Rendlesham Forest, Revisited – Part 1

[Known officially as “The Rendlesham Forest Incident.” Commonly called “Britain’s Roswell.”]

By T. L. Keller

Burroughs, John                     Airman 1stClass, USAF, who accompanied Penniston to the site of the landed craft.

East Gate                                unofficial entry/exit gate to RAF Woodbridge.

Halt, CharlesI.                        Colonel, USAF, Deputy Base Commander of both RAF Woodbridge and RAF Bentwaters.  Lead the investigation on the third night.  

Penniston, Jim                        Staff Sergeant, USAF, in charge of a Security Response Team at RAF Bentwaters, England.  Lead the field investigation and witnessed the landed craft on the first night.

RAF Bentwaters                     Royal Air Force (RAF) base, adjacent to RAF Woodbridge, constructed in 1943 and operated by the US Air Force in the 1970s as a fighter base and nuclear weapons storage facility.  Located in Suffolk County, England,

RAF Woodbridge                    Royal Air Force (RAF) base, adjacent to RAF Bentwaters,  constructed in 1943 and operated by the US Air Force in the 1970s as a fighter base and nuclear weapons storage facility.  Located in Suffolk County, England,

Rendlesham Forest                 forest located in theSuffolk Coastaldistrict, Suffolk County, England. A large forested area cleared for the construction ofRAF Woodbridge and Bentwaters  in 1943.


In the early morning hours of December 26 and 28, 1980, there was a series of reported sightings of unexplained multi-colored lights near Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk County,  England. The events occurred just outside RAF Woodbridge which was used at the time by the US Air Force (USAF). USAF personnel claimed to have observed an event they described as a landing of a UFO.  Then Staff Sergeant Jim Penniston along with Airman 1stClass John Burroughs encountered what Penniston called a triangular craft of unknown origin. The Rendlesham incident has become known as “Britain’s Roswell.”  Today, anyone can visit the former RAF base and the forest, as the base itself is now an industrial park and there is a UFO forest trail open to the public courtesy of HM Forestry Commission.  In 2014 while taking the opportunity to do just that, I asked the guard at the main gate a few simple questions about the UFO event, and he kindly drove me around what once was a nuclear weapons storage facility and the largest USAF fighter base in Europe.

Years ago, I heard Colonel Charles Halt lecture on the Rendlesham Incident and then in July 2019 I had another opportunity to hear Jim Penniston speak in Irvine, California, at the 2019 MUFON Symposium.  At that event, Penniston announced that he and Gary Osborn had just published their book, The Rendlesham Enigma.  This article is based on Halt’s and Penniston’s lectures and the new book.  Most readers will probably be aware of the most significant aspects of the Rendlesham incident.  The following is a summation of the series of events leading up to the discovery of an unidentified, “mechanical” device on December 26, 1980.

The Rendlesham Enigma

In 1980, after a number of years as a non-commissioned officer, Staff Sergeant Jim Penniston was posted to the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Bentwaters, England. His assignment was as the USAF Security Supervisor and Area Supervisor for RAF Bentwaters, separated by about four miles from RAF Woodbridge, and both located in the Rendlesham Forest. Penniston’s RAF Bentwaters Security Response Team.  Penniston: “I usually worked with my squad, which was made up of twelve men, including me. That night we had two new people working with us.  One of these was the newly-assigned, Airman, First Class (A1C) Edward Cabansag (pronounced ‘ker-van-sack’).  So altogether there would be fourteen of us going to the Woodbridge base.”   Penniston was on the night shift on the night of December 25-26, 1980.   Penniston: “ I was the RAF Woodbridge Security Supervisor, and so during the late afternoon/evening of Thursday, December 25 (Christmas Day), 1980, I was getting ready to work the last midnight, 12-hour shift of my six-day tour, which would end at 06:30 hours on Boxing Day morning.” One of the members of his squad was Airman 1stClass John Burroughs.  Burroughs and his senior partner, Staff Sergeant Steffens, were driving on patrol around RAF Woodbridge when Steffens first noticed strange red and blue lights above the tops of the tall pine trees in the forest due east of the East Gate.  By the time Burroughs had sighted the location, the object had descended into the forest, and he could see green, red, blue and white lights.  The forest was then lit up with white light by the object. Later, Burroughs’ description was that a red light was blinking on and off above a blue light and the whole scene looked like “a Christmas display.” 1  In a later statement, they saw two sets of lights: a bright white light near the road and a set of red and blue lights separated from the white light and further into the woods.

Col. Charles I. Halt and Sgt. Jim Penniston (2007) 2

In a later, official statement, both Steffens and Burroughs acknowledged a sense of foreboding and high strangeness.  Burroughs stated that he had a “sense of danger.” 3  At that point both agreed that the Center for Security Control (CSC) should be advised of the strange lights and a possible threat to the security of the base.  CSC directed Penniston to meet the two security personnel at the East Gate.  As Penniston is quoted, “’Normal’ was over, as the rest of the shift was anything but normal. . .”  4

On a “Special Mission”

Upon arrival, Penniston soon surmised that the lights were from a crashed commercial or military aircraft or helicopter.  He could see yellow, orange, red and bluish lights and assumed it to be a fire involving titanium and burning jet fuel.  He could see a flashing red light and a blue light under the red light. After verification that there was no commercial or military activity in the area, he contacted CSC for permission to leave the base and investigate the “crash.”  Burroughs insisted it was not a crash and that the object had landed in the densely-packed pine forest.  Some interesting dialogue followed:

            Burroughs: “Sergeant Penniston, , there was no crash . . . it landed . . . there was no explosion.”

            Penniston: “What are you trying to say?”

            Burroughs: “I think a UFO landed over there in the forest.”

            Penniston (to Steffens): “Could it be a chopper [helicopter]?”

            Steffens: “No, it’s not a chopper Jim.  I’m not crazy.  If you must, think I’m nuts, but we see [sic] it land over there.”  5

To Penniston’s surprise, CSC radioed back and unexpectedly advised him that Heathrow Airport as well as RAF Bawdsey (“Eastern Radar”) had just informed them that their radar had tracked an unidentified “bogey” (unidentified aircraft) near Bentwaters and had lost contract with it fifteen minutes or so prior to it suddenly disappearing near the Woodbridge base. 6  Penniston still assumed that it was a crash or some other security threat to the base.  Almost immediately, Penniston received orders from the base commander to proceed with a “first response off base” [meaning that they could proceed onto British territory on an unarmed search for the “crash.”  The chase was on . . .

Physical Effects and the Object

Penniston, Burroughs and one other airman, armed with crash kit equipment, three  flashlights (bear in mind that this is before 1 a.m. in the morning), mobile radio communication gear, one camera and a Jeep set off for the white light.  They proceeded on the frozen dirt road into the forest.   Shortly thereafter, the Motorola radio signal began to break up. After entering a field, they eventually could go no further.  Penniston, Burroughs and the other airman then proceeded on foot toward the light inside the woods ahead.  As the radio communication was irregular, the other airman was directed to return to the Jeep so that he could relay messages to CSC.  As Burroughs and Penniston approached the light they experienced a series of odd effects: static effects on their radio, a “distinct crackling and tingling sensation around us,” and “each movement and step we took was becoming more labored.  It was like walking through water, chest deep” 7.  Penniston claims that, “As we struggled to move forward towards the light, everything became more disorienting, as if what we were experiencing was some kind of ‘time distortion’ effect.” 8  Then, 50 meters away from the “crash” site, they observed a “bright, white/yellowish dome of light clearly emanating from something on the forest floor.”  Then, the white light dimmed, and they could see a “grey/white/yellowish ‘bubble’ around the outline of what appeared to me to be a dark mechanical object . . . I could still see an array of colored lights moving, pulsating and blinking.”  There was no fire, no debris, no bodies, no burning fuel — obviously not a crash. 

Yellowish/white “dome of light” 9
[Artwork by James Neff]

Then, within 20 feet of the object, Penniston entered a “milky-grey/white dome of light” and having passed into the “dome,” he could see what appeared to be a “fully-intact, black rectangular, streamlined, craft.” 10.   The craft was absolutely silent and had intense, multi-hued, blue, amorphous lights blinking on and off and moving “sequentially” under the black, glass-like surface of the craft.  The craft had a bulbous, triangular “dorsal fin” and was apparently suspended above the ground with no landing gear in sight.  After walking around the craft, Penniston surmised that the craft was being suspended by three light sources (later, he characterized them as “laser” beams).  As was apparent, there were three indentations in the ground about two inches deep.   The impressions were circular, dinner-plate size in diameter.  Within the dome of light, there was absolute silence —  not from the craft, not from forest creatures and not even from his walking on twigs and the frozen ground.  What he did notice was that the surface of the craft was warm to the touch and that there was an odor of “hot [aircraft] engines.”

Artist impression of black craft 11
[Artwork by Mark Hanley]

The “Glyphs”

After walking around the craft and touching the glassy surface, Penniston observed a series of six symbols (what he calls “glyphs”) in the lower left hand corner of the surface of the craft.  He describes a “sandpaper” like surface within each symbol.  The symbols were approximately two feet long with each about three inches in width.  Above them was a larger, more prominent triangle enclosed in a circle.  See below.  On the lower left was what he called an “anvil”-like design, then a “bird or musical note” and then two “T-shaped figures stacked vertically — with a third one above having a long stem.”  The fourth from the left seemed to be a representation of an anthropomorphic (human-like) form and the last was seemingly meaningless to him. 12

“Glyphs” displayed on the left front of object. 13
[Artwork by Alberto Forgione]

The most prominent part of the display was a triangle within a circle.  On the circumference of the circle were three, small circles. The circle on the lower right was the size of a quarter and the smallest the size of a dime.  What could it all mean?

The Aftermath

Once the response team returned to base, Penniston, Burroughs and the third airman were debriefed by the squadron commander and other officers.  Penniston’s statement describing the event was written by others,and after reading he was ordered to sign the report.  The debriefing report only stated that an unidentified craft of unknown origin had been observed with no mention of a “UFO” thereby providing a great relief to Penniston (and most likely to his superiors as well).  While being debriefed, his quartz watch indicated that it was 4:15 a.m., but the clocks on the base read 5:00 a.m.  Some 45 minutes was missing.  He realized that mechanical watches differ from quartz watches as quartz watches only slow or stop in the presence of an extremely strong magnetic field.  On the morning of December 27, Penniston was on leave at home and was unable to sleep.  He couldn’t avoid recalling the events of the night and had persistent images of ones and zeros (the digits 1 and 0).  He attempted to record those images in his notebook.  Later that day, he returned to the landing site twice,and onthe second visit he made Plaster of Paris molds of the three depressions he found in the soil.  The impressions were circular and seven inches in diameter with a depth of 1-½ to two inches (see craft image above).  More significantly, the three “pod marks” in the soil were in a perfect equilateral triangle separated by about 10 feet.  He also observed damage to the bark of several trees and a circular hole in the canopy of the pine trees where the craft passed through while landing. The plaster impressions were not submitted to the base authorities, but were kept as his reminder that the event was real.  During one of those visits, Penniston recalled that the soil was frozen during the night and that the Jeep’s tires didn’t leave an impression on the soil. He concluded that the craft was of some considerable “heavy weight.”  Later, after analysis, it was estimated to weight approximately eight tons.

Why Rendlesham?

Robert Hastings is no stranger of MUFON.  Hastings authored a “UFO and Nukes”  series of articles in the Journalfrom February 2013 to January 2014.  In the February 2013 issue he highlighted the Rendlesham incident in the article “UFO and Nukes: One UFO at RAF Bentwaters Appeared on Radar.”  Hastings’ theory, which seems quite logical, is that UFO sightings often concentrate near or over facilities involving nuclear energy. He cited Minot Air Force Base and RAF Bentwaters as just two of many examples where nuclear weapons were stored. 


It’s no wonder that the Rendlesham incident is known as “Britain’s Roswell.”  This was not an observation by some senior citizen (don’t laugh, I’m one of them) who happened to view a moving, flashing light in the night sky.  This is a well-documented case consisting of multiple, military observers, up-close visual inspection and manual contact, unusual physical effects, photographs, triangulated commercial and military radar tracking and even an official document submitted by Colonel Charles I. Halt, the Deputy Base Commander.  Additionally, over 80 military personnel, from multiple perspectives, saw the lights in the woods and the object as it departed the forest.  

No “spoiler alert” was needed for this article.  This 702- page book is a fascinating documentary of what took place, minute-by-minute.  This article is only a general summary of the events that transpired on the early morning of December 26th and it’s only one-quarter of the story.  In Part 2 of this article we will discover what puzzling events took place on the third night in the forest and farmers’ fields.  Much more to come . . .


  1. Penniston (USAF/Retired), Jim and Gary Osborn, The Rendlesham Enigma, Book 1: Timeline, 2019, page 7.  Available on Amazon books UK.
  2. Keller, T. L., The Total Novice’s Guide To UFOs, 2FS Press, 2010, page 258 and digital edition.
  3. Op. cit., Penniston, page 10
  4. Op. cit., Penniston, page 11
  5. Op. cit., Penniston, page 28
  6. Op. cit., Penniston, page 29
  7. Op. cit., Penniston, page 49.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Op. cit., Keller, page 257.  Artwork by James Neff.
  10. Op. cit., Penniston, page 53.
  11. Front cover, The MUFON Journal, October 2019. Artwork by Mark Hanley. 
  12. Op. cit., Penniston, page 66-67.
  13. Op., cit.,Penniston, front cover.  Artwork by Alberto Forgione. Used with permission.

© T. L. Keller 2019To the readers: if you have a specific topic that you would like presented, please contact the author.  T. L. Keller can be contacted