Devon Flying Cross of 1967 UAP

PublicStranger

Active Member
Not a very high profile case but an interesting one none the less. It was giving an explanation by astronomer Howard Miles as being the planet Venus however the in depth explanation the 2 officers give makes good listening and the fact they were convinced the object was about 400 metres away and that the object was accelerating away from them suggests it may have been something else. There were coincidently a number of sightings of this 'Blue flashing cross' by police officers in the same month days later.

Is there any other possible explanation for this sighting? Could it have been something else other than Venus?

Source: http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/flyingcross.html
British UFOlogists still recall the famous Devon ‘flying cross’ case of 1967 October 24 in which two police constables, Roger Willey and Clifford Waycott, chased an apparent UFO in their police car along country lanes at up to 90 mile/h in the early hours of the morning. ‘It looked like a star-spangled cross radiating points of light from all angles,’ Constable Willey told the press. ‘It was travelling about tree-top height over wooded countryside near Holsworthy, Devon. We drove towards it and it moved away. It then led us on a chase as if it was playing a game with us.’

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The officers were interviewed by ITN at the time and the clip is available here.



Howard Miles of the British Astronomical Association (BAA) looked into this case but never published any results, so I sought his recollections to put on the record. When I contacted him in 2000 he was retired and living in Cornwall, but at the time of the event he taught at a technical college in Coventry. He ran the BAA’s artificial satellite section and UFO cases sometimes came his way. In this case it wasn’t difficult for him (and others, including the science correspondent of the Daily Mirror, Arthur Smith – see cutting above right) to recognize that the ‘flying cross’ was a classic sighting of Venus, which was particularly bright in the dawn sky at the time. In response to my request, Howard emailed me with the following information on his involvement with the case (apologies to any UFO believers whom it may offend):

I did not carry out any astronomical observations on this event as it was purely in [the] field of the nutters. I became involved because the TV station at Plymouth phoned me up when I was living in Coventry and asked me to appear on a programme that particular evening. I was late in arriving at Plymouth and the producer met me at the Station. On the way to the studio he outlined what was involved and said that I would interview a UFO supporter who was described as a bit weird and then two policemen who had witnessed the event from their patrol car.
The UFO chap was a prize nutter and knew no astronomy. He was completely confused about the positions of the planets and I came out with a sentence which is frequently quoted to me ‘For God’s sake talk a bit of ruddy sense’. The camera crew roared their heads off and after the programme the producer congratulated me in the way I handled him.
The two pcs were completely different and accepted completely my explanation of the apparent motions of Venus as being due to travelling along a bending road. [Ian’s note: This was also the conclusion of MoD investigators.]
I explained all the usual optical illusions that arise when a very bright object is seen in the sky and the idea that it must be near if it is very bright. They seemed quite satisfied.
That was my sole contribution to the episode. I did not wish to become involved with the UFO organisations as I had enough to do with the satellite work. These organisations were a pain throughout my years as satellite director. In the end I used to say that UFOs were outside the terms of reference of the BAA and hence could not comment. It usually shut them up.
The case attracted a fair bit of publicity at the time because of the two policemen involved but even those familiar with the case may not have known of Howard Miles’s involvement.

In early 2004 BBC Devon reinterviewed constables Waycott & Willey , by then both retired, about the events of that October night. ‘Nobody can explain exactly what it was,’ said Willey. ‘No explanation has been given to us by anybody,’ agreed Waycott. Evidently the policemen, and BBC Devon, had forgotten that they had been given the answer in the BBC’s own Plymouth studios back in 1967.
 
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There is nothing surprising about two people having forgotten something that happened thirty-seven years previously. It seems unlikely that we, a further two decades after that interview, could provide any enlightenment on the event. People with astronomical expertise answered it at the time, and they had far more information to go on than we do.
 
Here's a link to Ian Ridpath's page (which is quoted extensively in @PublicStranger's post above).
http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/flyingcross.html
Ridpath's page includes versions of those newspaper articles which you can expand and read, and also the report by the MOD investigator (see below)

The most likely explanation is still Venus. Venus was known to be visible on the eastern horizon at about that time of day...
In other words, Venus was just rising, as a morning star, and would have been increasingly prominent as the night wore on.
 
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Here's the Holsworthy to Hatherleigh road, which does indeed run due east most of the time. If they started in Holsworthy itself, Venus would have been to their left, and might have appeared to be somewhat north of east at first.
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Is there any other possible explanation for this sighting? Could it have been something else other than Venus?
Possibly, but as @Ann K noted above, trying to investigate something over 55 years later is problematic, especially when it seems it was explained back then. From your post:

The UFO chap was a prize nutter and knew no astronomy. He was completely confused about the positions of the planets and I came out with a sentence which is frequently quoted to me ‘For God’s sake talk a bit of ruddy sense’. The camera crew roared their heads off and after the programme the producer congratulated me in the way I handled him.

The two pcs were completely different and accepted completely my explanation of the apparent motions of Venus as being due to travelling along a bending road. (Ian’s note: This was also the conclusion of MoD investigators.)
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So, one witness knew nothing about astronomy and was maybe a bit overly enthusiastic about what he saw being a UFO and the 2 policemen agreed it was Venus after it was explained to them. As did the MoD.

Is this case being trolled out again in UFO circles? That would be classic UFOlogy. Something strange happens, its explained and it goes away. Then 25-50 years later someone says "Well hey, what about this case? Was it really solved?". Usually there are more elements added over time though such as in the Roswell and Rendlesham cases.
 
Not a very high profile case but an interesting one none the less. It was giving an explanation by astronomer Howard Miles as being the planet Venus however the in depth explanation the 2 officers give makes good listening and the fact they were convinced the object was about 400 metres away and that the object was accelerating away from them suggests it may have been something else. There were coincidently a number of sightings of this 'Blue flashing cross' by police officers in the same month days later.

Is there any other possible explanation for this sighting? Could it have been something else other than Venus?

Source: http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/flyingcross.html


flyingcross.jpg
flyingcross2.jpg

The officers were interviewed by ITN at the time and the clip is available here.



So...first thing I did was to set Stellarium to October 24th 1967.

And immediately a problem arises. Venus rises at 3.30am. Yet the newspaper article talks about 'the merits of screeching about the roads at 4am'. The same article says the object was observed for 50 minutes.

We do not know if the '4am' refers to the start or end of the sighting, however if viewed in context it is quite clearly 'during' the sighting. There is a problem in that prior to 4am Venus was literally just a few degrees above the horizon. Even at 4am...it was just 5 degrees above the horizon. And we are talking about the hilly horizon of north Devon that would in most places have obscured anything so low in the sky.

The policemen say the object was 'just above the trees'. Well...below is a photo of the Moon I took on July 2nd of the Moon just above trees 800 feet away and at a Moon elevation of 10 degrees. That is some distance for trees....and yet the Moon had to be at 10 degrees to be above them. Trees would have had to be a long way away for the Moon at a mere 5 degrees to be just above them. They would have to be the sort of distance where 'just above the trees' would cease to be meaningful because 'the trees' would simply blend into the horizon at night and not really even be noticeable as trees. I mean, 'just above the trees' is only really a meaningful term for nearby trees.

So I think Ian Ridpath has maybe been a little too hasty in jumping to the conclusion that it was Venus. It would, of course, be useful if we knew exactly which direction the police officers were looking, as well.

And there is one other very pertinent fact The newspaper article describes the morning as 'cold and damp'. To me....'damp' implies it was raining and hence cloud.


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So...first thing I did was to set Stellarium to October 24th 1967.

And immediately a problem arises. Venus rises at 3.30am. Yet the newspaper article talks about 'the merits of screeching about the roads at 4am'. The same article says the object was observed for 50 minutes.

We do not know if the '4am' refers to the start or end of the sighting, however if viewed in context it is quite clearly 'during' the sighting. There is a problem in that prior to 4am Venus was literally just a few degrees above the horizon. Even at 4am...it was just 5 degrees above the horizon. And we are talking about the hilly horizon of north Devon that would in most places have obscured anything so low in the sky.

The policemen say the object was 'just above the trees'. Well...below is a photo of the Moon I took on July 2nd of the Moon just above trees 800 feet away and at a Moon elevation of 10 degrees. That is some distance for trees....and yet the Moon had to be at 10 degrees to be above them. Trees would have had to be a long way away for the Moon at a mere 5 degrees to be just above them. They would have to be the sort of distance where 'just above the trees' would cease to be meaningful because 'the trees' would simply blend into the horizon at night and not really even be noticeable as trees. I mean, 'just above the trees' is only really a meaningful term for nearby trees.

So I think Ian Ridpath has maybe been a little too hasty in jumping to the conclusion that it was Venus. It would, of course, be useful if we knew exactly which direction the police officers were looking, as well.

And there is one other very pertinent fact The newspaper article describes the morning as 'cold and damp'. To me....'damp' implies it was raining and hence cloud.


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Actually I got that totally wrong. The situation for Ian Ridpath is even worse...as I had set Stellarium for London, and not for Devon. On setting Stellarium for Devon, Venus does not rise until 3.40am and at 4am is a mere 3 degrees above the horizon. Atmospheric dimming would have reduced its brightness from the usual bright -4.6...down to a far less bright -2.7 ( i.e by about 85% ) so it would NOT have been the usual glaringly bright Venus that fools so many people.

In fact....Jupiter, which was only 12 degrees directly above Venus at the time ( something Ridpath conveniently ignores ) would have been only marginally less bright than Venus at that time. So why didn't the police officers report 2 objects ?

And this also means that 'just above the trees' would have to mean trees miles away.....for the combination of landscape and the trees on top of the landscape to be just 3 degrees above the horizon. Why even mention 'the trees' when they would have had to be at a distance barely distinguishable from the landscape ?
 
The situation for Ian Ridpath is even worse

Maybe more accurately, worse for Miles and the MoD. Ridpath is reporting Henery Miles claims of it being Venus and the MoD report seeming to agree.

In the OP video at 1:02 the officer describes it "...at tree top height". So just over the trees?

Here are some street views along the route looking east and a bit north I think:

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Some of it's open, some not. Of course, this is recently, but it seems they could have seen something low on the horizon in some areas.

If instead they saw Jupiter, then at least the MoD got it wrong. As for Miles, he was talking to Ridpath 33 years later. Maybe he also got it wrong or maybe he said Jupiter back in '67, but misremembered it.

More likely is he heard their description, and thinking it sounded like a sighting of Venus and just went with that, not bothering to check if it was high enough to be seen and not noticing that Jupiter was. He told Ridpath as much (bold by me):

I did not carry out any astronomical observations on this event as it was purely in [the] field of the nutters.
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http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/flyingcross.html
 

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And this also means that 'just above the trees' would have to mean trees miles away.....for the combination of landscape and the trees on top of the landscape to be just 3 degrees above the horizon. Why even mention 'the trees' when they would have had to be at a distance barely distinguishable from the landscape ?
From the look of the terrain (various Google Earth photos) it's a rolling countryside, so "degrees above the horizon" would vary with the pitch of the road as they continued up and down slope as they drove. Treetop height would necessarily vary depending on whether the trees themselves were upslope or downslope from the road. I don't think you should rely too heavily on a description that depends upon such a small angle and (if it's a planet) would change with time anyway.
 
From the look of the terrain (various Google Earth photos) it's a rolling countryside, so "degrees above the horizon" would vary with the pitch of the road as they continued up and down slope as they drove. Treetop height would necessarily vary depending on whether the trees themselves were upslope or downslope from the road. I don't think you should rely too heavily on a description that depends upon such a small angle and (if it's a planet) would change with time anyway.
The first 1/3rd of the route appears to have a generally higher elevation profile as well.

https://en-gb.topographic-map.com/map-nb93l/Holsworthy/?center=50.81483,-4.25858
 
The first 1/3rd of the route appears to have a generally higher elevation profile as well.

https://en-gb.topographic-map.com/map-nb93l/Holsworthy/?center=50.81483,-4.25858

Well, the biggest problem I have is that there is nowhere near Brandis Corner ( the alleged place the sighting occurred ) that looks like the area in the video with the police in it. For example the police car appears to be travelling uphill at the start of the video, before it turns into a junction. Nowhere near Brandis Corner has that hill...or the rather desolate tree-less country in the background. And when the police officers are being interviewed, there is a quite noticeable hill behind them....which ( given that one is looking diagonally from front right to rear left of police car ) means there must be a junction one can pull off that has that same hill there. But try finding it ! I've spent over an hour unsuccessfully trying to locate the exact scene of the police video.

One for the sleuths and nerds....find where that car was parked.
 
One for the sleuths and nerds....find where that car was parked.

Just because the sighting began in Brandis Corner, that doesn't mean that's where they filmed the interview. And wherever they filmed the interview is likely where they shot the B roll of the car driving around.

I interned in a newsroom and did video production in my collage days in the mid '80s. We had video tape, but it was still a tight timeline to shoot something in the field, get it back and edited and ready for the evening news. This was the '50s, so I would imagine they are shooting on 16mm film, so they have the added task of developing it, making for an even tighter timeline.

If the encounter took place somewhere along this route from Eburacum starting in Brandis Corner, the interview could have been anywhere along the route:



Before or after the interview, they would have shot some B roll with the officers driving around in different directions so they could put it together back at the studio. Likely shooting the B roll wherever they were interviewing, or where it's open to get some good shots.
 
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