Tehran UFO Incident, 1976: Iranian Fighter Jets Chase a UFO
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Although there are many UFO sightings among pilots and air traffic controllers, one case in particular serves to shatter the myth that trained observers don't see UFOs. In September of 1976, the Iranian Air Force scrambled two Phantom jets to intercept a luminous, shape-shifting object drifting over the capital city of Tehran. But every time the jets approached it, their equipment failed, and the object darted away. The case is exemplary for involving a mix of radar data, physical effects, and multiple independent witnesses, and a classified report proves that it drew attention from the highest levels of the US government - despite official insistence to the contrary.
The First Chase
Around 10:30 p.m. on the night of September 18, 1976, Hossein Pirouzi, an experienced air traffic controller working at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, received a call from a woman northeast of the airport who saw a luminous object glowing red, yellow, and orange. It was shaped like a four-blade fan, and seemed to split in two. A few minutes later, another caller reported a similar object in the same area of the sky, one which also split in two and then rejoined as one. The tower radar was under repair, so Pirouzi could not confirm the UFO, but after receiving two more calls in the next half hour, he stepped outside to look through his binoculars: in the direction of the callers' sightings, he saw a luminous cylindrical object sitting horizontally in the sky about 1.8 kilometers, or 6000 feet, off the ground. He guessed that it was 8 meters wide, or just over 26 feet. Each end was glowing blue, and a red light was making an orbit around the center every second or two, and pausing every 90 degrees. The entire cylinder was rocking back and forth like a seesaw. As it got closer, Pirouzi saw it slowly change into a drooping starfish with a green body and a core that glowed like red-hot coal. Its arms were dark orange but faded to yellow at the tips. It seemed to have four of them, though Pirouzi believed that there was actually only one arm switching positions. However, when Pirouzi's trainees looked through the binoculars shortly after, they saw a semi-circle: the object was constantly changing shapes.
The object drifted to the north, and sometimes to the south, and even once seemed to instantaneously disappear and reappear a few kilometers from its original location. To add to the mystery, four aircraft that flew over the area in the next half hour heard an emergency beeper on their radio, although there was no record of a crash. Around 12:30 a.m., Pirouzi called the Imperial Iranian Air Force and spoke to Brigadier General Nader Yousefi, Assistant Deputy Commander of Operations. Yousefi saw the object for himself from his house in northern Tehran, and confirmed that it was not a star. At 1:30 a.m, he called Shahroki Air Force base in nearby Hamadan and scrambled an F-4 Phantom jet. The pilot, Yadi Nazeri, saw the object distinctly from well over 100km away, but said that it was too bright to see a shape. It was "radiating violet, orange and white light” and appeared to be about 3.6 k.m., or 12,000 ft off the ground. Nazeri was instructed only to get a visual inspection, but when he approached within 46 km, or just under 29 miles, the object moved farther away. Even at mach 2, Nazeri was unable to close in. When he turned back towards Tehran, an object flew up from behind and darted by, beating him back to the city while he was still 240km, or 150 miles away. As he approached the UFO again, he lost all his radio and navigational aids, and regained them when he turned away. On his last approach, he lost his radio and intercom functionality as well. He then heard the same emergency signal reported earlier before running low on fuel and returning to Shahroki.
The Second Chase
At 1:40 a.m., Yousefi scrambled a second Phantom, piloted by Lieutenant Parviz Jafari, then a squadron commander. Jafari's radar operator was able to get a lock on the object, which appeared on the scope to be the size of a Boeing 707, but they could not get close enough to see a structure: every time they closed within 46 k.m., or 31 miles, the object sped away or "jumped" positions in the sky. Jafari calculated that it once jumped more than 43 kilometers, or 27 miles, in an instant. It also changed shape again: Jafari said that it was composed of four flashing strobe lights in a rectangular pattern flashing blue, green, red, and orange so quickly that they could all be seen at once. In the center was a red light with a yellow glow. At one point, a smaller ball of light emerged from the UFO, and moved rapidly towards the jet. Jafari attempted to launch an AIM-9 heat seeking missile at it, only to realize that he had lost all weapons control and communications. He turned around and flew back towards Tehran, but the light followed him. Pirouzi saw this light from his tower, and watched it fly up behind the jet and pass it overhead. At this moment, Pirouzi lost communication with the pilot, which did not resume until Jafari went into a diving turn and the object broke chase. The light swung around to the inside of his turn, then rejoined the larger UFO, and Jafari later regained the use of all instrumentation.
Soon after, Jafari, his radar operator, Pirouzi, and his trainees all saw another smaller object emerge from the opposite side of the UFO, and drop quickly down to earth. The jet's crew watched the light slow in its descent and land gently on the ground, casting a brilliant glow that extended for two to three kilometers. Jafari said that it looked like daytime: so much so that it took some time for him and his operator to adjust their eyes to the darkness again. They approached the main object, which was orbiting over the landed one, and again lost their navigational aids. Yousefi ordered Jafari to shoot down the UFO, but before the pilot could act on his orders, his firing control panel went dead. As he ran low on fuel and began his return to Mehrabad, he had communication and navigational failures in the same place outside the airport, and strong interference on the radio. The one commercial flight that landed in that time experienced the same thing. In descent, Jafari saw another cylindrical object with lights at the ends and a flasher in the middle fly up behind him and pass him overhead. Tower operators at Mehrabad saw it for themselves when directed where to look.
Eventually, Yousefi gave up on the chase. Pirouzi said that it was about 4:00 a.m. when the original UFO ascended into the air and disappeared from view. Shortly after, the crew of a Portuguese jetliner leaving Lisbon saw a lighted, bluish object fly out of the west, and another Portuguese crew over the Mediterranean saw a bright light flying from the same direction. In the next few hours, authorities in Morocco also received a flood of UFO reports from across the country. Witnesses described a silvery "flattened Ball" drifting through the air, while others saw a luminous tube-shaped object that shot sparks from its rear.
After sunrise on September 19, just hours after the chase, the second jet pilot and his operator were taken out in a helicopter to search the lakebed where the object landed. Though they found nothing there, they picked up a strong beeper signal concentrated over a farm house to the west. The residents there said that early that morning they heard a loud noise and saw a bright light. The next day, the Tehran Journal ran a story on the UFO event, and a follow-up the day after quoted an audio tape of the first jet's communications with the control tower, but the tape was not made public. Curiously, the Kayhan International newspaper published a story the same day citing an unnamed "official source" who flatly denied that most of the events that night had taken place. Afterwards, however, the Tehran Journal published a summary of Pirouzi's account of events, which confirmed the original narrative. Several papers also claimed that the police were involved, but there is no record of an investigation.
The day after the encounter, the Iranian Air Force interviewed the two pilots, and Lt. Col. Olin Mooy of the U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group sat in for Jafari's testimony. Mooy prepared a teletype message that summarized the results of this interview and sent it to a number of US government offices and intelligence agencies, including the CIA, the NSA, the White House, and the Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Colonel Frank McKenzie of the U.S. Defense Attaché Office in Tehran sent a nearly identical message to the Pentagon on September 23rd. Still, Kissinger gave an evasive reply to a request for information from the King of Morocco, citing the 1969 Condon study as justification for disregarding UFOs. On October 12, Colonel Roland Evans wrote an evaluation of the Mooy memo for the DIA, deeming the information it contained to be of high reliability and value, meeting all the criteria necessary to enable a "valid study of the UFO phenomenon." This in spite of the fact that the US Air Force had recently closed its UFO investigation group, Project Blue Book, and claimed to be finished with UFO research. In 1978, Captain Henry Shields published a short summary of the case in an internal Air Force newsletter. The article was a simple rewording of the Mooy memo, but it showed that some Air Force officials were interested in notable UFO sightings – even while the government was telling the American public to disregard them.
McKenzie and Mooy's memos were both classified, but Evans' evaluation was quickly leaked to NICAP, an independent UFO research group. NICAP ran the story in their newsletter, and the memos were later declassified. Bob Pratt, a UFO investigator with the National Enquirer, interviewed Pirouzi twice in the fall of 1976, and spoke to McKenzie, Evans, and the Deputy Commander of the Iranian Air Force, who confirmed many of the details reported in the press.
UFO debunker, Philip Klass, investigated the case the next summer, and shared his findings in his book, UFOs: The Public Deceived, in 1983. Klass spoke with a few unnamed officials in Tehran, as well as some unnamed American field engineers that worked on the jets there. But although he read the Iranian news coverage and consulted the Mooy memo, he ignored the testimony of Pirouzi, Yousefi, and the other air traffic controllers. Klass also falsely stated that only the second jet malfunctioned when it engaged the UFO. To account for the witnesses' observations, he proposed an unlikely coincidence of hypothetical events, suggesting that the pilots chased the star Capella or the planet Jupiter, and that their radar systems produced a false return in the corresponding position. At the same time, a meteor came shooting from the same direction, and an undocumented flight dropped an emergency beacon near the lakebed. According to Klass, the engineers that he spoke with said that the pilots were extremely tired and poorly trained, and thus prone to error. Even so, Klass assumes an enormous amount of incompetence on the part of the Iranian Air Force, and still fails to explain many aspects of the case.
In 1982, Bruce Maccabee, an American optical physicist with NICAP, did his own investigation, and spoke with the avionics engineers who maintained the radar and electronics in the F-4s at Shahroki and Mehrabad. Both engineers said that they were not allowed to examine the jets for four days after they landed, until the Iranian Air Force had a chance to look them over, although neither party could find any signs of damage. The engineer at Mehrabad at first believed that the radar returns were reflections off a distant mountain peak, but rejected the idea when he learned that they lasted for more than a few seconds, as a ground return would. By Maccabee's calculations, the lock lasted for more than 48 seconds. The Iranian government made a film about the incident starring most of the real-life witnesses. Many of the same witnesses appeared in an episode of the TV series, Sightings, in 1994, which featured footage from the film. All witnesses agreed that something highly unusual appeared over Tehran that night, and some said that they believed it was an extraterrestrial spacecraft. After retiring as a general, Jafari even spoke at a conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in 2007, in which a number of high-profile military and government officials demanded a globally-coordinated investigation of the UFO phenomenon. He also told his story on History Channel’s UFO Hunters in 2008.
The Tehran UFO was noteworthy for two behaviors in particular: for repeatedly changing form, and for splitting in two and rejoining as one. These are both behaviors that one would not expect of any conventional craft, but that are often seen from UFOs - in fact, many UFOs seem to have no physical structure at all. But what really makes the Tehran case stand out among other sightings is the strength of the evidence. There were multiple trained, independent witnesses with vastly different perspectives on the UFO; visual observations that were corroborated by radar data; and several sightings that corresponded with equipment failures and physiological reactions in the witnesses. The event is a case-in-point for the fact that pilots and air traffic controllers do see UFOs, and track them on radar, and will speak about their experiences when given the freedom to do so. The Iranian Air Force's relatively open approach to the investigation shows that greater transparency is possible in UFO research, but the hidden involvement of the US government suggests that there is still a lot left learned in secret.
1. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 2.
2. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 3.
3. In note next to image of Pirouzi's third sighting, Maccabee. Iranian Jet Case, 4.
4. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 5.
5. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 7.
6. DoD Report, 2.
7. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 7.
8. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 7.
9. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 7.
10. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 8; DoD Report, 2.
11. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 8; DoD Report, 2.
12. Pratt, "The Pentagon's "Classic" UFO Case," CohenUFO.org.
13. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 8-9; DoD Report, 3.
14. The original DoD report did not relay Pirouzi's observations. These details came from Pratt's interviews with Pirouzi, relayed in Maccabee. Iranian Jet Case, 10; DoD Report, 3.
15. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 10.
16. This detail comes from Pratt's interviews with Pirouzi, relayed in Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 8; DoD Report, 10.
17. DoD Report, 3; Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 11.
18. The original DoD report did not include these details, which come from Pratt's interviews with Pirouzi, relayed in Maccabee. Iranian Jet Case, 11.
19. DoD Report, 3.
20. DoD Report, 3.
21. Klass, The Public Deceived, 111 - 124; Pratt, "The Pentagon's 'Classic' UFO Case," CohenUFO.org.
22. NICAP, "UFOs Force Government Action," 1.
23. DoD Report, 3-4.
24. These articles are reproduced in Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 15.
25. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 12.
26. Maccabee, Iranian Jet Case, 2.
27. Pratt, "The Pentagon's 'Classic' UFO Case," CohenUFO.org.
28. NICAP, "UFOs Force Government Action," 2.
29. DoD Report, 0.
30. Shields, "Now you See it, Now you Don't."
31. Klass, UFOs: The Public Deceived, 111 - 124; Pratt, "The Pentagon's 'Classic' UFO Case," CohenUFO.org.
32. Pratt, "The Pentagon's 'Classic' UFO Case," CohenUFO.org.
33. Pratt, "The Pentagon's 'Classic' UFO Case," CohenUFO.org.
34. Dunning, “The Tehran 1976 UFO."
35. Maccabee. Iranian Jet Case, 18-19.
Evans, Roland B., DIA Defense Information Evaluation Report, “Jet Interceptors Disarmed by UFO,” 22 Sept 1976. Accessed February 12, 2019: http://www.nicap.org/reports/760919fufor_docs.pdf.
Maccabee, Bruce. “The Iranian Jet Case”, Self-published, NICAP, 2006. Accessed February 12, 2019: https://www.nicap.org/reports/760919_tehran_Maccabee_report.pdf.
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Accessed February 12, 2019: http://www.nicap.org/reports/760919tehran_NICAP.pdf.
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(DoD) US Department of Defence Report, 1976. Accessed February 13, 2019: http://nicap.org/reports/760919routing_slip_ufo_iran.pdf.
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Sightings (1991 - 1997), Season 3, Episode 8, aired October 30, 1994. Accessed Jan 5, 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1LTBE4UIk0.
Parviz Jafari at the National Press Club Conference in Washington, D.C., November 12, 2007. Accessed January 6, 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giSuEiNneh8.
Parviz Jafari discussing his encounter with James Fox, I Know What I Saw (2009). Accessed February 12, 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGMGOdKOPKk.
Parviz Jafari discussing his encounter on UFO Hunters, History Channel, S1 Ep11, aired April 16, 2008. Accessed January 6, 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCNFrl4lq-o.
Klass, Philip. UFOs: The Public Deceived. Prometheus Books, 1983.
NARCAP Commentary on Philip Klass's debunking of the incident. Accessed February 12, 2019: http://www.nicap.org/reports/NARCAP_Iran_Klass.pdf.
Dunning, Brian. “The Tehran 1976 UFO,” Skeptoid, June 19, 2012. Accessed January 6, 2019: https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4315.
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