The Calvine UFO photo: skeptics and believers seek to explain the 30 year old images Nigel Watson The Skeptic

Nick Pope famously claimed that the Calvine UFO photograph was one of the best he had ever seen. A copy of it hung on his office wall at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London, and when he asked about it he was staggered to discover that the MoD had been unable to identify the ‘ship’ or the nearby aircraft.

Writing in the Sun in 2020, he claimed:

This was unprecedented and suggested that someone inside the MoD had sabotaged the investigation and blocked the UFO project from getting to the truth. Dark forces were at work.

Pope tells of being briefed by an agent from the Defence Intelligence Staff, who said it was not Russian or American, and simply pointed to the sky implying it was of an alien origin.

That seemed to be the end of any further investigation, as the MoD decided that in order to protect the identity of the witnesses any further details could not be released until January 2072.

Breaking protocol, RAF officer Craig Lindsay, now 83, kept a copy of one of the pictures appropriately enough inside a book – Great Aircraft of The World. It was during his research into this case that Dr David Clarke of Sheffield Hallam University, got in touch with Craig, who was happy to give him this picture.

In an exclusive for the Daily Mail, the picture was finally revealed as the ‘most spectacular UFO photo ever captured’. It clearly shows a diamond-shaped object accompanied by a conventional looking jet fighter aircraft.

Nick Pope was quick to comment on his Twitter account that:

It’s my policy not to comment on leaked information, especially if it might be classified, so until I receive Ministry of Defence advice, I can neither confirm nor deny if this is the picture that was displayed on my office wall when I ran the MoD’s “UFO desk”’.

Why Pope thinks this is leaked information is strange considering he’d already told the whole world about this case, and even had it reconstructed by an artist. Indeed, even after the release of this photograph, Pope suggests we should still look at the reproduction based on the old photocopy.

There was a strong belief in the MoD that this photograph and five others, snapped by two unnamed 16-year-old chefs as they were hiking in the Cairngorms National Park, near Calvine, Scotland on 4th August 1990, showed a US Aurora experimental stealth aircraft. Yet, the US has always said this experimental craft is a myth.

From the MoD files, this ‘loose minute’ document refers to the case:

Loose Minute
14 September 1990
APS/US of 5(AF)
Copy to: Head of Sec(s) DD GE/AEU DOPR(RAF)


1. US of S(AF) may wish to be aware that the Scottish Daily Record may run a story regarding an alleged sighting of a UFO near Pitlochrie in early August. Such stories are not normally drawn to the attention of Ministers and the MoD press office invariably responds to questions along well-established lines emphasising our limited interest in the UFO phenomenon and explaining that we therefore do not have the resources to undertake any in-depth investigations into particular sightings. On this occasion however, the MoD has been provided with six photographic negatives of an alleged UFO by the Scottish Daily Record and has been asked for comments almost certainly for inclusion in a forthcoming story. For this reason it is felt that US of S(AF) should be made aware of the background and the line adopted by the DOPR(RAF) in responding to the newspaper.

2. The photographs, which were received on 10 Sept, are alleged to have been taken near the A9 road at Calvine, north of Pitlochrie on the evening of 4 August. They show a large stationary, diamond-shaped object past which, it appears, a small jet aircraft is flying. The negatives have been considered by the relevant staffs who have established that the jet aircraft is a Harrier (and also identified a barely visible second aircraft, again probably a Harrier) but have reached no definite conclusion regarding the large object. It has also been confirmed that there is no record of Harriers operating in the area at the time at which the photographs are alleged to have been taken. The negatives have now been returned to the Scottish Daily Record.

3. In consultation with DDPR (RAF) It has been agreed that the attached lines to take should be used in responding to the Scottish Daily Record. These are consistent with the position adopted in the replies to the many public and occasional parliamentary enquiries on the subject of UFOS.

The Scottish Daily Record never ran the story, and it is strange the minute was written a month after the photographs were allegedly taken. You would think a newspaper would be eager to publish such exciting pictures, of course they might have had reservations about disclosing military secrets, but from the tone of the minute the MoD seemed to expect them to be featured in the newspaper.

Since the release of the Calvine picture several very similar photographs have been discovered dating back to the 1980s. Robert Sheaffer on his Bad UFOs blog notes they have an archetypal formula – they show a diamond-shaped craft with nearby military aircraft and have trees at the top of the frame and something in the foreground. 

Theories and Explanations

The newly-released picture has sparked a wide number of theories, either debunking or confirming that it is really a photograph of an anomalous craft, perhaps of extraterrestrial origin.

UFO experiencer Terry Tibando voiced the more extreme opinion, that;

This is a military jet chasing one of its nation’s own reverse engineered alien craft aka. ARV – Alien Reproduction Vehicle. It is not a true alien spacecraft! Yes, the UK has ARVs which they fly around the country from time to time!! Now, you know!

A Facebook commentator observed:

they’re preparing us for “disclosure” in 2024. It’s part of another Psyop. They’re going to use it to leverage our fear for control.

Ufologist Robert Moore, does not buy those outlandish ideas, or the Aurora secret aircraft explanation, stating that:

My 2p worth, as everyone else seems to have their own theory:

I would suggest, rather than Aurora it was an “aerodyne”, a wingless craft that solely supports itself by engine thrust. Hence the lack of wings, protracted hovering and vertical ascent.

No one has ever made one that has worked satisfactorily. It seems a great idea in principle but their fuel economy is terrible. Why use something like that when you have the Osprey or helicopters which do the same job but more economically? So also a good candidate for a cancelled project concept. The hovering doesn’t seem consistent with what is known (speculated?) about Aurora.

He suggests that this was: ‘Possibly something being tested by a Scottish/British aerospace company (the area is a test zone).’

There are others still who think the pictures are a hoax. The Metabunk website thread discussing the images contains this explanation:

I think we might be being fooled by our perception…?

It’s an island reflecting off the water.. And we are seeing the bottom of the plane… also reflecting off the water.

On a perfect overcast/grey day the sky matches the water. The fence is on the edge of the water.

The “island”/object is not straight… It has bumps and odd colour and texture. I believe we are seeing trees and buildings in the distance.. on an island .. I wish there was no explanation that could explain the photo ….. But the photo is not of great quality. I wish there was something between the fence and the island/object.. to give a better perspective, and eliminate the possibility of us looking at an island in the middle of a lake… But there is not. Another bad picture imo.

If you look at the UFO as an island or rock being reflected in a lake to form a diamond shaped craft, and the aircraft is a nearby boat, it does seem a convincing idea. Yet, we do not know if this was deliberately staged, or the hikers accidentally photographed this optical illusion.

Beside the water reflection notion, Metabunk also carries other theories about how the photograph could have been faked using models or using a plate of glass with a drawing of an aircraft on it, and a senior member of the site called ‘Rory’ supplies a handy list of other explanations. These include the ‘UFO’ being a kite, a balloon, a hilltop above a sea of fog, a stealth aircraft or an ET visitor. It could also have been hoaxed employing double exposures, darkroom or computer manipulation. As he points out all these explanations have their pros and cons, and none of them is fully satisfactory. Similarly, Robert Sheaffer of Bad UFOs has done some excellent work investigating some of the better explanations.

Another point is that the picture is well-framed with a fence at bottom and trees at the top. Usually when people grab a picture they do not have time to compose it so well.


Medellín, Colômbia.28 de junho de 2022. #ufos

♬ som original – UFOS ELES ESTÃO AQUI

We would get a better idea of whether this is a faked picture if we could see the other 5 photographs and the roll of negatives the hikers took, which would help us identify their exact location and the movement of the aircraft and UFO. Where the photographic material has gone is still a mystery.

As the names of the two witnesses will not be released until 2072, due to rules to protect their identity, plus the fact they have not voluntarily come forward, we can only speculate about the veracity of their images. Perhaps all this recent publicity might get the MoD to release the full set of photos, along with their negatives?

Whatever the real story behind this photograph, it does show that among both sceptics and believers, neither side has come up with a convincing explanation. Although, that just about sums up most aspects of ufology.

On a final note of mystery, a video posted on Tik Tok shows a craft very much like the Calvine UFO flying over Medellín, Colombia, on 28th June 2022. If it is a fake, it is more convincing than most.

Further Reading

‘UFO Cover-Up at Calvine’ by David Clarke, Fortean Times, No 423, October 2022, pp30-35.The Calvine UFO photograph – revealed‘Calvin 1990 Photo’ on Robert Sheaffer’s Bad UFOs site

The post The Calvine UFO photo: skeptics and believers seek to explain the 30 year old images appeared first on The Skeptic.

The Calvine UFO photo, taken in 1990, resurfaced recently, bringing with it a wave of speculation from UFO believers and skeptics alike
The post The Calvine UFO photo: skeptics and believers seek to explain the 30 year old images appeared first on The Skeptic.