Sep 15, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Black Helicopters Over the Pond: Flying Mysteries in the U.K.

The late Jim Keith – a conspiracy theorist who died under controversial circumstances in 1999 – was an acknowledged expert on black helicopters and someone who penned two books on the subject. He recalled one incident that demonstrated sightings of black helicopters were occurring well into the 1990s: “On May 23, 1994, at the Big Meadows on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, a citizen came upon a blocked-off road leading into the Shenandoah National Park. He observed a black chopper coming in for a landing a short distance away, and took photos of the craft. When he asked a park ranger what the black choppers were doing there, the ranger said, ‘They help us with search and rescue.” When the man pointed out to the ranger that the helicopter was equipped with a grenade launcher and added that this hardly seemed to gel with the “search and rescue” comment, the ranger suddenly became noticeably hostile. As to who, precisely, is overseeing all of these classified operations, perhaps the most likely scenario is that which was offered to a long-time UFO investigator named Tommy Blann. In the early 1980s Blann had the opportunity to speak with a confidential, U.S. military source that was willing to share at least a limited amount of solid data on the black helicopter phenomenon

Blann said that his informant told him of “underground installations, as well as isolated areas of military reservations [that] have squadrons of unmarked helicopters, which have sophisticated instrumentation on board, that are dispatched to areas of UFO activity to monitor these craft or airlift them out of the area if one has malfunctioned.” It's a fact that most cases of Black Helicopters occur in the United States. And, it's a little-known matter, too, that now and again reports will surface in the United Kingdom. As you will see now. 

(Nick Redfern) A Black Helicopter in action

In mid-January 1974, the British media was tipped off by government insiders that there was deep concern on the part of officialdom that someone – someone unknown and maybe of hostile intent – was flying unmarked helicopters around the skies of the United Kingdom, and in the dead of night, no less. All across the north of England the curious craft were seen, as is evidenced by the following, official statement put out by Cheshire Police when the story reached the media: “We don’t know of any reason why the helicopter should make these trips at night. Obviously we are anxious to find out. Apart from anything else, the helicopter crosses one of the main flight paths to Manchester Airport. There is an obvious danger to the aircraft going into the airport. We are very interested to know what is happening. We hope to be able to trace the pilot and put some suggestions to him. It would appear the pilot is in breach of civil aviation laws. A special license is needed to fly a helicopter at night.” 

Police from Derbyshire, England acknowledged they had received such reports, too: “All sorts of things spring to mind but we have pretty much ruled out that it is anything to do with illegal immigrants, and nothing appears to have been stolen in the areas where the aircraft has been sighted.” As the encounters with the black and unmarked helicopters continued, an elite arm of the British Police Force known as Special Branch - whose work primarily revolves around combating terrorism within the U.K. - got involved in the investigation. This is made clear via a now-declassified Special Branch file on the affair titled Alleged Unauthorized Helicopter Flights in Derbyshire and Cheshire. The Special Branch files record that: “The machine was observed on a number of occasions over a period of two weeks to be apparently practicing landings in the vicinity of the sites of quarries and explosive stores in the Derbyshire countryside. Special Branch Constable [Deleted] has made numerous enquiries to discover the ownership and reasons for the flights from various sources but has yet to establish any positive facts. 

“He has contacted an experienced Royal Air Force helicopter pilot with night flying experience who explained that night flying in the Derbyshire areas would be extremely dangerous due to the nature of the terrain and to the number of overhead pylons in the area.” Two months after the British press first got wind of what was afoot, the sightings were still going on, something that led the British Ministry of Defense, Special Branch, and a whole variety of regional police forces to pool their thoughts and recommendations at Horseferry House, London, on March 21. Rather oddly – some might say suspiciously – when a decision was taken to increase the investigation, possibly using Royal Air Force aircraft to pursue the helicopters, the curious wave came to a sudden end. That the country was also experiencing one of its biggest waves of UFO activity at the very same time that the helicopter sightings were rife surely cannot be a coincidence. One has to wonder if a secret, helicopter-based detachment from the United States was taking careful note of what was happening in the U.K., in terms of the growing UFO presence across the U.K. in that period from late 1973 to early 1974.

There is, however, an even earlier U.K. case, as you will see now. According to a batch of files that the U.K.'s National Archive declassified a number of years ago, Dame Rebecca West, MBE, was inadvertently plunged into a very strange puzzle in early 1966. Incredibly, she asserted, some sort of unusual aerial object, had landed in the grounds of her home – Ibstone House. For its part, the files reveal, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) suggested that West had simply misidentified a helicopter seen under poor conditions (which may well have been the case). Whatever the truth of the matter, West’s odd experience became the subject of a fifteen-page file that attracted the attention of the MoD’s Defense Intelligence Staff. As the old documentation at the U.K.'s National Archives reveals, it was 2.45 p.m. on 7 January 1966 and West was out walking in the grounds of her home when...“As I was going down the steep hill to the farm buildings I noticed a man walking on my property at some distance to the right of the path I was following,” she wrote to the MoD. “Presently, he reached a point when the wood stopped and there is a hedge which runs down to the valley along a sharp ridge. There is a gap in the hedge and the man stopped just past this and turned around, facing in the reverse direction, and stood still.”

(Nick Redfern) Red lights, but no markings

Expressing concern about “what he was going to do,” West watched in amazement as what she described as “an aerial construction” appeared out of nowhere. “One moment it was not there, the next it was,” Rebecca West explained. “It seemed to come down quite rapidly, on the other side of the hedge from the man, but very close to it.” And what, precisely, was it that Dame Rebecca West saw? Her description was curious, to say the least. Stressing to the MoD that the object was “strangely shaped,” she stated: “It consisted of something like a metal band, grey-blue in color, flattened at one point so as to seem almost leaf-like, crossed with a sort of herringbone system of metal strips.” She elaborated further: “There was also somehow attached to these an odd object like a bag with an opening that had points, made of yellowish material. As I looked the whole thing collapsed toward the ground. “I saw it crumpling downwards, but crumpling is not quite the word. The metal band seemed to cut backwards and disappear while the curious bag looked as if someone were squeezing the air out of the lower portion of it, so that all the points stood up, and then fell back. Comparing the height of the object with the height of the man, I should put it as something [between] fifteen and twenty.”

Also playing on West’s mind was the identity of the mystery man. Stressing that his behavior was “very odd,” she continued that “he seemed to be watching the thing come down, and the minute it was down, he turned round and followed the hedge track down to the valley. Once or twice he looked to his left as if he were scrutinizing the valley, and he did not seem to see me. But at the bottom of the track he stopped again and looked all round the slope on which I was standing, and this time he seemed to see me. We stood and looked at each other for quite a long time, and I had an uncomfortable feeling and went home. ”The key question centered on the identity of the strange object. In her letter to the Ministry of Defense, West wrote that a farm laborer had informed her that he had seen a helicopter flying in the vicinity earlier on that same day. West, meanwhile, ventured the possibility that it was “some gadget sent out by the Meteorological Office.” Rebecca West signed off: “I feel most apologetic for burdening you with such an improbable story. But I did not like to report it to the local police, as I think you will agree that an elderly woman who went to the local police with a story of having seen the equivalent of a flying saucer would be adding considerably to the difficulties of her life.”

On arrival at the MoD, West’s letter (and accompanying drawing) was forwarded to a particular office known to have been involved in the collation of UFO data in the 1960s and referred to as s4f (Air). As the records show, however, one L.W. Akhurst of that office then dispatched all of the relevant data to a Flight Lieutenant Mercer of the Defense Intelligence Staff. For his part, Mercer was inclined to accept that, “Dame Rebecca West saw a helicopter, possibly of the Bell 47 or similar type, which in conditions of poor visibility appeared to have some unusual characteristics.”

West was far from convinced by the MoD’s explanation and fired a letter back to Ackhurst. “To have appeared where I saw it a helicopter would have had to fly twenty or thirty yards with its lower half deeply embedded in the earth.” She also maintained that: “There was at this time complete silence,” and that “visibility seemed to me not poor at all, for I spotted several birds at a considerable distance. I do not expect an answer to this letter.” West concluded: “I reported the incident partly because I feared the object might be a parachute or some such construction which was being used to drop something or somebody for criminal purposes, and partly because the construction I saw or thought I saw puzzled me, as I could not conceive how it could be got into the air, could stay in the air, or be brought down out of the air.”

Akhurst’s response was short and to the point. “No further evidence has become available concerning this particular sighting, so there is nothing further I can add.” The case was closed. For its part, the Ministry of Defense seemed satisfied with the explanation that the object was simply a helicopter - and its staff did indeed make a good case for the craft being a helicopter. However, West’s letters clearly demonstrate that she had dismissed the notion that the object was a helicopter (“I have seen many in my time, and I can’t imagine how I could have seen a helicopter from any angle which would have made it present such an appearance,” she stated). She had also given much consideration to the idea that the object was some form of man-made "gadget." Yet, she was equally well aware of the fact that her report seemed to fall squarely into the Flying Saucer category too. And there was also the glaring observation on her part that the object had been flying in total silence. Dame Rebecca West continued to write with vigor almost until the time of her death at the age of ninety in 1983, and her contribution to British literature is more than well recognized. It seems that more than half a century on, however, this particularly curious aspect of her notable life will remain forever unresolved.

Nick Redfern

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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