A REAL-LIFE X Files investigator has joined a UFO researcher from the North-East in calling for more to be done to uncover the truth behind mysterious objects spotted in the skies.

A unidentified flying object seen by a pilot cruising above Barnard Castle is included in a list of near-misses reported to the organisation responsible for monitoring close calls that could compromise the safety of aircraft in flight.

In February 2017, the moving object caught the captain’s attention, flying “almost directly overhead the aircraft in the opposite direction” as the plane travelled at an altitude approaching 18,000ft.

According to data from the UK Airprox Board, the angular and fast-moving entity passed at high speed and remained in view for just two seconds, approximately 200ft above the aircraft.

An Airprox report reflects a situation in which the distance between an aircraft and the object could have compromised the safety of the aircraft.

There were 36 such reports involving unknown objects in UK airspace investigated by the Board between 2017 and 2019, according to analysis by Newsquest’s Data Investigations Unit.

The Civil Aviation Authority said it was likely that most reports involved drones, model aircraft or balloons.

The pilot in the Barnard Castle case initially believed the moving object could have been a military jet or potentially a drone.

However, many reports reviewed by the board involved sightings of unknown objects at thousands of feet off the ground at heights drones would struggle to reach.

In eight out of nine cases where the board could not determine the nature of the object, sightings were at altitudes ranging between 5,000ft and 16,000ft.

Nick Pope, who investigated UFO sightings for the Ministry of Defence, said there were many incidents that deserved more interrogation.

He described the data as fascinating and disturbing, saying: “Applying the UK Airprox Board’s guidelines, many reports being attributed to drone activity should more properly be characterised as ‘unknown objects’.

“Pilots frequently see things in the skies they can’t identify. The board has a significant number of such accounts and there are numerous reports in the MoD’s UFO files.

“In most cases, sightings turn out to be birds, weather balloons, plastic bags or bin liners, or Chinese lanterns, while some are indeed attributable to drones.

“However, other cases remain unexplained even after thorough investigation, and this is of concern, especially if we’re missing a trick by being too quick to blame drones.

“Pilots tend not to be comfortable reporting a ‘UFO’ sighting, because of the perceived stigma, so it’s much easier to talk about unusual aircraft, unconventional helicopters or drones.”

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He said he would like to see the UK adopt a similar approach to the US Navy, which recently issued guidance to its pilots advising them what to do if they encounter "unidentified aerial phenomena", adding: “While the guidance remains classified and won’t be made public, it’s an encouraging sign.

“The situation has been under-resourced since the 2009 termination of the MoD’s UFO program, and while I’m aware that the MoD continues to study such matters, more should be done.

“Whatever the true nature of the phenomenon, it raises important defence, national security and – as we see here – air safety issues.”

Hartlepool-based UFO researcher Glen Richardson echoed Mr Pope’s comments and said he received multiple reports a year relating to potential alien activity in the North-East, including claims of abduction.

He said he believes the authorities could be working covertly to investigate such cases but urged them to be more transparent about their findings.

However, university lecturer Dr David Clarke, from the Centre for Contemporary Legend at Sheffield Hallam University said he was not convinced sightings were evidence of intergalactic spacecraft travelling our earthly skies, saying: “Things that are unexplained are likely to be natural phenomenon – not aliens from other planets.

“That’s not to say those reports are of no interest. Someone should be sitting down and collating it and looking for information for flight safety and for scientific purposes. "There’s a lot that could be learned if we got away from the ridicule.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said millions of flights were made in UK airspace each year, with the small number of Airprox reports made annually rarely identifying aircraft in danger.

He added: “The low number of these incidents highlight the professionalism of commercial, military and private aviators.”