1955 – ‘Flying light’ seen by NAC Capt. and crew

Date:  1 November 1955

Time:  2006 hours

Location:  Wellington to Auckland flight, vicinity west of Waitara

Aircraft:  NAC Douglas DC3, Reg. No. ZK-AZN, Flight 108

Witness:  Capt. W. T. Rainbow

First Officer S. Trounce

Mr R. Tuckett, Air Control Officer & pilot RNZAF Hobsonville

Air Commodore R. J. Cohen, Inspector General RNZAF, Air Dept. Wellington

Mr Hume, civilian


  • Mysterious ‘flying light’, “like a rotating marine beacon” overtook and passed flight 108 c 10 – 15 miles to port (later corrected to 5 miles).
  • Estimated duration of sighting 5 – 10 minutes (8.06 – 8.16 pm).
  • ‘Unidentified flying light’ traveled est. 105 miles in 7 ½ minutes (average).  Estimated speed thereafter 840 mph.

Another or the same ‘flying light’ was sighted two hours later by two men in a boat off Te Uku.  The ‘light’ was tailing southbound TEAL DC6 with a horizontal zigzag flight motion.  It was reported by Mr W. Dryland and Mr Moon of Te Uku.

At 10:50 p.m. Mr and Mrs Daysh of Kawhia (same night) sighted a brilliant white- orange ‘light’, approaching them at speed.  The ‘light’ suddenly stopped, hovered and then climbed vertically till out of sight.  This flight characteristic was reported by a number of observers of other flying light sightings which occurred during November.  An appreciable number reported that the lighted objects appeared to change colour and rotate.  It was reported that an RNZAF Vampire pilot (based at Ohakea) observed a ‘flying light’ the same evening.

Planet Venus azimuth & altitude 31 October 1955, 8:10 p.m.:

G.H.A. 290.55.    L.H.A. 175.05 E.

Latitude 38° S     Longitude 175 E.

Declination S18.26

Azimuth 246° T  Altitude -0.39 at sea level

Mr I. L. Thompson, Director of Carter Observatory, Wellington, calculated that Venus’s setting time as for aircraft flying at 8000 feet with 8.19 p.m. on the 31st October 1955 (presumably allowing for 6° refraction effect).


Copy of Capt. Rainbow’s official report to the Director of Air Intelligence, Wellington:

Squadron Leader Golding

Director of Intelligence


Dear Sir,

On the night of the first of November 1955, I was Captain of Flight 108 proceeding from Wellington to Auckland.  We departed from Paraparaumu in excellent weather, and conditions remained so until we ran into a warm front, which was lying across our track at Raglan Reporting Point and extended up to the west where it lay on a NE to SW direction.

After sunset, visibility was excellent, due to a full moon and little cloud over the air route.  At 2006 hours as I was looking towards the south west direction, a very brilliant light caught the corner of my eye.  This light was positioned above 8/8ths cloud, the tops of which appeared to be about 6000 feet and also below scattered middle cloud.

My first impression was that it was a meteor, or a planet setting in the southern declination, but after closer investigation I could see that it was moving by about 2000 feet above the cloud tops, and it was changing its light intensity from a bright hard light to a brilliant light in a cycle of approximately 3 seconds, and changing colour from white-yellow-orange to red.

It appeared to be to the west of Waitara and at the same altitude to us.  I then asked the co-pilot, First Officer S. Trounce, to have a look towards our tail and to tell me what he thought the light could be.  At first his impressions were the same as mine, but he could not understand the change of brilliance and the light, its colour, or the fact that it was overtaking us at the same altitude.  He also suggested that I opened the window to eliminate any refraction error, but it made no difference to the object.

I then asked him to go to the cabin and ask a Mr Tuckett, who is a Civil Aviation Officer and an experienced pilot, to watch the light and to ask if he thought it was a planet.  During the co-pilot’s absence, I called Wellington Central and asked if there were any known aircraft to the west of New Plymouth, and their answer was negative.  I next called them and told them there was a bright light to the west of New Plymouth, and to ask Flight 135 if he could see it; the last part of my message was jammed by Wellington Control who were at that same time just doing fact.  I next called up and said that this bright light was changing colour, and passing to the west of us at a distance, of, if I remember rightly, of 10 – 15 miles, and at the same time giving that the incorrect call sign Flight 135.

F/O Trounce then returned to the cockpit, when at this time the object was just west of our wingtip and still at the same altitude as ourselves.  Our auto-a pilot was engaged on the same course of 330° compass, as it had been for the last 10 minutes since Ohura checkpoint, and this I checked to ensure that I was not turning towards the west and so explain the object’s changed position in relation to our course.  I could also see the object flying in and out of a few tops, as the cloud was now building up as we approached the front.  After a further close look and discussion with the co-pilot, I then told him to go back to the cabin and awaken Air Commodore Cohen, and to get him to have a look at this object, and so confirm what we were seeing.  As the co-pilot was in the cabin, we entered the front, and knowing that there were no aircraft on the air-route, I climbed up to the 9000, whereupon the object was easily picked up below us and ahead.  After several more minutes of observation, I obtained our clearance to come down to 4000 feet in preparation for landing at Auckland, and so lost contact upon entering cloud again.

During the descent, the co-pilot returned to the cockpit and informed me that the Air Commodore stated that it was a planet and took no further interest and went back to sleep.  Then I went back to the cabin and spoke to Mr Tuckett and asked if he thought it was a planet, and to this he said no, and that he had not seen anything like that before.  He also noticed the object overtaking us and changing its position in relation to us.  A Mr Hume and the seat ahead of him, also confirmed all that Mr Tuckett, Trounce, and myself had seen.  I then approached the Air Commodore and asked his opinion, to which he remarked that it was a planet low down on the horizon, but he made no further comment when I said that it had definitely passed us at 8000 feet.

Upon arrival at Whenuapai, I notified at the officer on duty at Whenuapai, and as far as I was concerned there the matter rested.

Points of Interest Concerning the Object:

It was a small bright light then and increasing to brilliant in a cycle of three seconds, but its change of intensity did not appear to be constant during the whole observation.

  • It changed colour from white – yellow – orange (gold) to red.
  • It did not appear to have any tail or trail behind it.
  • It did not appear as a soft reflected light.
  • It traveled from west of Waitara to a position approx. west of Waikato River -mouth during the same time as we traveled from approx. 3 miles south of Albatross Point to just north of Raglan reporting point.
  • It maintained a steady altitude and overtaking speed.
  • The light appeared to be revolving such as a beacon on the top of Whenuapai Control Tower, at a distance of 10 miles.

If it was there during the previous 30 – 45 minutes, we would have seen it ahead of us approaching Ohura due to excellent visibility in that area, in other words, it just appeared in our view from the south.

A planet does not overtake at a steady altitude from SSW and disappear to the NNW ….

At 2006 hrs we called Wellington concerning this light, and the planet Venus was below the horizon at 2010 hrs, therefore, for the previous hour and its 15 degree travel, the planet was below and behind the cold front lying out to the west, and it would account for us not seeing the planet during the night.  This would also apply to Flight 135, southbound.  We still had this object in sight after the time that the planet Venus was below the horizon.  A similar object was seen in the area two hours later by two men.

This object was in view for approximately 5 – 10 minutes, and was seen clearly by 3 pilots and one civilian, and was seen briefly by Air Commodore Cohen.

A planet’s light could change its intensity due to the proximity of cloud, but this object was well clear of any cloud at first and still it did not appear as a steady light.


Captain W. T. Rainbow

Excerpts from (the late) Harold Fulton’s Editorial from ‘Civilian Saucer Investigation (N.Z.)’, written in response to the findings of the Air Force’s official investigation into Capt. Rainbow’s and crew’s sighting.

Civilian Saucer Investigation (NZ)

Official Quarterly Journal

Christmas Issue 2/6, Vol. 3 – No. 3 1955

Edited by (the late) Harold H. Fulton

Who are you kidding Mr. Quarles?

Colourful ‘flying light’ causes stir.  New Zealand’s first official enquiry.

 ‘Towards the end of September, and increasingly with the progress of October, we noticed from press cuttings and correspondence that ‘unidentified flying objects’ were once again showing promise of giving more than average attention to Australasian territories.  This followed the greater activity being experienced in Great Britain and the USA.  The NZ reports were only mentioned by the press local to the event, so the public were completely unaware of this new appearance.

On the 20th of October, however, ‘flying saucers’ hit the headlines throughout the world’s press.  Donald E. Quarles, Secretary of Air, US Airforce, made a dramatic announcement.

“There are no flying saucers.  The air force is winding up its 8-year investigation – BUT shortly you’ll start seeing the real flying saucers.  We are making them,” stated Mr Quarles.

 Never in the history of our subject have I read such a disgustingly deceptive official statement.  Press Association wires were good enough to carry a mild version of my reactions.  I pointed out that this was the third time since 1947 that the US Airforce had officially wound up its ‘saucer probing’.  They had in this time, changed the code name for saucer investigating teams five times. (Projects Saucer, Twinkle, Sign, Grudge, and lastly, Blue Book).

Civilian investigators will wholeheartedly agree with Mr Quarles’ assertion that shortly, “Revolutionary saucer-like American aircraft will take the sky and give the illusion of saucers.”  But, Mr Quarles, we predicted three years ago that future ‘explain away experts’ would pounce on this very tangible explanation of UFO sightings as soon as such terrestrial unorthodox aircraft showed promise of taking the air.  We know too, that the numerous UFO sightings expected to follow the close approach of Earth to Mars next September, may well be further explained as balloons, rockets, artificial satellites, experiments and tests etc, let loose by many scientists practicing for the International Geophysical Year July 1957 – December 1958.

No sooner had the diminishing the ranks of sceptics cupped their hands in thanks-giving following Secretary Quarles’ statement, than an extremely local UFO incident captured prominent press mention throughout New Zealand, and rocked them back on their heels.  Sure, it was only a ‘flying light’, but any ‘light’, capable of behaving and the manner of this one must have been attached to some ‘thing’ more agile and local than a planet winking on the horizon.

The National Airways Corp. crew report was quickly followed by the first (publicly announced) official enquiry in New Zealand.  Mr Shand, Minister in charge of Civil Aviation, on learning the details of the report state, “I have called for a full immediate report.  This is the first circumstantial and apparently reliable report on such an object we have yet had, and I am especially interested because of the character of the witnesses, whose reputations cannot be questioned.”

Mr Halstead, the Acting Minister of Defence, called on the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall W. H. Merton, for the fullest cooperation and the inquiry.

Immediately following the press report of the N.A.C.’s crew’s observation, I contacted Capt. Rainbow, and a little while later Mr Tuckett, and First Officer Trounce, by phone. The three pilots confirmed the press reports of their experience, cleared up some slight inaccuracies, and gave me added details of the incident.  I have subsequently interviewed Capt. Rainbow a number of times privately, and once on stage at our November public meeting.

I regret to report that the official investigation of this incident has apparently climaxed just the way we expected, and even predicted on stage at our public meeting.  The N.A.C. crew were called to Wellington (NZ capital and seat of Government) and interviewed by the Director of Air Force Intelligence.  At the close of a day-long study of the incident, and a thorough checking of the planet Venus’s position in the western sky, and its setting time, the playing back of the tape recorded radio conversations between Air Control and the crew during the observation, and eliminating the possibility of other aircraft being in the area, Intelligence Officers could not identify the source or find a natural phenomena explanation of the ‘flying light’.

The press obtained and published a statement to this effect on the 5th November, inclusive of the statement that Air Dept. investigators completely ruled out Venus as a source or cause of the report.  They had, reported the press, made allowance for the planet’s later setting time as for an aircraft flying at 8000 ft.  Following this stage in the probe, Mr Halstead stated that he was now calling in the Meteorological Dept. in order to find a simple solution for the N.A.C. crew’s report.

Close on this announcement, the press reported on November 8 that “on new reckonings and fixings being of the planet Venus’s position and setting time provided to the investigators by Mr I. L. Thompson, Director of Carter Observatory, Wellington, Mr Halstead stated that the Air Force investigators now agreed that the planet Venus could have been the cause of the ‘flying light’ observation, however, the speed and movement of the light reported by Captain Rainbow remained unexplained.  Mr Halstead, Deputy Minister of Defence, concluded by stating that “all other press releases made during the investigation were not from official sources.”

As Editor of this Journal and Dominion President of the organization this Journal represents, I consider, as I am sure the majority of our 380 financial associates will, that the last part of Mr Halstead’s statement constitutes a rather nasty rebuke to the Air Force Intelligence people, who were responsible for the investigation and released to the press the day-to-day progress, and objective search for the truthful answer to the mystery.

Up until the time Mr Halstead made this last statement, the investigation had been showing real promise.  There has been no further press mention of the affair.  To CSI (Civilian Saucer Investigation) this was a stage when the official probe ‘blew cold’ as expected.

What happened at this juncture to cause the Minister to step in and white-wash the incident away and insist that earlier official statements made by equally responsible people were now to be considered unofficial?  Did a US Air Force Pentagonian Officer of the distinguished ‘silence group’ flash out to NZ via a super-jet (could explain the sudden appearance of high contrails or vapour trails sighted in many places), and whisper in the Minister’s ear, or did our official investigators (top directive) get cold feet and fear to make a finding contrary to the mighty US Air Force?  Remember the 26th October US Air Force statement by Mr Quarles?  It was bound to have a far greater intimidating effect on other official investigators of the UFO problem than on the now well-seasoned and hardened members of the civilian research.

When the official investigation that was first ordered by Mr Shand, Minister of Civil Aviation, I, on behalf of CSI, telegraphed our glad tidings and offered our assistance.  True, our assistance was not called for, nor did we expect to be summoned to give voice at the enquiry.  By virtue of my long and serious study of numerous, thoroughly authenticated UFO observations, plus the assimilation of a wealth of extremely helpful investigatory data published by other serious fact-finding civilian researchers, I feel I can speak with real authority on these matters.  Civilian researchers around the globe, whose by-word has been integrity and honesty, have made a unanimous finding.  We have established via accepted scientific standards that ‘saucers’ do most positively exist, and the only answer that fits all the fact is to accept that they are of extra terrestrial origin.’

‘In conclusion of this Editorial, I would like to add our appreciation of the ‘flying light’ incident.  Firstly, having accepted the integrity and reliability of Captain Rainbow’s observation, so nobly endorsed by Mr Shand, Minister of Aviation, we make the following observation.

We are positive that the planet Venus played no part in the incident, nor any other natural phenomena of our experience.  We point out that the incident has numerous other equals and the annals of the Air Force and Civil Aviation dossiers around the world.  Many of these cases have occurred in broad daylight.  Strange craft, clearly outlined against the blue sky, have paced or raced past our aircraft at extremely close proximity.  Even in daylight, the eerie radiance or surrounding glow has been visible to the observers.  Many have reported the changing colour pattern and regular pulsation of light intensity which accompanies these objects in flight.

We have not room on this issue to list the many other ground observations received from NZ press and private sources since the beginning of October, but we must mention that at least six other sightings, some witnessed the same evening as the NAC report, and others a little later, bear remarkable resemblance is to Capt. Rainbow’s observation.

We are extremely grateful to Capt. Rainbow and the other officer’s cooperation and assistance given us in our study of their 31st October 1955 experience.  We share their disgust at the official white-washing of the incident and hope they will pass on to us the details of any other observations which they may have in the future.  At lease one of these officers has avowed to us that he will not be reporting any future occurence, which may befall him, to Government sources.

When highly skilled and experienced observances are forced to adopt this attitude to protect themselves against the belittlement and ridicule (has also many equals) the unpleasant smell of an unequalled high-level conspiracy radiates freely in all directions; even a dodo could detect it.’

Source:  Harold Fulton’s Editorial, Civilian Saucer Investigation (NZ) magazine.  See full details above.