TWO years after it vanished off the local radar, the phantom bomber of Barnoldswick has returned.

In January 2004, a retired policewoman and her husband reported seeing what looked like a Lancaster bomber flying impossibly low over the Rolls-Royce site at Bankfield.

Eerily, the craft made no noise and the two witnesses were so shocked by what they saw that they almost crashed their car.

Soon after, a Skipton aerial phenomena expert was inundated with phone calls from people all over Craven who reported similar sightings.

Most described what they saw as a low-flying Second World War bomber, grey in colour and with no markings. Several said they had seen it on the same day.

And this week, another man called the Craven Herald to say he had seen exactly the same thing flying towards the site of a small airstrip in Barnoldswick - which is rumoured to have been used for an emergency landing during World War II.

The resident of Sackville Street, Skipton, who asked for his name to be withheld, said: "I didn't think anything about it at the time - it wasn't until I remembered the reports in the papers from two years ago that it clicked.

"I was standing on the canal bank near Gargrave on Saturday and I saw what looked exactly like a Lancaster at around 400 feet. It didn't seem to be making a sound and it was heading north towards Gargrave and the Greenberfield strip where they sometimes fly microlights from."

At the time of the original sightings, it was suggested that RAF training flights involving large propeller-powered aircraft such as Hercules transporters could be to blame.

However, the 70-year-old man said: "I saw them during the war so I know what they look like - this wasn't a modern plane."

It was also suggested the reports could actually be flights of historical aircraft or commemorative events organised by Rolls-Royce, but there is just one airworthy Lancaster left in Europe - based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

A Rolls-Royce source confirmed the company does own and fly a Spitfire, but it is much smaller than a Lancaster and its last flight in the Barnoldswick area was on October 1 2004. However, she added that RAF training and memorial flights in the area were quite common and could well fly over or "salute" the Bankfield site because of its aviation connections.

Aviation enthusiast Donald Cooper said the reports followed a familiar pattern and could tie in with theories of "time slips" - supposed replays or images of events which have taken place in the past - and could be connected with energy fields around industrial plants.

After an appeal in the Craven Herald in 2004, one man came forward to say he remembered a Lancaster making an emergency landing near Greenberfield Lane in Barnoldswick, adding that the Army and police quickly sealed the area off to prevent curious locals getting a better look.

Another caller believed a landing strip had been reinforced with cork to make it a suitable site for heavy wartime aircraft to use in an emergency.

Mr Cooper said: "Lancaster bombers make a hell of a racket, but all of these people say they are silent. Was there a Lancaster that landed there during the war or did one try and didn't make it?

"I've shown all the witnesses I've spoken to pictures of modern RAF Hercules aeroplanes and they say it wasn't what they saw.

"They are quite different aircraft - the Hercules' wings are much higher in the fuselage and it only has a single tail-fin, whereas Lancasters have two. Besides, the RAF can't go below a certain altitude due to aviation regulations - especially not over a town of 10,000 people."

He added: "I'm keeping an open mind, but I have to believe the witnesses who all seem to be balanced, professional people and not people coming out of the pub after one too many."

Mr Cooper also has a cutting from a 1956 edition of the Craven Herald which shows a plane landing in Barnoldswick to deliver engineering components to Rolls-Royce. Anyone who can cast any further light on the mystery can contact him on 01756 791957.