear color photos of the mysterious craft, one of which allegedly shows a fighter jet companion during the 10 minutes they spent observing the bizarre sight. After this, the UFO allegedly then shot straight up at breathtaking speed. After this, the photos they took would become one of the stranger odysseys of government cover-ups, shadowy conspiracies, and missing evidence that could very well shake the world of Ufology to its core.

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The area of the sighting

The excited witnesses turned over the photographs to the Scottish Daily Record who then, perhaps foolishly in retrospect, contacted the Ministry of Defense (MoD) for some comment on the images. From here, it gets a bit shadowy, as officials from the MoD then allegedly arrived at the newspaper’s office and confiscated the photographs and the negatives without explanation, merely stating that the material was “sensitive.” The newspaper never would get them back and the photographs of what was being called the “Calvine Incident” were never published. Indeed, the newspaper never saw them again. However, the strangeness was only just starting.

At the time, one of the men involved with the MoD’s investigation into UFOs, sort of like America’s Project Blue Book, was a man by the name of Nick Pope, who has claimed that the photographs had attracted the attention of the military all the way up to the highest levels. Pope claims that these negatives that they had confiscated were analyzed in great depth, that the MoD also commissioned a series of line drawings of the images, and according to him these pictures were the clearest, most impressive UFO photographs anyone had ever seen. One of the photos in particular was considered to be of outstanding quality, and conclusively showed something beyond explanation. He would explain of all of this:

The MoD has all sorts of equipment and expertise that we used to analyze and enhance imagery to tell whether there were any signs of fakery. This picture was assessed by our digital experts, who concluded it was a real photograph showing a solid-structured craft which was estimated as being around 25m in diameter. There were no wings and no visible signs of any propulsion system. It was exotic and unknown in a way far beyond even the most modern stealth aircraft being trialed at that time. Even now, years after these events, I can’t discuss the details of this process, as so much of the information is top secret. The Defence Intelligence staff sent these images to JARIC that’s the Joint Air Reconnaissance and Intelligence Centre. Now this is the UK’s military centre of expertise when it comes to imagery analysis. These Intelligence personnel come to the conclusion that these photographs are real – it’s a solid craft and no one has the faintest idea what it is.


I remember going to a briefing with the defense intelligence staff where the photograph was discussed. Most of the details of our conversation are classified and must remain secret. While I took early retirement from the MoD in 2006, the Official Secrets Act binds me for life. But I can reveal the sensational conclusion to our top secret briefing. Summing up, the intelligence officer ran through the possibilities. Gesturing to the left with his finger, he said the object in the photograph wasn’t Russian. Jerking his hand to the right, he said it wasn’t American. He looked at us intently and said that only left one other possibility. He pointed straight up. My boss and I couldn’t help looking up too. Then we looked at each other and then we looked back at the intelligence officer. His face was inscrutable. Nothing further was said and my boss and I walked back to our office in silence.

Nick Pope

The official conclusion, according to Pope, was that what was shown in the pictures was an alien spacecraft, which would have been groundbreaking, as the MoD had traditionally shied away from this line of reasoning, almost always finding a rational explanation or at the very most filing a report away as unknown. However, this time was different, the Calvine photographs shaking up the MoD and causing much excitement. Pope also would explain that the MoD took its investigation into UFOs more seriously than they let on, and that they rarely let the public know what was going really going on. He would say of this and the confusion the Calvine Incident had caused:

The MoD’s standard line on UFOs was that the phenomenon was of ‘no defence significance’ – a meaningless Whitehall soundbite that meant whatever we wanted it to mean. At best it was misleading and at worst, it was a downright lie. We consistently played down the true level of our interest in UFOs, telling parliament, the media and the public that the subject was of little interest, while all the time, behind closed doors, we struggled to make sense of cases like the Calvine incident. Despite an extensive investigation, we never found a definitive explanation for what was seen at Calvine.

Nevertheless, according to Pope there were still skeptics within the MoD, who believed that what was shown in the photos was not aliens, but rather some sort of top-secret experimental aircraft designed by the Americans, and he even claims that this started a bit of an incident between the two countries. Pope would explain:

One time, they nearly caused a diplomatic incident that threatened to unravel the UK’s Special Relationship with the United States. By the mid-Nineties a bitter struggle had erupted within the MoD in relation to UFOs. A sceptic versus believer dogfight was raging. In relation to the Calvine photos, the only remotely possible skeptical theory was that the object was a secret prototype aircraft or drone. We knew what we did and didn’t have when it came to such things, so realistically, that only left the Americans. At the same time as this row was raging, speculation arose that the Americans had developed a secret prototype aircraft codenamed Aurora – a hypersonic replacement for the iconic SR-71 Blackbird. We asked the US authorities if they’d been testing such an aircraft over the UK, but received firm denials. With the Calvine photos in mind, some MoD officials didn’t believe the US assurances, so asked again.


The Secretary of the Air Force, Donald Rice, was ‘incensed’ by the questioning and the implication that he’d lied to the US Congress when he told them Aurora didn’t exist. Our Air Attaché at the British Embassy in Washington wrote to senior RAF officers, pleading with them to defuse the row. As a result of this diplomatic bust-up, my Head of Division removed the Calvine incident photo from our office wall. He, like my immediate boss, was a sceptic, and clung to the belief that the object had to be American, because the concept of extraterrestrial visitation was too terrible a truth for him to face.

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A supposed degraded photocopy of one of the images

Pope claims that shortly after this, the negatives of Calvine photographs were all locked away and classified, with even his own copy of one of the photos taken away from him and all known existing copies of the photographs shredded and destroyed. In 1996, a Freedom of Information Act request was filed by a journalist, only to receive the following response:

A number of negatives associated with the sighting were examined by staff responsible for air defense matters. Since it was judged they contained nothing of defense significance the negatives were not retained and we have no record of any photographs having been taken from them.

This seems to suggest that they are gone forever, but according to Pope, there is no way that the negatives were destroyed, and they will almost certainly still be in the files. The only evidence he has for the existence of these alleged photographs that caused such waves in the MoD are mock ups of what was seen in them that Pope had made from memory, as well as a photocopy of of one of the images, but the real photographs have remained locked away. (Note- even the cover image of this article is a recreation, not one of the real photos.) Even after retirement, Pope would champion efforts to get the MoD to declassify its UFO files and release the Calvine images, but just as these files were about to be released in 2021, the government suddenly blocked this, and ended up resealing the files for a further 50 years, not to be opened until 2072. For now, all there are lines drawings, a photocopy, and Pope’s recreations from memory. The Calvine photographs remain hidden from us, and not a single one of the real images has ever seen the light of day. Pope has said:

Plenty of other copies survived and when I came out of retirement in 2008 to help publicize the declassification and release of the MoD’s UFO files, I was looking forward to the Calvine photos seeing the light of day. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. All that remained were some poor-quality black and white photocopies of a line drawing of one photo. Intelligence analysts use line drawings in their work, but to the media and the public, they look cartoonish. It was almost as if the MoD wanted to ridicule the subject. A few years ago, I teamed up with a graphic artist in Los Angeles and we reconstructed the photo for a TV show, using the line drawing and my memory as a guide. The result was spot-on, but it’s still not the real thing.

We are left here with an intriguing story, indeed, photographs which by Pope's estimates would virtually prove that UFOs are real. Yet, as with many such promised pieces of evidence they have disappeared, and it is hard to tell just how amazing these purported photographs might be or even whether they ever existed at all. We have only Pope's assurances that they do, but no way to see them and analyze them for ourselves. There is also sadly the fact that we now live in an era in which photographic evidence doesn't go very far, making it unlikely that these images would be accepted as real even if we had access to them. What is going on here? Were these really such incredible images and if so, what happened to them? Were they buried by the MoD and covered-up? Are they locked up somewhere hidden away, and what exactly do they show? It seems that we only have to wait until 2072 to find out how exciting any of this really is or whether these photos even exist, so in the meantime, it is left to debate and speculation.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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