Pilot observes triangular formation of lights

Eminent UK Ufologist Joe McGonagle provided the following sighting report.
Joe points out that :
                                  “It is interesting to compare it to one of the few cases in the Condign report that was covered – see Vol. 1 Ch.3 Page 8 Para.20 and page 36 (figure 3-2)”.

Summary of case
Method of investigation
Specific sighting information
Initial witness description:
Establishing the date, time, and location of sighting
Sighting details
Assumptions made in the production of this report
Refined sighting report
Follow-up activities
Suggested further avenues of enquiry
Supporting documentation

Appendices:       Title:                                                                              PageAppendix A:       Edited image of letter from RAF Leeming Unit Press Officer       7
Appendix B:       Edited image of letter from Air Staff 2a                                  8

1. Summary of case:

The witness (who will be referred to as Mr. A throughout this case report), was travelling between Doncaster and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. During the journey, he observed a triangular formation of lights, which displayed unusual characteristics.

2. Witness:

Mr. A. is almost 25 years old at the time of writing, and lives in Essex. He holds a private pilots licence, and has flown approximately 120 solo hours. He works as a consultant in the computer industry. He does not use any medication likely to affect his perception of events, does not wear spectacles, and is strongly opposed to drinking and driving and narcotics abuse. I have only conversed with him via email, but I get the impression that he is sincere, relaxed about his experience, and rational.

3. Method of investigation:

The contact with the witness was exclusively via E-mail. I asked for a description of the sighting from Mr. A, which he provided. There was a lack of detail in his accounts, and I forwarded a series of questions to him based on his original accounts to encourage him to provide more relevant details, sometimes phrasing the same question in different ways to elicit more information without directing his response towards any particular conclusion. Once I had the majority of the facts as Mr A recalled them, I started research, looking for corroborative sightings on the internet, contacting a local ufology group1 in the area of the sightings, consulting individuals or groups with expertise in particular fields, travelled part of the route, enquired at military and civil aviation installations close to the sighting, etc. Where the research has turned up anything relevant, the source is identified in the sighting information, or the footnotes. From the information provided by the facts and subsequent research, I have endeavoured to reach a conclusion for the sighting.

4. Specific sighting information:

4.1 Initial witness description:

“OK, I could dig out the exact date for you if required as I was on my way back to Newcastle where I was staying at the time (my job requires me to travel round the country and stay in hotels a lot) from a concert in doncaster, I still have the ticket somwhere with the date on it.
I was driving north towards Newcastle on the A1 (I believe) and as far as I can tell, checking the map and times etc, I must of been just north of yorkshire, I was travelling along a pretty straight piece of road and the only other cars in sight was my friend in front of me and another car in front of him. I had my dashboard lights turned down dim so that I could concentrate on the road (it was quite late and I was feeling a bit tired). The cloud base was around 3000-4000 feet and it was broken cloud (I hold a
private pilots license so I find it second nature to make weather observations all the time) as I was travelling along the road I noticed 3 lights in a triangular pattern travelling alongside the road out to my left, the height, as far as I can estimate (not knowing the size of the object) would be around 2000 feet, the lights were never obscured by the cloud so it must of been travelling under them, I watched it for roughly 20 – 30 seconds, and I checked ot make sure it wasn’t just a reflection in my windscreen from my dashboard, a fact that was strengthened by the fact my friend who was driving in front of me called me on my mobile phone to ask if I had seen it!! The car in front of him had also seemed to slow down for no reason so I can only ASSUME that he had spotted it as well. After about 30 seconds the object speeding up so much that it what could be called a motion blur (I guess like the trail a shooting star would leave) then disappeared into the cloud cover.. That was the last I saw of it….”

4.2 Establishing the date, time, and location of sighting.

Establishing the date of the sighting was relatively straightforward. The witness attended a concert in Doncaster, and a quick search on the internet revealed that the group he was watching was at that particular venue on 25/10/99, therefore the sighting was during the early hours of 26/10/99.

Establishing the timings proved more difficult; the witness’s initial estimates of time were as follows:

Depart Doncaster:                                23:00-23:15
Sighting:                                             00:15-00:30
Arrive Newcastle-upon-Tyne:                  02:00-02:30

It was established that his departure time2 was actually 23:35. In spite of this error, the witness is still sure that the other times are reasonably accurate. He also believed that he travelled at an average speed of 70-80 mph over most of the route. Using the start time of 23:35 and assuming an average speed of 70 mph, then inputting these details into a route planner, he ought to have arrived at his destination at 01:46. This amounts to a relatively large margin of error in his estimates of time and/or speed. The most likely explanation for this is that his average speed over the journey was actually less than he thought, possibly due to a fuel stop on the way out of Doncaster, traffic congestion following the concert, and as a result of an accident3  which he passed on the A1.
Assuming then that his average speed was 55 mph, his arrival time would be around 02:04, again using the route planner to extrapolate the journey. If the sighting took place between 00:15 and 00:30, this would have placed him between the junction of the A1 and the M1, and the point where the A1 becomes the A1(M) near the village of Hunsingore.
The witness recalls a landmark that he passed some time before the sighting. It was a café or pub with the word ‘Fox’ in its name. Its name was written on the tiled roof of the building in large letters, and it was visible from the A1 on its West side. Efforts so far to identify this landmark have failed, the ‘Brotherton Fox’ has definitely been eliminated as a possible candidate.

4.3 Sighting details

4.3.1 Assumptions made in the production of this report

The sighting details are unsubstantiated, due to lack of correlating evidence regarding time and location, and a demonstrated inaccuracy of witness estimates. The following assumptions have been made:

1. Departure time from Doncaster was 23:35 on 25/10/99. (Confirmed)2
2. Average speed was 55 miles per hour (extrapolated from start time and estimated arrival time-this differs substantially from witness perception).
3. Time of sighting was between 00:15-00:30 on 26/10/99 (from witness statement, though other estimates within the witness statement appear to be relatively inaccurate).
4. Location of sighting was between the junction of the A1 and the M1, and the point where the A1 becomes the A1(M) near the village of Hunsingore (extrapolated from points 1,2, and 3 above)
5. Witness estimates of the characteristics of the object are reasonably accurate (due to his pilot experience).

4.3.2 Refined sighting report

Between 00:15 and 00:30 on 26/10/99, Mr. A. was driving North on the A1, somewhere between the junction of the A1 and the M1, and the point where the A1 becomes the A1(M) near the village of Hunsingore. In the car in front of him, was a friend, and there was a third car in front of his friend, the drivers identity of which is unknown.
Mr. A. is a private pilot, and he estimates the cloud base at the time of the sighting to have been 3-4000 feet, and there was broken cloud cover.
At some point on the route, he noticed a triangular formation of lights on the West side of the A1 at 10 O’clock from his position, at an estimated distance of  2 miles. Mr. A estimated that the object was about the same size as a private jet. The height was estimated at 2000 feet (the formation was never obscured by cloud). Mr. A checked that he was not looking at a reflection on his windscreen from another source, and the object accelerated to a motion blur after 20-30 seconds, disappearing from view.
The three lights appeared to be fixed relative to each other in a triangular formation, and were intensely bright. They did not illuminate any ground features, or detail of any mass joining the lights together.
The object appeared to maintain a steady, almost parallel course, though it seemed to ascend slightly.
During the sighting, all 3 cars slowed down, suggesting that the driver of the first and second cars were also aware of the object. Mr. A’s friend in the second car called Mr. A on his mobile phone, asking if Mr. A had seen it, and commenting about how bright and “out of place” it was.
Mr. A was struck by the acceleration of the formation, he is of the opinion that it exceeded the capabilities of a normal jet aircraft. He estimated that the formation accelerated from about 100 knots to 400 knots in a very short time, with no indication of an afterburner being used.
The nearest landmark the witness recalls was a short distance before the sighting, a Café or Public House with the word “Fox” in it’s name, on the West side of the A1. The name of the premises was clearly written on the roof of the building in large letters. The road in the area of the sighting was an unlit dual carriageway, with a central crash barrier, but no hard shoulder. The terrain was reasonably flat with an open aspect.

5. Follow-up activities.

Darren Parr of the Hull UFO society was contacted. Although there were numerous reports of UFO sightings, especially triangular light formations, in the weeks prior to this sighting, HUFOS had no reports for the time in question.
A field trip was carried out on 30th January 2000, covering the supposed area of the sighting. No trace of the “Fox” was found. During the trip, I visited RAF Leeming, RAF Dishforth, and Marne Barracks.
I was informed that RAF Dishforth is now operated by the Army Air Corps, and they fly Lynx helicopters only from the base. There is a policy which prevents flying after 23:00 at the base.
I got a very ‘cool’ reception from the guard commander at RAF Leeming. He recorded some details about the sighting, my personal details, and he provided me with details of the Unit Press Officer (UPO). RAF Leeming also have a flight ban after 23:00, and operate Tornado aircraft. I subsequently received a phone call and a letter from the UPO at Leeming, the outcome of which was that they passed the details on to the MOD in Whitehall. A few weeks later, I received a letter from the MOD, but somewhere along the line, there was confusion, because the letter said that they had checked for corroborative sightings in the Stoke-on-Trent area (which is where I live!).
I visited Marne Barracks (it used to be RAF Catterick, and I thought it may still have an operational runway). There I was provided with details of the UPO, and advised that the runway was unsuitable for any aircraft except vertical take off and landing (VTOL), eg Harriers and Helicopters, due to pot-holes on the runway. There are apparently no regular flights in or out of Marne Barracks, just occasional visits by Helicopters.
On the return route, I called in at the Leeds/Bradford International airport. Despite the fact that it was officially closed to the public at the time of my visit (the early hours of 31st January), they were very helpful. They allowed me to talk by telephone to one of the Radar operators, who said that they would have been able to track the object from there, and it would have been so unusual that it would have caused some discussion about it in the Radar operations room, but he could not recall any such event. The staff also gave me the telephone number for West Drayton, which co-ordinates all flights (civil and military) inside UK airspace. I called them, but they had no record of any aircraft in the area at the time.


There are too many variables involved with this case to come to any definite conclusion. The witness appears to be an accurate observer, though his timing discrepancies are a minor cause of concern. He was unable to produce the mobile phone records (it was a company mobile, and he has since left the company) which would have confirmed the time of the sighting. His friend in the preceding car during the sighting is so far unwilling to co-operate with an investigation, and the trail has gone somewhat stale by now.
Efforts to identify ‘the Fox’ have so far drawn a blank.
In my opinion, it seems very likely that this was a military aircraft. In spite of the flight restrictions in operation at Leeming and Dishforth, I think that this only applies to aircraft based at these sites, and that it is possible that a visiting aircraft could land at either base. There have been a lot of similar sightings in the North East, and I suspect that they may be due to (possibly classified) military experimental aircraft, though I have no evidence to support this theory. The poor condition of the runway at Marne Barracks does not preclude such operations being carried out from there, because in many sightings, the objects have been seen to hover, which may suggest VTOL capability.

7. Suggested further avenues of enquiry.

The most important ‘missing link’ in the case is the uncertainty of the location. Identification of the ‘Fox’ would certainly help with this.
It may be possible, with the co-operation of the witness’s previous employer to get the mobile phone bill details for the time in question, but this depends on the witness’s willingness to allow contact with his ex-employer, and their willingness to help with the investigation. [Note: I have discussed this with the witness, and it is no longer an option]
There is also a chance that Yorkshire police would be able to identify the time and location of the road traffic accident referred to by the witness, which could help with the investigation.
There are a surprising number of other airfields in the area, and it may be worth checking with those.
It may be worth re-submitting the sighting report to the MOD, and it is my intention to forward a copy of this report to them, [note: posted today, 10/8/00], as they have obviously not recorded the correct details, judging from their response. If the MOD were to confirm the cause as a ‘classified’ operation, I would recommend no further investigation, but they are unlikely to do this.

8.  Supporting documentation.

I have all of the e-mail exchanges between the witness and myself and between myself and agencies which I have approached with respect to this sighting, and notes of telephone conversations plus a record of the field trip. I will retain them indefinitely, and subject to agreement from the witness, will produce them to anyone who wishes to review or investigate the sighting further. I also have the original written responses from RAF Leeming and the MOD, and the contact details of the UPO’s at Dishforth, Leeming, and Marne Barracks.

1 Hull UFO Society (HUFOS).
2 Time verified by evidence of a credit card receipt for petrol (he filled his tank on the way out of Doncaster).
3 Relatively early on in the journey, he passed an accident involving a transit style van or minibus which had overturned. Two police cars were in attendance.

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