The Boscombe Down Incident remains one of military aviation’s most intriguing mysteries

A secret aircraft reportedly crashed during takeoff at RAF Boscombe Down in 1994 sparking what has been an enduring mystery

As the story goes, on the evening of September 26, 1994, an aircraft was set to take off from Runway 23 at RAF Boscombe Down, a Royal Air Force Base in Wiltshire, England that is tasked with flight testing and weapons development. As the aircraft made its run down the runway, a malfunction caused the crew to abort the takeoff. Soon after, London Air Traffic Control Center, or LATCC, was contacted and notified that the entire runway needed to be closed. What followed was a highly peculiar and swift response that is still wrapped in secrecy. It included the mysterious stricken aircraft being wrapped up and presumably partially disassembled so that it could be flown home to the United States in a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy transport plane. Despite eyewitness testimony, there has never been an official explanation for the strange events at RAF Boscombe Down on that fall night in 1994, but it seems quite clear that some kind of clandestine event did indeed occur.

An Incident At Boscombe Down

RAF Boscombe Down, today known as MoD Boscombe Down, has long been a major locale for military aircraft testing and evaluation in the United Kingdom. Cutting-edge testbeds and recovered foreign tactical jets are just some of the aircraft that have called Boscombe Down home since its construction in 1917. The British Aircraft and Armament Evaluation Establishment (AAEE) began using the base for aircraft experiments in 1939, and in 1994 the site was placed under the control of the Defense Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), Britain’s equivalent to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In 2001, DERA was split into two parts that became the U.K. Ministry of Defense’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the private company QinetiQ.

It was during the base’s time as part of DERA the mysterious incident occurred. Much of what the public understands about the incident stems from a March 1997 cover story in Air Forces Monthly written by Ren Hoek and Marco Van der Welk that reads like an aviation ghost story.

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The story goes like this:

On September 22, 1994, eyewitnesses living near Boscombe Down reported hearing an abnormal noise approaching the base. According to local television news reports the next day, the noise sounded almost like a freight train or a low-frequency rumbling or humming.

A few days later, on the evening of September 26, an unknown aircraft malfunction shut down Runway 23 at RAF Boscombe Down. Eyewitnesses reported that the broken aircraft was quickly covered by a frame and tarpaulins while surrounded by emergency vehicles. While sitting on the runway, the aircraft’s rear section was unusually elevated, possibly indicating a nose wheel collapse. Shortly after, the aircraft was pulled into a hangar where it sat behind closed doors for two days.

Read more: The Drive