Mother-ship: now there's a term absolutely guaranteed to raise the hackles of any smug, self-important ufological skeptic. So, I'll say it again, only this time louder: MOTHER-SHIP!

For those unacquainted with this one-time ufological stalwart, the mother-ships were almost a permanent fixture of the halcyon days of ufology (and by that I mean the 1950s and 1960s), and became so-named as a result of their huge size. Usually described as being hundreds of feet in length, and very often cigar-shaped, the mother-ships were seen by many as being the outer-space equivalent of a modern-day aircraft carrier - the purpose of which was to carry smaller, flying saucer-style vehicles across vast stretches of space before dropping them onto our planet to undertake whatever dark and nefarious activities they deemed fit.

But the problem with the mother-ships wasn't so much the fact that people saw them, or that the scenario of having one huge craft carrying a whole "family" of smaller ones defied logic. Nope: the problem was that the mother-ships became inextricably linked with the so-called "Contactee" controversy.

In the early 1950s, numerous characters - including George Adamski, George Van Tassel, Truman Bethurum (who, had his wife agreed, might have engineered the first intergalactic three-way - with the help of beautiful, shapely "space captain-ette" Aura Rhanes), and George Hunt Williamson (funny how the aliens seem to like earth people named George), reported close encounters, and direct contact, with eerily human-looking aliens who - among other things - loftily insisted we disarm our nuclear arsenals and live in harmony with one another (there's zero chance of that happening anytime soon!). And thus was born the cult of the Contactee - for a cult is certainly what it was and still is.

Moreover, many of the contactees - and particularly Adamski - claimed that their visitors were arriving in gigantic mother-ships. And, as a result of the fact that many of the more down-to-earth researchers of that era poured scorn on the accounts of the Contactees, so the tales of the mother-ships came to be viewed with growing suspicion.

Incredibly, even the FBI got in on the act: FBI memoranda of 1954 refers to a source who had advised the Bureau that "5,000 mother ships...150 to 200 feet in length" were at that time surrounding our planet. Their purpose: to "repair fault-lines in the Pacific Ocean." Well, that was nice of them - although I see no evidence of such repairs having ever occurred.

However, we might not want to dismiss the mother-ships completely out of hand. Consider the following report, found in the files of the British Government's National Archive by UFO researchers Andy Roberts and David Clarke.

Dating from December 2, 1942 and with the long and yawn-inspiring title of "Report by the crew of 61 Sqdn. A/c 'J,' Captain W/O Lever, of object seen during raid on TURIN, night of November 28/29th, 1942," the report reads as follows:

"The object...was seen by the entire crew of the above aircraft. They believe it to have been 200-300 feet in length and its width is estimated at 1/5th or 1/6th of its length. The speed was estimated at 500 m.p.h., and it had four pairs of red lights spaced at equal distances along its body. These lights did not appear in any way like exhaust flames; no trace was seen. The object kept a level course. The crew saw the object twice during the raid and brief details are given below."

The author of the report continued:

"After bombing, time 2240 hours, a/c height 11,000 feet. The aircraft at this time was some 10/15 miles South-West of Turin traveling in a northwesterly direction. The object was traveling South-East at the same height or slightly below the aircraft. After bombing, time 2245 hours, a/c height 14,000 feet. The aircraft was approaching the Alps when the object was seen again traveling West-South-West up a valley in the Alps below the level of the peaks. The lights appeared to go out and the object disappeared from view."

The document concluded:

"The captain of the aircraft also reports that he has seen a similar object about three months ago North of Amsterdam. In this instance it appeared to be on the ground and later traveling at high speed at a lower level than the heights given above along the coast for about two seconds; the lights then went out for the same period of time and came on again, and the object was still seen to be traveling in the same direction."

Now, seeing strange things when in the vicinity of Amsterdam is practically par for the course; but it's worth noting that a covering letter attached to this report that had been prepared by the Air Vice Marshal, Commanding, No. 5 Group of the British Royal Air Force stated: "The crew refuses to be shaken in their story in the face of the usual banter and ridicule."

And, of course, no nation on earth - to the best of our knowledge, at least - was flying aircraft 200-300 feet in length and at speeds of 500 mph, 55 years ago.

If the late Steve Irwin had investigated UFOs, at this stage he would probably be shouting at the top of his voice "Crikey!" And perhaps so we should, too. Maybe George, George, George and Co. were right all along. And so, with that final, astonishing thought in our collective minds, altogether now: "CRIKEY!"