by Gildas Bourdais

Posted: 23:59 January 19, 2008
from UFODigest Website


France drew international attention in March 2007 when GEIPAN, the official service in charge of investigating UFOs, announced that it was beginning to put all its UFO files on its web site - 1,650 cases in all, containing some 6,000 testimonies - gathered in more than thirty years of inquiries, since its creation in 1977 (actually, some earlier cases are on file as well).

The release of these files is what French UFOlogists had been demanding for years, some of them suspecting the authorities of hiding UFO files from the public. Actually, the files now being made public appear to be more of the "sleeping kind" than of the secret kind. GEIPAN has finally made this decision in order to put an end to these speculations. It is not certain however, that it will end the question of possible secret files, which would be held outside GEIPAN, with a military "secret" stamp (as we will see).

GEIPAN is a small part of the prestigious Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) with its website at

There was an incredible worldwide demand to access the files (unanticipated by CNES, whose servers weren't up to the challenge), and it was difficult, during a few days, to access the UFO files. A similarly huge number of visitors deluged the Chicago Tribune website after the paper published a story on the UFO that was seen over O'Hare Airport, November 7, 2006. Interest in UFOs remains pervasive, even when discounted and discouraged by the establishment.

GEIPAN (Groupe d'Etudes et d'Information sur les Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non identifiés, or Group for Study and Information on Unidentified Aerospatial Phenomena") is the current name of the French UFO project. Its mother agency, CNES, headquartered in Paris, but with a research facility in Toulouse, is the French equivalent of NASA. It is in charge of the base of Kourou in French Guyana, used for the launching of rockets and satellites, together with the European organization ESA.

GEIPAN has almost the same name as the initial GEPAN, created in 1977, but with an "I" added for "Information." Indeed, information is the primary goal of GEIPAN, with the task of releasing all the files on the CNES/GEIPAN web site.


In order to better understand the present situation, let's first briefly review the history of official French UFO studies.


French UFOlogy - Born… Killed… and Reborn

The first organization for the study of UFOs in France, GEPAN, was created in 1977 by the Director of CNES, Yves Sillard, who named an engineer, Claude Poher, as its head.

It was supervised by a "Scientific Council," which had to report its activity at least once a year. Poher had already done personal work on the subject, after reading the Condon report and meeting with the American astronomer, J. Allen Hynek. Previously, a decision had also been made, in 1974, to gather reports about UFOs systematically from the gendarmerie (military police), and transmit a copy of them to CNES.

At that time, the gendarmerie had collected more than 300 reports and was collecting about 100 new reports each year. That same year, a committee of the Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale (IHEDN) had made recommendations for the creation of such an organization. I should note here that, from the beginning, there was a special interest in the military in the study of UFOs, in contrast with the seeming lack of interest, if not open hostility, on the part many people in the scientific and intellectual establishment. This explains why, after a couple of years at GEPAN, Claude Poher resigned.


He said later that he was disappointed by the apparent lack of interest of the Scientific Council, in spite of the support of Yves Sillard.

Yves Sillard,
Former Director of CNES,
President of the steering committee of GEIPAN

From 1979 to 1983, however, GEPAN was quite active, led by a young engineer, Alain Esterle, and the staff expanded to 10 at one time (for the early history of GEPAN, see Gildas Bourdais, "From GEPAN to SEPRA: Official UFO Studies in France", IUR 25:4, Winter 2000-2001).


The project had the good luck to come across several very interesting cases. Most prominent among these were those of Trans-en-Provence in 1981, and of "L'Amarante" in 1982.

GEPAN published its findings on these cases in Technical notes, numbers 16 and 17. They drew a lot of attention, even abroad, but, apparently, the scientific establishment did not welcome them because, shortly afterwards, the activity of GEPAN was drastically reduced. Esterle left and his assistant, Jean-Jacques Velasco, took over the operation of GEPAN. Velasco managed to keep the activity alive, but with very reduced means.

In 1988, the name GEPAN was even dropped and the project was renamed SEPRA, a curious name meaning Service d'Etude des Phénomènes de Rentrées Atmosphériques (Department for the Study of Atmospheric Re-entry Phenomena), which did not refer directly to UFOs any more. The Scientific Council was essentially closed, and no more technical notes were published.

After a period of great confusion about the fate of French UFO studies, the service was eventually reactivated at CNES, in July 2005. Here is how it happened.

Toward the end of the 1990s, the SEPRA had a very limited activity, and some people would probably have liked to kill it for good. But others claimed that it should be reactivated and granted more resources for a new beginning. This was the opinion of the Cometa Report in 1999, written by an independent group comprised of senior officers, both military and civilian.

I would like at this point to correct a mistake, seen in the Sunday Times article of March 25, "Spooky... They Start a UFO Website, Then it Crashes." It mentions the Cometa Report (without naming it) as a French government publication, released by the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale). This is incorrect. The report was written by a private group, the Cometa (even if it is true that it had been encouraged at the beginning by the head of IHEDN, General Bernard Norlain). But it has probably been influential in the reactivation of French UFO studies.

At CNES, the new director Gérard Brachet decided in 2001 to audit the UFO project. It was conducted by an outsider, François Louange, an expert in photo analysis who had participated in UFO studies at CNES. In 2002, Louange gave (like the Cometa but quite independently) a favorable report that recommended the reactivation and the new development of SEPRA.


This was echoed in the French press, notably in an important article published in the major newspaper, Le Figaro, in November 2002:

"OVNIS -L'état doit y consacrer plus de moyens"
(UFOs. The state must give more resources for their study)

Surprisingly, in January 2004, CNES then decided to close SEPRA.

What had happened?

Most likely, some influential people were opposed to the reactivation of SERPA. But it is a fact that the man in charge of SEPRA, engineer Jean-Jacques Velasco, after some twenty years at the "UFO desk," had made up his mind to come out and give his personal opinion about UFOs. Mr. Velasco was just completing a book, published in April 2004, under the rather provocative title OVNIS: L'évidence ("UFOs: The Evidence").

There is a play on words in this title because the primary meaning of "evidence" in French is "obviousness". Velasco meant that the reality of UFOs is obvious, and he worsened his case by adding that their ET origin is very probable, as well, just like the Cometa Report did in 1999. Presumably, his book also weighed heavily in the decision to close SEPRA.


The conservative magazine Ciel et Espace announced in June 2004:

"CNES buries UFOs"

This was a deliberately shocking title. But it was not the end of the story!

The Launch of France's Ariane 5 Rocket
Kourou, French Guyana



The Rebirth of "SEPRA" as "GEIPAN"

A new article of Le Figaro, of July 31, 2004, revealed that CNES was now embarrassed by its decision and was already planning the rebirth of SEPRA, under a new name and with a new man at the helm. Finally, the decision was made in July 2005 by a new Director of CNES, Yannick d'Escatha, to create a department for the study of UFOs once again. Another engineer was named to replace Jacques Velasco.


He was Jacques Patenet, 59, a man with a long career at CNES in rocket launching, including the Ariane rockets, at the launching site at Kourou in French Guiana.

Jacques Patenet
French Engineer who replaced SERPA's Jacques Vellasco
as the new Director of GEIPAN

Like the old GEPAN, Patenet and the GEIPAN are under the authority of the CNES hierarchy, but they are also under the control of a "steering committee," called "COPEIPAN ("Comité de pilotage" of GEIPAN). This committee is headed by Yves Sillard - the man who created GEPAN in 1977, now retired after a brilliant career at the head of CNES and at other important posts.

At their first meeting in September 2005, the committee proposed to give the name GEIPAN to the reborn French UFO service.


As listed on the GEIPAN web site, the steering committee, COPEIPAN, consists of 15 permanent members:

  1. Representatives of such civilian and military authorities as the gendarmerie, police, civil security, DGAC (Direction Générale de l'Aviation Civile), and the French Air Force

  2. Representatives of the scientific world: CNRS (Centre national de la Recherche Scientifique), the weather bureau

  3. CNES, itself.

As with the old GEPAN, agreements of cooperation have been created or updated with these different institutions.


GEIPAN may also rely on a network of specialists, so that it is again fully able to work efficiently on new cases.


The Release of UFO Files

In January 2006, Jacques Patenet announced that GEIPAN was going to put all its UFO files on the CNES web site. The project is under way, with the release of some 480 files at the end of June 2007, covering the period 1988-2005.


This caused quite a stir in the mass media, and even Ciel et Espace was obliged to correct its previous stance about CNES's burial of UFOs with a new article in May 2006, entitled:

"OVNIS: Le CNES ouvre ses dossiers"
("UFOs: CNES opens its files").

Beware: There are UFOs, after all!


The release of the UFO files was announced in many newspapers, with a much more positive tone. The well-known weekly magazine, L'Express, devoted six pages to the subject, something that had not happened for several decades in France. On the other hand, some trendy publications like the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur and the daily, Libération, did not print one word about it. So, there is still, obviously, a long way to go in this country, which still sees itself as a champion of rationalism.

The release of the UFO files was announced in many newspapers, with a much more positive tone. The well-known weekly magazine, L'Express, devoted six pages to the subject, something that had not happened for several decades in France. On the other hand, some trendy publications like the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur and the daily, Libération, did not print one word about it.


So, there is still, obviously, a long way to go in this country, which still sees itself as a champion of rationalism.


OVNIS Appear Once Again in L'Express
March 22, 2007


Recently, Jacques Patenet appeared, with Alain Cirou, the editor of Ciel et Espace, on a well-known TV program called ''C dans l'air" ("It's in the air"), televised on March 30.

Questioned bluntly by host and journalist, Yves Calvi, on the reality of UFOs, Patenet said unequivocally that,

"Yes, there are UFOs, even if there are not many" (in his opinion).

Calvi then asked the same question to Cirou who, obviously embarrassed, made a more evasive answer. I was invited, too, and I can say that it was a very amusing moment. It signaled, perhaps, the beginning of a new tone in the French media in regard to UFOs.

Until recently, the same journalist would have rather invited, together with Cirou, the astronomer, André Brahic, well known for his total skepticism on UFOs. On the other hand, a sociologist, Pierre Lagrange, a friend of Cirou, was also there, but he gave signs of changing subtly his standard opinion on UFOs, away from his usual psychosocial explanation to a prudent recognition of a certain reality of UFOs.

However, the battle is not over in the French media. On June 29, a new TV show at the national network, France 3, "Pièces à conviction", leaned heavily in favor of the skeptics, such as Henri Broch, of the group, "Zététique", which is the French version of the American CSICOP. On the other hand, the daily paper Libération, granted me a one page, positive interview, on August 3. But let's forget about that and come back to the UFO files.

The first inquiries made by CNES began in 1977 with the creation of the first service called "GEPAN," but there are files from the 1950s & 1960s (and even one dating from 1937!).

As we have seen, the gendarmerie already had more than 300 files in 1974, and it was then collecting about one hundred reports a year. In 1978, the first statistical study, made by Claude Poher, was based upon 678 reports. There are now 1,650 "official" files in France, including some 6,000 witnesses, comprising more than 100,000 pages of documents. The rest of GEIPAN's UFO files should be posted by the end of this year (although that seems a rather ambitious goal).


In any case, a first effect of this project seems to have been a renewed estimate of the percentage of unknown cases, rather dramatically, as we shall now see.


Unknown Cases…Now at 28 %

In March 2007, Jacques Patenet gave a number of interviews, in which he warned that we are not going to find any new important (but previously unknown) cases. The best, such as Trans-en-Provence in 1981 (allegedly, the brief landing of a small UFO, with traces left on the ground), are known already. However, there is some new information worth mentioning:

The number of unidentified cases after serious study (the "PAN D" category) is now estimated at 25 to 28 % (depending on the day of the interview, apparently). On the web site of GEIPAN, the percentage is, indeed, 28%.


Here is the repartition in the four key categories used by the project:

  • PAN A (perfectly identified phenomena): 9 %

  • PAN B (probably identified): 33 % (A + B = 42%)

  • PAN C (insufficient data): 30 %

  • PAN D (unidentified): 28 %

Please note that it would not be appropriate to add PAN C and D, which would make for 58% of unknowns, as some have claimed recently in Canada (The National Post, for example). The percentage of unidentified is more than has been previously published. In recent years, the percentage of unknown phenomena was still given at around 13 % or 14 %.


Actually, in the book just published, Phénomènes spatiaux non identifiés, Yves Sillard gives the following percentages:

  • PAN A: 18.4 %

  • PAN B: 28.1 % (A + B = 46. 5 %)

  • PAN C: 39.5 %

  • PAN D: 14 %

For his part, Jean-Jacques Velasco, in his book, which was reissued recently under the title Troubles dans le ciel (Troubles in the Sky") still gives the previous figures, very close to those of Yves Sillard:

  • PAN A + B: 46. %

  • PAN C: 40.6%

  • PAN D: 13.5%

So, how do we explain this?

It appears that GEIPAN has (very recently) re-evaluated the percentage of unknowns. Interestingly, this new percentage of unknowns (28 %) is more in line with the very first results of GEPAN, which had been established by Claude Poher, based on the analysis of 678 reports.

Actually, the unknowns were much higher:

  • PAN A and B together: 26 %

  • PAN C: 36 %

  • PAN D: 38 %!

Jean-Jacques Velasco also compares, in his book, the percentages of French UFOs with those found in the fifties in the USA by the Batelle Memorial Institute for Project Blue Book. These findings were kept confidential at the time, but published later in the famous Special Report 14.

Their findings, based on the statistical study of 1,959 usable reports from the period 1952-1954, were, using the equivalent categories:

  • PAN A + B: 49, 6 %

  • PAN C: 18. 9 %

  • PAN D: 21. 5 %

However, the most publicized percentage of unknowns, established globally in 1969 on the complete files of the Blue Book commission of 12,618 cases was 5.5 %. But we know that the U.S. Air Force had made every effort to reduce that number (and the percentage has increased since then as others, including Alan J. Hynek, re-evaluated the case files).

So, the percentage of unknowns apparently remains, even today, a rather uncertain and debatable statistic. But it seems to be much higher than the classic, oft-cited 5 %.


Some Differences of Opinions

Yves Sillard, the President of the Steering Committee (COPEIPAN), had already expressed his views on UFOs in several interviews as of September 2005. Sillard did it once again in an important collective book on UFOs, released in France at the beginning of April 2007.

Its title is:

Phénomènes spatiaux non identifiés
Un défi à la science
(Unidentified Aerospatial Phenomena. A Challenge to Science).
Publisher by Le Cherche Midi.
See the web site

It is not an exaggeration to say that the opinions of Yves Sillard are a bit more affirmative than those of the engineer, Jacques Patenet, in his own interviews on the official presentation of GEIPAN on its web site and in his chapter of Sillard's book.

One idea put forward by Jacques Patenet is that the extraterrestrial hypothesis is conceivable, but that there is "not the slightest solid proof for it, or against it, as well".

This is a very restrictive stance. The extraterrestrial hypothesis is very evident in the book, expressed not only by Sillard but by other contributors, notably the astrophysicist, Jean-Claude Ribes, CNES engineer Pierre Marx, author François Parmentier, and police chief Dominique Weinstein, even if they don't all say so as clearly.

Ribes and Marx discuss possible future means of exploration of interstellar space (which may have been already mastered somewhere else in the universe), and Weinstein provides much old data on aeronautical cases worldwide that confirm the physical presence of UFO in our skies, including detection by radar and electromagnetic effect cases.

For his part, Sillard offers briefly in his introduction four primary hypotheses for the explanation of UFOs:

  1. Psychological

  2. Secret military air/space craft

  3. Rare physical phenomena

  4. The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH)

Furthermore, Sillard published these words about the ETH (page 19):

"(ETH) being the only hypothesis which, at the present stage, brings an eventual perspective to explain the phenomena, the existence of which is indisputable, an attitude of frightened rejection without examination does not seem to be the good approach, however".

There is thus clearly some variance of opinion on UFOs, even among people in charge of or associated with the new GEIPAN. Their collective efforts, a book written under the editorial direction of Yves Sillard, has the merit of showing these different opinions and attitudes honestly, and it is another notable event on the French UFO scene, coming on the heels of the release of French UFO files.


Again, the opinions expressed in that book range from mere skepticism about the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs, as in the stance of the Dominican theologian, Jacques Arnould, who is a counselor on ethics at CNES, to an analysis of the tough problem of UFO secrecy, mainly observed in the United States, by contributor François Parmentier.

Parmentier had already written a whole book on that difficult subject, published in 2004, entitled:

OVNI. 60 ans de désinformation
("UFOs: 60 Years of Disinformation")

Sillard is obviously open to such a viewpoint, as we could already see in his interviews of September 2005, in which he criticized the American policy of denial of UFOs. However, he refrains from expressing it so bluntly in the book, which aims at a consensus. That is not an easy task, to say the least.

Jacques Patenet, for his part, is careful to keep a good distance between him and what could be considered radical opinions. Still, in his conclusion, Sillard denounces "the climate of suspicion and disinformation, even derision, that dismisses witness testimony and stems from surprising intellectual blindness."

These are strong words and a new tone, indeed, on the part of the President of the GEIPAN "steering committee." They remind us of the conclusions of the Cometa Report, which has been posted, by the way, on the GEIPAN website.


We also note that Yves Sillard pays tribute to engineer, Jean-Jacques Velasco, who managed to maintain the UFO activity alive, in spite of few resources and "very reduced moral support".


UFO Cases - Explained and Unexplained

On its web site, GEIPAN provides some examples of both explained and unexplained cases.

As an example of the former, in 1985 near the city of Royan on the Atlantic coast, a metallic fragment was found that was at first presumed to be piece of the Russian satellite COSMOS 1629. But on closer examination, it was officially identified as a German propulsive device dating from the Second World War. Here now, on the contrary, are some cases still considered unexplained by GEIPAN.

Trans-en-Provence - 8 January 1981

This is probably the most famous French UFO case, which has been in described in the GEPAN Technical Note No 16. Technical No 16 relates the account of a retired worker who, while in his garden, saw a small round craft land briefly and depart, leaving a round trace on the ground. The inquiry also revealed unexplained effects on the surrounding plants, possibly caused by an electromagnetic field. However, some French skeptics have dismissed the case as being the trace of tire track left by a truck!

Another major case, which has been cited by Jacques Patenet on the TV program "C dans l'air," above mentioned, is a very close confrontation with a UFO in the air by a military pilot, Colonel Giraud, aboard a Mirage IV nuclear bomber in 1977. It was already presented, prominently, in the Cometa report in 1999.

There are many more cases, which are now beginning to be published. Let's mention at least two other well-known cases in France.

L'Amarante - Nancy, 1982

L'Amarante in Nancy, in 1982, which was published by GEPAN, recounts the case of very close observation of a small UFO, hovering silently for about twenty minutes above ground, and which left unexplained effects on surrounding plants called "amarantes."

Valensole 1965

On the morning of July 1, 1965, Maurice Masse was going to start working on his field, at about 5:45 a.m. when he heard a whistling noise. Then he saw a machine in his field, shaped like a rugby football, standing on six legs with a central pivot stuck into the ground, with two small beings next to it (see FSR, "A Visit at Valensole" for more details).

Masse approached, crossing a vineyard, which was next to his field, and when he was close (about 5 meters), one of the beings pointed a pencil-like instrument at him, which paralyzed him. The two beings entered the craft. The craft whirled and the landing legs retracted.


With a thump of the central pivot, the machine took off to float silently away, in the direction of the town of Manosque.

Two kinds of traces were reported at Valensole:

  1. The main, circular trace at the touchdown site of the landing, which remained for a long time

  2. A long trace, which was made visible by the effects it left in a swath on lavender plants, along the path the craft took when it departed

Are There Still Secret UFO Files in France?

A frequently asked question, among French UFOlogists, is whether or not there are still secret files in France. When CNES announced the release of its UFO files, many people claimed with excitement that France was opening its "secret files"!

This was wrong and had to be corrected immediately. As I noted, these files were more likely to be covered by dust than by a layer of secrecy. According to Yves Sillard, in Phénomènes aérospatiaux non identifiés, there was at least a legal problem to solve, as those files don't really belong to CNES but, for the most part, to the Gendarmerie nationale (which continues to collect witness testimony). And there are also some files from the French Air Force.

That being said, a nagging question remains, in France as in other countries, about the existence of secret UFO files and studies. In Great Britain, for instance, Nick Pope, who staffed the UFO desk from 1991 to 1994 at the Ministry of Defense, still argues that he has not heard of any secret UFO files in his country. On the other hand, he freely admits that, in the famous case of an alleged UFO landing in Rendlesham Forest in December 1980, there was undoubtedly a cover-up policy on the part of the U.S. Air Force, which was occupying the nearby air base at the time.


So it seems obvious that the case of the United States deserves special examination.

"Trouble in the Sky"
Photo enhancement of famous Rouen OVNI photo of 1954 (true origin unknown)
reveals fine details of structure and hull form, similar to those shown in the
famous Trent photos taken in McMinnville, Oregon, USA in 1950
"Reconnoitre" these cases at -

It's plausible that the French military retain some secret UFO files that have remained outside CNES. According to Patenet, the French Air Force had already opened, in 1954, a service of documentation called SEMOC (Section d'étude des mystérieux objects célestes) and, presumably, there are some classified files there that have not been released to CNES. Nevertheless, it seems that there is nothing in France comparable to the many rumours and testimony about government and military secrets, including the Roswell case in the United States.

Let's give an example of a famous case, during the big wave of 1954, the alleged landing at Quarouble, which remains somewhat clouded in military secrecy.

Quarouble 1954

Quarouble, 1954, perhaps the most famous case of the French 1954 wave, remains classified. This was the site of a close encounter of the third kind in Quarouble, near the Belgian border.

On the night of September 10, at 10.30 p.m., Marius Dewilde, a steel worker, was confronted with two little beings, just in front of his little home, situated in a rather isolated area, next to a railway track. They paralyzed him, and then climbed aboard a craft which had landed on the railway track, and which took off rapidly.


Dewilde was terrified and ran to the nearest police station. There was a very serious inquiry involving three official agencies: the police, the "gendarmerie de l'Air", and the DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire), but nothing was published of it.

However, two years later, the journalist Aimé Michel learned, from a railway engineer who had participated in the investigation, that imprints found on the wooden rail sleepers had revealed that the craft weighted about 30 tons! Jean-Jacques Velasco says, in his book Troubles dans le ciel ("Trouble in the Sky") that he tried for several years to obtain for SEPRA the files of that inquiry, but to no avail.

Velasco could find no official record of that important case…


Where is that file, now?


A Russian Rocket Re-entry Over France?
November 5, 1990

An example of confusion, according to the GEIPAN file, was the re-entry of a Russian rocket stage, which crossed France on November 5, 1990. Well, there were obviously lots of observations of that rocket debris burning in the high atmosphere. But not everyone, including me, agrees that it could explain all the numerous observations. It seems that many observations, covering a large part of the French territory, don't fit well with the re-entry phenomenon.


As a resident in the nearby west suburb of Paris, I came across a couple of testimonies about a big black shape coming over the area on a trajectory, which could hardly be confused with the Russian rocket re-entry, owing to the angles of observation.

Could it be that a part of what happened that evening has been kept secret?

That's the opinion of many UFOlogists, including my friend, Joël Mesnard, director of the review, Lumières dans la Nuit, even though he does admits that there was, indeed, a rocket re-entry at the same time.


Putting France Back on the UFO Track

It is still too early to tell what will come out of this new organization but, for the time being, it has already had the positive effect of renewing interest for UFOs in France, resulting in a number of articles, discussions on TV and radio, and even drawing the attention of the press and public worldwide.

In conclusion, we can say that there are, indeed, many strong UFO cases, which are recognized, officially, or almost officially, and that the reality of UFOs is admitted officially alive in France today, in spite of still negative attitudes in some circles.

Gildas Bourdais
Paris, France