Air Force bases have always attracted odd stories and conspiracies to them, and this seems to be true across the globe. MoD Boscombe Down is an air base on the outskirts of the town of Amesbury in Wiltshire, England, and the home of a military aircraft testing site owned by the MOD, the Ministry of Defence. Built in 1917, it was used by the British Aircraft and Armament Evaluation Establishment (AAEE) from 1939, and is currently operated by operated by a private military contractor called QinetiQ, which was created as part of the breakup of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) in 2001. It has always been heavily involved in flight testing and weapons development, and like many other bases of its kind, it has had its fair share of conspiracies swirling about it, and although its official capacity is evaluating aircraft used by the British Armed Forces, there have long been rumors of dark secret projects and UFOs, making it often referred to as “Britain’s Area 51.”
One of the many weird tales surrounding the base began on September 22, 1994, when numerous locals of the area reported hearing a very anomalous sound “like a freight train or a low-frequency rumbling or humming.” Although the base had many aircraft coming and going all the time, this sound was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before, strange enough to get people talking. All inquiries to the base were met with silence, and as far as the RAF was concerned, nothing strange had happened at all. Then, on September 26th 1994, something truly odd went down at Boscombe Down. On this evening an unknown aircraft malfunction occurred on Runway 23, either a crash or flight abortion, and the runway was immediately shut down and swiftly descended upon by military personnel. In addition, the main highway, the A303, that runs into Boscombe Down, was also completely closed off. Eyewitnesses would claim that the mysterious aircraft had been promptly covered with by a frame and tarpaulins, as a hive of activity and emergency vehicles swarmed around it. The response was incredibly fast and urgent for just a mere flight malfunction, and witnesses who actually saw the events playing out would say that the covered aircraft was partially visible under its coverings, charcoal grey in color, with an oddly elevated rear section, a canopy that appeared to hinge forward at the front, and inward canting twin fins at its rear section. This was about the best look anyone could get of it before the aircraft was quickly locked within a hangar.
It all had the feel of something very hush hush, which was only made stronger when the next day U.K. special operations forces and two special operations aircraft arrived at the base, described as an Agusta A109 helicopter from the British Army's 8 Flight AAC, and a Chinook from the RAF's No. 7 Squadron, which witnesses would claim had seemed be securing the area as activity continued on the runway that looked like some sort of intense cleanup operation. The special operations helicopters tirelessly circled the area for several days as the activity on the ground continued, and in the meantime some other aircraft arrived as well. One of these was a USAF C-12 Huron, used by the DoD for air transport, and another was an unmarked Boeing 707, its origins unknown. What were all of these aircraft up to? Perhaps most unusual of all was a Boeing 737/T-43 which had the distinctive red and white markings of planes operated by the private contractor EG&G, who were most known for carrying out an array of black project clandestine flights for various aerospace companies and the military, as well as for running the planes that carried employees to and from the mysterious Groom Lake facility and Tonopah Test Range Airport, near Las Vegas, Nevada, both of which have plenty of their own conspiracies swirling around them.
Not long after this, a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy transport plane from the United States Air Force, in this case modified in order hold oversized cargo, arrived and allegedly was loaded with an unidentifiable tarpaulin-covered object from within the hangar and supposedly flown off towards the mysterious USAF Plant 42 Airport, known as a cutting-edge military aircraft manufacturing facility for various contractors including Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works and others. It would later be found that this plane had been suddenly diverted to Boscombe from its original flight plan to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Even after the mysterious cargo was whisked away, Boscombe Down would continue to be frequented by various government aircraft, such as a plane registered with the CIA that arrived under heavy security.
It is clear that something very big went down at Boscombe Down, attracting the attention of the RAF, USAF, the CIA, and who knows who else, but it has never been clear just what that may have been. Researchers Ren Hoek and Marco Van der Welk would investigate the strange incident for two years, culminating in a March 1997 cover story in Air Forces Monthly, but they were never able to get to the bottom of what was really going on. Just about the only thing they could say for sure was that there as “no doubt that an incident did happen on the day in question and it has never been satisfactorily explained by the authorities.” The governments involved have not helped make anything clearer. Both the British Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Defense Department have always denied that the incident occurred, and have claimed that there were no flights of any sort of test aircraft on the night in question. So, what are we dealing with here?
One idea put forward by Hoek and Van der Welk is that this was some sort of very advanced top secret experimental reconnaissance aircraft, according to them most likely what is called the ASTRA (Advanced Stealth Reconnaissance Aircraft), a mysterious theoretical aircraft that has never been confirmed to actually exist but has been rumored for a long time in conspiracy circles. The ASTRA has often been blamed for sightings around the UK of mysterious “black triangle” UFOs that have never been explained, as have other alleged top-secret aircraft being supposedly developed at around the same time. One of these is the Hypersonic Aurora Spy-plane, as well as the so-called TR-3A "Black Manta," purportedly a subsonic stealthy tactical reconnaissance aircraft. Of course, both the RAF and USAF have denied that any such aircraft have ever existed. Other theories are that the object at Boscombe may have been captured foreign tech or even a crashed UFO. The site The War Zone has done much in-depth research on the incident, filing various Freedom of Information Act requests and also speaking to author and Nick Cook, who was the aviation editor at Jane’s Defense Weekly at the time and one of the first to break the story, who would say of the incident:
I definitely think something happened. The C-5 definitely came into Boscombe Down. I didn’t talk to the witnesses directly but I read enough witness testimony to say they saw something with a tarpaulin on it on the runway. It had to have been American or have had some American lineage in it in order for the C-5 to have turned up. There were quite a few rumors of joint black programs between the U.S. and the U.K. at the time. There was a lot of the Aurora stuff knocking around at the time but I don’t think it was Aurora. It sounded smaller, tactical, deployable, F-117-like. That sort of size. Certainly, something happened. What it was, I have no idea.
To this day, no one is really sure just what, if anything, went down that Autumn night in 1994 at Boscombe Down. What was that craft that was being so secretly whisked away and hidden? What was the meaning of all of those aircraft from different agencies descending upon the base in the wake of the incident, and just what did that cargo plane carry off? Was this some sort of highly sensitive and experimental aircraft or something else? No one really knows, and the incident at Boscombe Down remains an impenetrable mystery.