IT IS a close encounter of the official kind. A former RAF officer has claimed that UFOs are real and may have invaded UK airspace, branding official resistance to such theories as "stupid and arrogant".
Wing Commander Alan Turner MBE was sworn to secrecy after he tracked a series of unidentified objects soaring over southern England at incredible speeds.
But now the airman, who was honoured by the Queen for his years of distinguished service, has broken his silence and spoken publicly for the first time about his extraordinary experience.
Turner, 64, a former head of air traffic control at RAF Lossiemouth, insists it is "stupid and arrogant" to rule out the existence of extra-terrestrials and is open to the suggestion that he witnessed craft from another world.
But the Ministry of Defence stressed last night there were "realistic explanations" for such reports.
The incident, which has baffled and haunted Turner for decades, took place at RAF Sopley on the south-west coast of England in the summer of 1971.
At the time he was Duty Military Supervisor and had the responsibility of monitoring the skies on radar screens for potential Soviet incursions.
On the day in question, Turner and his 13 colleagues were alarmed by a sudden and unexpected development.
He said: "I can clearly remember people shouting: 'What the hell is that?' I got to a console and people were loudly telling me to look to the east of Salisbury Plain.
"Twenty miles east of the eastern extremity was a series of returns, or radar blips, which were appearing in that position. There were five of them initially. Then six and then seven all following the same track.
"They were tracking south-east, each exactly six to seven miles apart and moving at exactly the same speed. At about 40 miles from the point they appeared on radar, they disappeared, to be followed almost immediately by a replacement at the point of origin.
"The objects were about 3,000ft above ground level when they first appeared and climbed so rapidly that, by the time they disappeared from radar they were in excess of 60,000ft.
"To climb to such a height in only 40 miles was beyond the ability of almost any fighter aircraft at that time."
In a bid to solve the mystery Turner diverted an RAF Canberra jet, which was returning from West Germany, to intercept the intruders.
"When the pilot got within a mile or so of one particular blip, he reported, in a very agitated voice, that his radar had picked up something on his port side that was 'climbing like the clappers'. Neither the pilot nor his navigator made any visual contact with whatever it was."
Within days, Turner was summoned into the Squadron Leader's office and questioned by two men, who wore civilian clothes and were not identified, about the incident.
"I, along with all the others who were in the room on that day, were told in no uncertain terms not to relate what we had seen until cleared to do so."
Turner, who was awarded the MBE in 1984 and retired from the force in 1995, has been assured that there were no training operations, classified or otherwise, going on at the time and there were no weather balloons or probes in the area.
"I have no idea what they were, but I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility that they were UFOs. There is certainly a chance that we have been visited by extra-terrestrials," he said. "It is terribly arrogant and silly to think that we are alone in the universe."
He feels the time is right to end his silence and has accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at an international UFO conference in Pontefract, Yorkshire, next month.
"I have spoken to three ex-Air Force mates, who held senior positions, and they have seen similar things, but did not report them as they felt their personal integrity would be questioned. That is why I kept quiet for so long, but I know what I saw."