A UFO sketch made by a member of the public. Courtesy National Archives
The National Archives has released exciting new UFO files from the Ministry of Defence archives, including details of the Rendlesham Forest Incident, dubbed "Britain's Roswell".
Other highlights from the files include details of fighter jets being scrambled over Belgium, Russian rockets, attempted alien abductions and a Virgin blimp that had a lot of Londoners racing to their telephones to report a UFO.
The files are available from today (Monday August 17) and will be free to download for the next month from the National Archives website.
UFOs hover over a town centre. Courtesy National Archives
The Rendlesham Forest incident of December 1980 took place at the RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk when American Airforce personnel reported seeing a UFO landing in a nearby forest and lights dashing between the trees.
In 1989, Belgian F-16 fighters were scrambled following UFO sightings reported by police – the fighters even managed to obtain a "lock-on" with their radars, but were unable to explain what the UFOs were.
Two young men contacted Staffordshire police in 1996 following what they reported as an attempted alien abduction. They had been walking home late at night when they felt an intense heat and their skin went red, before a lemon-shaped head apparently beckoned them to "come with us."
A sketch of a UFO sighting. Courtesy National Archives
Although there is an element of the unexplained to many of the files, some sightings have a clear explanation that the public still refused to believe.
In the early 1990s a Virgin blimp was used to advertise the launch of the Ford Mondeo, leading to a large number of UFO sightings. Despite the explanation, some people refused to accept it and submitted sketches of what they believed they had seen.
Many of the UFO reports in this release were filed in 1996, a year that saw the X-Files TV show reach the height of its popularity and Will Smith make a heroic appearance in the alien-themed movie Independence Day. Sightings rose dramatically from 117 in 1995 to 609 in 1996.
"It's evident there is some connection between newspaper stories, TV programmes and films about alien visitors and the numbers of UFO sightings reported to the MoD," said Dr David Clarke, a UFO expert and Journalism lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University.
A sketch of a flying saucer style UFO with flashing lights. Courtesy National Archives
"Aside from 1996, one of the busiest years for UFO sightings reported to the MoD over the past half century was 1978 – the year Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released.
"Obviously, films and TV programmes raise public awareness of UFOs and it's fascinating to see how that appears to lead more people to report what they see to the authorities."
The files are available from today (Monday August 17) and are free to download for the next month from the National Archives website.