Visibility of the Orfordness lighthouse
1: Lighthouse from the forest edge
Above is a super-telephoto view of the top of the Orfordness lighthouse peeking through a notch between trees on the skyline, as seen from the eastern edge of Rendlesham Forest where the flashing UFO was sighted. [Note: Trinity House gave the lighthouse name as one word, i.e. Orfordness and not Orford Ness.] Shielding on the lighthouse windows blocked the light from the town of Orford (to the left in this picture), but as this picture shows there was an almost direct line of sight from the lamp towards the forest.
The above picture was taken on 2006 December 9 from near the supposed UFO ‘landing site’ by Tony Nelson of Wickham Market, who kindly sent it to me for use on this website. The lighthouse tower is 30m high, and the intervening ridge has a maximum height of 19m (OS spot height). Lower down the tower were red and green sector lights but these could not be seen from the forest. For more about the notch on the ridge through which the top of the lighthouse was visible, see Image 5 below.
2: A view from Orford Ness
The lighthouse photographed by me on Orford Ness on 2013 August 28. Comparison with Image 1 at the top of the page shows that the viewing azimuth is identical to the view from the forest edge. Through the windows, the outline of one of the three giant rotating Fresnel lenses that focused the beam can be seen. The radio transmitting mast visible at top left of the tower on Image 1 had been taken down when I took this, as the lighthouse was by then no longer operating. The glazing on the lantern room was 3m high.
3: Lighthouse and the Black Beacon
The line of sight from the Orfordness lighthouse to the forest edge ran just north of another famous Orford Ness landmark, the Black Beacon, on the right of picture. This wide-angle view was taken by me from the same spot as the telephoto shot (Image 2) above. The Black Beacon, a former radio transmitting tower, is about one-third the height of the lighthouse.
4: Lighthouse from the Orford side
The Orfordness lighthouse as seen from the side facing the town of Orford. The diamond-shaped window panes of the lantern room were filled in on this side to prevent the light shining directly into the town. However, the shield was notched and only three of the panes were filled in at the centre. In practice, the light still shone inland towards Rendlesham Forest, off to the right. See this short video by Adrian Frearson demonstrating the position of the blanked-off arc relative to the town and forest.
At the time of the Rendlesham Forest UFO sighting, Orfordness lighthouse was one of the brightest in the country, with an intensity of 5 million candelas. For technical data on the light, see here.
5: The Notch
As Image 1 at the top of the page demonstrates, the Orfordness lighthouse was visible from the forest edge only through a notch between two stands of trees on the skyline. These trees are in fact on rising ground to the east of the Butley River at Gedgrave. I have marked this Notch on the satellite view above. The eastern edge of Rendlesham Forest is about 3.5 km to the west, and the lighthouse about 4.5 km to the east. The lighthouse could be seen through the Notch from only a very limited area near the forest edge. This just happens to be the area in which the US airmen were standing when they reported seeing their flashing UFO almost in line with the farmhouse across the field to the east of them.
Goodbye to the Orfordness lighthouse
The Orford Ness lighthouse was turned off permanently at the end of June 2013 and was demolished in 2020. No more can it be seen flashing every five seconds across the farmer’s field at the edge of Rendlesham Forest, just where the US airmen reported seeing their flashing UFO back at Christmas 1980.
© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved
Content last revised 2021 January