UFOs and UAPs in the RERC Archive: An Analysis of Twenty-One Unpublished Cases

Within the last two years major studies of UFOs have been announced, conducted and concluded by NASA, US congress, and the US military. Most of the newspapers in the UK and elsewhere have carried stories on these developments, suggesting that whatever they may or may not be, UFOs – sometimes termed ‘UAP’ as an initialism for ‘Unexplained Aerial Phenomena’ – remain big news.[1]

Side by side with these developments, some other recent (and somewhat lesser known) advances within the field have also taken place. In 2019, for example, Oxford University Press published American Cosmic, a study of UFOs by Diana Pasulka, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion there. It is somewhat unusual for an academic publisher to carry a title about such things; just as it is also somewhat unusual that Pasulka should turn her academic gaze to them. Indeed, as she herself avers early on in American Cosmic: academics do not tend to write about UFOs, and if they do have an interest in such things it is usually under the cloak of anonymity.[2]

I have an interest in UFOs that goes back almost fifty years. I have also been privileged over the last twenty-five years or so to be granted access to what is known as the ‘RERC archive’: an ever-expanding collection of more than 6000 mostly unpublished accounts of extraordinary and anomalous human experiences first established by a marine biologist, Alister Hardy, in 1969 and currently housed at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, Lampeter. It is a little-known treasure trove containing an astonishingly wide range of testimonies to all things Fortean and, incredibly, the vast bulk of its content remains unpublished, anywhere.

Over fifty years on from its establishment, the RERC archive presently contains experiences across a wide range of ‘types’: Near-Death Experiences, orb encounters, feelings of transcendent love, visions, premonitions, and descriptions of anomalous events involving each and every sense. Excited by what I might find and spurred on by the increasing degree of attention being paid to UFOs from scientists, government agencies, the media and academics alike, I decided that now would be a good time to attempt to search the archive to see if it might contain accounts of UFOs too.

My initial expectation was that it might contain very few – if any – for Hardy had a particular kind of experience in mind when he established his archive and this inclined more toward the spiritual aspect of extraordinary human experiencing: bordering on the religious, although not to be confused with religion itself. Undaunted, I thought I would try my luck anyway, and set out with two objectives in mind. The first of these related simply to the question of whether or not I’d find any UFO testimonies at all. Would my trawl through the thousands of accounts yield any descriptions of UFO events? If so, would there be enough to base a study upon? What, exactly, would I find – if anything? And, secondly, given that I might turn up something, what might that something be? Would I, for example, uncover UFO features and details such as shape, size, colour, behaviour, and so on that might bear useful comparison with features and details reported in existing UFO literature? How might any findings I might make confirm and/or disconfirm descriptions of and conclusions reached regarding UFOs within the mass of extant UFO research?

In the event, my archival search yielded twenty-one experiences of UFO ‘encounters’/events contained within seventeen separate archival accounts: a significantly greater number than I had anticipated. What follows is an analysis of those twenty-one cases. Each account in the archive has a number and I have included that number in brackets after each testimony-extract.  


Shape and Colour

As is well-known, the term ‘Flying Saucer’, which came to denote the ‘archetypal’ shape of such objects, was, in fact, a journalistic interpretation of a comment made by salesman Kenneth Arnold when describing the motion of the objects he saw on June 24th 1947. The journalist, Bill Bequette, heard Arnold describe each one as moving like ‘a saucer skipping over water’, coined the term ‘Flying Saucer’, and the label stuck. Sure enough, descriptions of UFO sightings in subsequent years have been replete with descriptions of saucer-shaped, round, or disk-like objects, even though drawings made by Arnold reveal that what he actually saw were much closer to boomerangs in outline than to saucers.[3] Still comparatively little-known, however, is the fact that a bewildering array of shapes has been reported within UFO literature in the years since Arnold’s sighting, with whole studies being devoted to cases in which a single shape – often far removed from that of a saucer – has been described and examined.[4] Diversity, rather than unity, seems to be the order of the day: at least as far as the shape of the UFOs is concerned.

This fact was reflected in the twenty-one cases examined within the RERC archive. Where a shape was reported, the descriptor ‘saucer’ occurred twice, ‘circle’ three times, ‘ball’ twice, ‘trapezoid’ twice, and ‘city’, ‘surfboard’, and ‘bowler hat’ once each. In one other case, it was not possible to determine if ‘saucer’ was being used to describe the actual shape or as an available term to describe an anomalous event including a bizarre aerial phenomenon.

Subjects’ descriptions included the following:

‘I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This large saucer shaped apparition was now quite large and so brilliant that it lit up the entire sky.’ (4393)

‘Though the rest of the sky was a dark navy colour dotted with stars, directly above our car &, I judged – not too far up – there was a complete circle of blackness.’ (4242)

‘It had just got dark and we were just sitting down to enjoy a drink, when suddenly a bright ball of light emerged from the top of the hill and moved quite quickly in an arc across the sky.’ (4469)

‘I noticed a pulsating light down the road [at] a distance that was in the shape of a surfboard and appeared to be hovering a foot above the ground.’ (4812)

‘I was looking towards the heavens and before me appeared a great piece of light travelling diagonally across the sky. It seemed to be not much higher than a telephone pole. It was trapezoid in shape – being four foot square and twelve or fourteen feet long.’ (227)

As far as I am aware, no study of UFOs exists which has devoted exclusive attention to their colour. When considering colour within the wider context of other UFO studies, however, it is apparent that, as with shape, diversity predominates. Indeed, within the UFO literature virtually every colour is encountered within witnesses’ testimonies, a situation complicated by the fact that objects are often reported to have more than one colour or even to change colour whilst being observed.

Colour was reported in six of the twenty-one archival UFO accounts found, and if ‘black’ is included the figure rises to eight, although in each of these two cases there are complexities which are discussed below. Three objects were reported as being or in some sense emitting ‘red’: once exclusively, once in association with ‘orange’ and once in association with a variety of colours. ‘Blue’ was reported twice: once in association with ‘green.’ ‘Bright’ was used by subjects four times, although in each case it was not possible to determine what colour underlay or gave rise to the brightness.

Subjects’ descriptions of the colours of the objects they saw included the following:

‘Once, not being able to sleep at about midnight, I became conscious of a curious noise coming closer & closer as of an engine or engines purring, the noise persisted and became static, eventually I looked out of the window to discover the source, over the rooftops of the houses opposite was a red sphere glowing and this quite obviously the source of the “engines” I had heard.’ (2751)

‘The object seemed to be cigar shaped and reddish-orange in color and just seemed to hover as we were awed by it.’ (3815)

‘I saw this thing which I can only liken to an immense bowler hat with a very thick rim. It appeared to be floating about six feet clear of the undergrowth, and a sort of blue light was coming from beneath it.’ (3371)

‘OH MY GOSH they were bigger than a car and surrounded by a halo of green light or greenish blue.’ (3978)

‘I saw just above the other apple tree on my left a circle of light, blue in the centre, round the blue a circle of amber, round the amber a circle of pink. Round the whole was a circle of clouds. The clouds seemed to be unfolding round the outer pink light which gave the whole the strange appearance of beckoning and pulling.’ (1948)

The two accounts in which the descriptor ‘black’ was used merit separate attention. One of the respondents described ‘[A] great, black and perfect circle which blocked out the moon and the stars. I could see stars all around the horizon.’ (1797). The other described ‘[A] complete circle of blackness. Completely round. Completely black with no stars.’ (4242). The similarities here are intriguing. In each case we are presented with the possibility of (a) something positioned between the witness and the sky to the extent that the night sky behind it was completely blocked or (b) something, as it were, ‘cut out’ from the night sky: not so much a presence as an absence. The identical, circular, shape is also of note. Indeed, it is very tempting here to conclude that each witness, widely separated from the other in terms of context, time and space, was describing essentially the same thing. We shall have more to say about these two cases as the analysis proceeds.

Movement and Medium

In a bid to describe the behaviour of many of the frequently-reported objects described by witnesses, UFO researcher Luis Elizondo has recently set out what he dubs the ‘Five Observables’: characteristics most commonly reported in association with UFO sightings. He describes these as follows: (a) ‘Positive Lift or Anti-Gravity’ (UFOs can move without any means of propulsion or lift), (b) ‘Instantaneous Acceleration’ (UFOs can reach extraordinary rates of speed in little or no time), (c) ‘Hypersonic Velocity’ (UFOs often travel at speeds vastly greater than those of conventional aircraft), (d) ‘Low Observability’ (UFOs often seem invisible to conventional tracking means such as radar), and (e) ‘Trans-Medium Travel’ (UFOs often move apparently seamlessly through space, air and water, frequently exchanging one for the other with no interruption of their movement.[5]

What is particularly striking about this list is the fact that four of the five ‘Observables’ relate directly or indirectly to movement: means of propulsion, rate of acceleration, speed, and transition from one ‘environment’ to another. In view of this and of the widespread discussion that Elizondo’s list of UFO ‘features’ has received, I was particularly interested to see whether or not any or all of his ‘Five Observables’ would be present within the RERC archival UFO reports.

In the event, description of movement was found in no fewer than fifteen of the twenty-one experiences examined. In every one of these cases no apparent means of propulsion could be discerned at all: the closest being the description of some sort of engine noise in account 2751. Hence, Elizondo’s assertion that UFOs frequently exhibit no discernible means of propulsion was overwhelmingly confirmed.

Given the actual descriptors used, assessing the presence or otherwise of instantaneous acceleration proved more problematic, as did assessment of whether or not objects moved at speeds surpassing or greatly surpassing those of conventional aircraft. As regards acceleration, two accounts suggested at least a degree of rapidity. In account 1656, a ‘very big’, sparking ‘star’ which had appeared outside the subject’s kitchen window was described as having ‘moved off quite quickly’ but whether such a departure could be described as ‘instantaneous’ is difficult if not impossible to determine. Account 4393 offered a little more, with the subject describing how at the end of her sighting a saucer-shaped object ‘circled away’ at ‘furious speed.’ As regards speed generally, rather more could be determined, with several respondents drawing specific attention to how quickly the UFOs in their sightings moved within their overall trajectories:

‘It circled around at a furious speed, then came in and hovered around…for some minutes, as if searching for something. Suddenly it rose again to some height, then circled away at the same furious speed as before, leaving the sky vacant except for the stars.’ (4393)

‘It had just got dark and we were sitting down to enjoy a drink, when suddenly a bright ball of light emerged from the top of the hill and moved quite quickly in an arc across the sky.’ (4469)

‘I saw what looked to be a flying saucer – before I could get out of bed – from the size of an egg it moved at great speed to the window.’

Taken together with the descriptions of acceleration, therefore, four accounts described objects as moving ‘quite quickly’ (twice), ‘at furious speed’, and at ‘great speed.’ In the remaining accounts where movement was reported it proved impossible to determine from descriptions given either the rates of acceleration or speed of movement in general.

No subject attempted any subsequent check to determine whether or not the objects they saw were tracked by radar or some other means: hence Elizondo’s fourth ‘observable’ was impossible to confirm or disconfirm. However, his fifth, ‘Trans-Medium Travel’, was apparently confirmed in one intriguing case:

I was conducting investigations at a place called Keta near the Togoland border and had to stay at a Rest House near the sea. Going early to bed I was awakened by the cries of birds, the barking of dogs, etc and was amazed to see a large bright light ascend from the sea and sway in the sky within my vision, and after some time it moved straight over the Rest House, and by getting out of bed and looking upwards from the window I could see it immediately overhead.’ (800)

Two other cases are also of note, here. In account 4469 the UFO was seen by witnesses to emerge from within a hill ‘in the Matthews range, in the foothills of Kenya’, suggesting an apparent ability to move through and out of the ground and into the air, whilst in account 3978, what appears to have been the same ‘green light’ was seen by the witness on two separate occasions: the first time ‘moving rapidly under the water of our harbour, during the daytime’ and the second time in the early morning coming round a bend at the top of a hill when he was rushing, late, to work.

Despite the relatively small number of UFO accounts located within the archive and the relative ambiguity of some of the descriptors used it was possible to confirm – at least to an extent – four of the five ‘typical’ UFO features as presented by Luiz Elizondo. This was one of the most intriguing of this project’s findings and further comment will be reserved for the conclusion.

Fear and Watching

Given the vast amount of UFO literature – a ‘slowly evolving quagmire’ according to UFOlogist Micah Hanks [6] – it may seem odd that comparatively little attention has been paid to the effects of UFO ‘encounters’ on witnesses, but this has been the case with one or two notable exceptions. For example: researcher Ryan Sprague has recently examined cases in which their UFO encounters impacted witnesses and affected them in various ways, including the triggering of searches for ‘deep meaning’; searches comparable in some senses to those reported by the subjects of religious and spiritual experience.[7] In only one case within the RERC archive was anything found that was comparable to this, with the subject of account 3815 reporting ‘a strong urge to start reading the Bible which I had never felt compelled to do before’ as a result of her encounter with a hovering, cigar-shaped, reddish-orange UFO which filled her with a sense of awe and led to ‘dreams with U.F.O.s and religion in them.’ Indeed, RERC accounts of UFO experiences, far from being positive and uplifting during and subsequent to the events described, turned out to contain descriptors strongly suggestive of fear and associated emotions:

‘At that stage of life I was not afraid of God, Devil, man or animal but never since then have I had such a scare.’ (1797)

‘I was petrified…I had the feeling of being engulfed…’ (B1)[8](Emphasis in the original)

‘I had become very frightened.’ (3371)

‘I was petrified…I don’t know how long I stood there but vaguely remember…my friend pulling my arm and leading me back to the car….It was at this point that the experience was just too much for me and I broke down and started crying due to the terror I had felt.’ (4812)

In an archival study published in 1999, Merete Demant Jakobsen found 170 accounts of what she dubbed ‘negative spiritual experiences’ from an analysis of the first 4000 accounts. These included experiences of evil within a variety of contexts and amounted to 4.25% of the total number examined: a very small percentage.[9] By contrast, six of the twenty-one UFO experiences I uncovered within the archive for this study contained descriptors associated with fear: some 28.6% of the total. The contrast is striking and merits further comment later.

One further and intriguing thing is also of note in connection with the feelings reported by subjects (or, in one case, those accompanying them): namely, a sense of being watched or observed. Descriptions of this curious motif included the following:

‘I knew I was being watched and believe now they knew I knew, whoever they are.’ (3978)

‘They did not appear to do anything but observe.’ (4832)

‘Upon our return to the car both girls themselves were in a state of terror and stated that they felt as if they were being watched…’ (4812)

‘[F]rom the size of an egg it moved at great speed to the window – an object the size of a large crab – with fearsome underpart which watched me – at the only point to do so through the six inch curtain gap…I knew it could tell what I was thinking…’ (B1) (Emphases in the original)

Taken all together, these findings suggest that the UFO experiences stand in direct contrast to the majority of reported experiences within the RERC archive. Within an admittedly small sample, reports of unpleasant sensations involving fear and a sense of being watched appear to recur a disproportionately large number of times. Indeed, when reports of the effects on animals are factored into the analysis, the trend becomes clearer still. In account 800, for example, a bright light reported as emerging from the sea and into the air was signalled by ‘the cries of birds [and] the barking of dogs…’ whilst the great, black and perfect circle’ reported by the subject of account 1797 appears to have terrified his dog:

‘[H]e made the most pecular {sic} noises. Sort of a combined whine, growl and yelps all at the same time…and when I opened the door to let him out he refused to go…He huddled up against my legs, as he had done several times in the house, so hard that he almost knocked me down.’ (1797)

Attention has frequently been drawn within UFO literature to the effect of these objects on animals. In his seminal 1977 study of sightings contained in US Air Force Files as part of their initial studies into UFOs, for example, astronomer and early UFO expert J. Allen Hynek differentiated between experiences he dubbed ‘Close Encounters’ of the First, Second, and Third Kinds, with effects on animals being considered within the first two of these categories. As part of his study into these, Hynek reported that the nearby presence of UFOs made dogs bark, whimper, shake, and hide, whilst effects on cattle were also reported, including one case in which a bull was so terrified that it ‘bent the iron bar in the ground to which it was tethered.’[10] Before moving on from this stage of the analysis, therefore, it is worth considering two further cases in which the reported events apparently affected animals.

We have already had cause to note the sense of terror reported by the writer of account 4812: both on the part of himself and those who were with him. However, notable too was the effect of the unfolding events on the surrounding wildlife, reflected in his comment toward the beginning of his account that: ‘There were absolutely no noises of any kind from insects or other wildlife whatsoever which was most unusual as it was a rather warm summer evening.’ This strange silence was mirrored in account 1948, in which rabbits and pigeons were first agitated by unusual events including a slowly-moving multi-coloured aerial object (‘At that moment the rabbits and pigeons went frantic. The rabbits scampered about in their hut like mad things and the pigeons all flapped their wings as if they were taking flight together’) before being rendered strangely silent: (‘[A]fter their mad rush and flutter they all settled down without a sound as though they were all dead.’)

Stranger and Stranger

As noted, above, US astronomer J. Allen Hynek was the first to use the term ‘Close Encounter(s)’ to differentiate between various kinds of ‘close up’ UFO sightings. He used the term ‘Close Encounter of the Third Kind’ to designate a UFO event in which occupants were reported ‘in association with the UFO sighting.’ Hynek acknowledged that these types of experiences were ‘characterized by a high degree of strangeness and by the complete bewilderment of the witnesses’[11] and I was particularly interested to ascertain whether any such accounts could be located in the archive.

In the event, three such accounts were found. Two made reference to beings of the ‘bedroom invader’ type as popularized by UFOlogists such as Budd Hopkins, David Jacobs and John Mack in the 1990s: beings which apparently appear in subjects’ bedrooms, often waking them up.[12] Four months after seeing a UFO, the writer of account 3815 wrote how one night ‘I came wide awake out of my sleep and asked myself who was awakening me. When I turned over there appeared this being next to my bed who was blacker than the room itself. It looked like he had a wetsuit on and the most perfect shape I had ever seen. When I first looked at it our eyes met (but it had no eyes) and it was like a standoff. When I started to travel downward with my eyes, all of a sudden out of its chest, [it] shot evil at me. I actually saw evil hang in mid-air. It just shot out like an electric current at me and my whole insides just cried out in fear…’

Comparable to account 3815 was account 4832 in which the presence of three humanoids was reported, again of the ‘bedroom invader’ type, who on various occasions ‘appeared on my side toward the bottom of the bed. They did not appear to do anything but observe.’

Even odder still was the experience recounted in account 3371 which began when, whilst in bed, the subject was ordered by an invisible voice to ‘Get up!’ His account continues:

‘I got up, dressed, went down and out to the garden shed where I keep my bicycle. I mounted up and headed straight for the heath land behind _____ common. Don’t ask me why because I cannot remember being told to go there. Anyway, I eventually arrived and looking up, I saw this thing which I can only liken to an immense bowler hat with a very thick rim. It appeared to be floating about six feet clear of the undergrowth, and a sort of blue light was coming from beneath it. At the same time, I could hear a sound coming from it, and this I cannot describe because, to be brief, I’ve never heard anything like it in my life. Then suddenly there was this shape before me. I did not see it come from the other thing, all I know is that the top part of it did appear to resemble a human being…All I can remember was this thing which was perhaps twelve feet tall, although in my terror, I quite failed to see if it was indeed standing on the ground…I think the most frightening part was the pointed horns with the circle of what appeared to be fire which kept spinning round the horns at great speed. This [was] coupled with the triangular openings where one normally expects to see eyes but, in this case all I could see was this mass of green fire glaring from the openings….I had the feeling that here before me was a far superior intelligence to mine.’


Confirmations and Refutations

How far, then, have the findings of this RERC archival study confirmed or refuted conclusions found within existing Ufological literature? Overwhelmingly it has become clear that they have provided a high level of confirmation: particularly as regards diversity of shape and colour of objects and objects’ reported modes of motion. Granted, we have seen little that hints at any form of positive spiritual transformation resulting from a UFO encounter, with negative feelings having been seen to dominate many subjects’ reports, even extending to animal disturbance. Yet even here we may detect a degree of confirmation, with no lesser an authority than J. Allen Hynek alluding to the fact that a UFO ‘Close Encounter’ is ‘often a frightening experience, and always an awesome one.’[13] It is also worth noting here the absence of sound within all but two of the reported experiences: something else which, whilst not invariant, has been typically reported in Ufological literature.

Perceptions and Realities

Finally, is it possible as a result of this study to determine what these respondents actually saw? To say anything about the realities underlying their strange experiences? At the very least, C.G Jung’s oft-cited comment about Flying Saucers, ‘something is seen but one doesn’t know what’, seems amply supported.[14] Further, on occasions when they did attempt to identify their ‘unidentifieds’, it is clear that not all respondents were able to accept the identifications given to them. For example: the writer of account 1656 includes the interesting fact that she wrote to TV celebrity astronomer Patrick Moore after the event in an attempt to gain an explanation for her sighting. His reply, ‘’No mystery. It is the planet Venus’’ appears not to have satisfied the writer, for her account ends on a rather sceptical note: ‘I don’t believe it. No ordinary star moved that fast.’ And, indeed, her description of the quickly-moving object as having ‘sparks coming out of the sides and something out of the bottom and the top’ sounds very unlike Venus. Elsewhere, witnesses appeared to be content with a lack of identification, as reflected in the writer of account 4469’s comment that ‘[W]e just called it [a] U.F.O – that is, unidentified by us.’

What also seems clear is that the small number of UFO testimonies within the archive forms a group distinct from those of orbs and lightforms. The UFOs’ locations, modes of movement, and effects on witnesses – both human and animal – make this clear, as do the strange, very un-orblike shapes that they frequently adopt. Further, unlike lightforms, where a ‘common core’ of sorts can be determined within the hundreds of testimonies that the RERC archive contains, it appears that there is no ‘core’ to the UFO reports: although the similarities between certain of the descriptions do indeed suggest that the ‘same’ phenomenon might be being reported.[15]

For now, then, the mystery remains. At the very least, however, the presence of such a small but extremely interesting group of testimonies bears ample witness to the richness and diversity of the RERC archive: and of the wonders that await any intrepid explorer determined to uncover and examine its many and hidden treasures.


1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/what-the-pentagon-report-says-about-ufos

2. Diana Pasulka, American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

3. Keith Thompson, Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1991), pp. 13-14.

4. On this, see, for example, David Marler, Triangular UFOs: An Estimate of the Situation (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013).

5. Ross Coulthard, In Plain Sight (Sydney: HarperCollins, 2021).

6. Robbie Graham (ed), UFOs: Reframing the Debate (Hove: White Crow, 2017),p. 63

7. Ryan Sprague, Somewhere In The Skies: A Human Approach to the UFO Phenomenon (San Diego: Beyond The Fray Publishing, 2020).

8. This account, which could not be retrieved from the archive, is reproduced in Timonthy Beardsworth’s analysis of the first 1000 archival accounts, A Sense Of Presence (Lampeter: RERC, 2009), p. 1 and is henceforth designated as ‘B1’.

9. Merete Demant Jakobsen, Negative Spiritual Experiences: Encounters with Evil (Oxford: RERC, 1999), pp. iii-iv.

10. J. Allen Hynek, The Hynek UFO Report (Newburyport: MUFON, 2020), p. 165.

11. Hynek, The Hynek UFO Report, p. 193.

12. On this, see, for example, Budd Hopkins, Missing Time (London: August Night Press, 2020).

13. Hynek, The Hynek UFO Report, p. 139.

14. C.G Jung, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky (London: Ark, 1987), p. xiii.

15. Mark Fox, Spiritual Encounters with Unusual Light Phenomena: Lightforms (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008).

An edited version of this article first appeared in Anomaly: Journal of Research into the Paranormal, Vol 52, May 2023, pp. 123 – 38