The 1976 Tehran UFO Incident was a radar and visual sighting of a UAP over Tehran, the capital of Iran, during the early morning of September 19th, 1976. During the incident, two F-4 Phantom II jet interceptors purchased and flown by the Iranian Air Force lost instrumentation and communications as they approached the phenomenon, only to have them restored upon withdrawal; one of the aircraft also suffered temporary weapons systems failure while preparing to open fire.
The incident is recorded in a four page U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) paper which was distributed to the White House, Secretary of State, Joint Chiefs of Staff, NSA and CIA. It is one of the most well-documented military encounters with anomalous phenomena. The case is also exemplary for its mix of radar data, physical effects on military craft (such as the loss of weapons control), and multiple independent witnesses from different geographical locations and physical viewpoints (both airborne and from the ground). The case is also notable for the international collaboration of the investigations; U.S. intelligence agencies took over official documentation of the incident.
This was the first major reported sighting of a UFO in Iran. It also coincided with another major sighting in Morocco which not only bore some resemblance to the details of the object(s) in the Iran sighting, but was also handled in the same way--reported directly to U.S. government agencies. On September 25, 1976, King Hassan II of Morocco instructed commander of the Royal Gendarmerie to inquire about a strange unidentified craft that he and others had witnessed in the early morning hours over Moroccan skies, late on September 18th. He described the UFO as a “silvery, luminous circular shape that gave off intermittent trails of bright sparks and fragments, and made no noise...it flew slowly over head, traveling up the Moroccan Atlantic coast in a northeasterly direction.” A confidential memo, since made public through Wikileaks, was sent to Henry Kissinger; according to the memo, consistent reports of the sighting--all similarly describing the object--came pouring in from Agadir, the Marrakech area, Casablanca, Rabat, Kenitra, and other areas throughout the country. Kissinger responded that further investigation was needed, but it could be potentially explained by a number of phenomena such as a meteor or satellite debris.
Some UFO researchers have argued that the southwest to northeast course of the Morrocco object would have had it bound for Iran, thus linking the two cases. Others have chalked these coinciding reports up to coincidence; in October 2012, Canadian amateur satellite watcher Ted Molczan (profiled by the New York Times in 2008) posted on a satellite interest site that the trajectory and timing of the incident matches the re-entry of a piece of space junk — specifically a Soviet booster engine from a rocket launched two months earlier — in July 1976. The Soviet rocket debris was tracked by U.S. Strategic Command and cataloged in its Space Track database, where Molczan ultimately found the record.
On September 18, 1976 in Tehran, Iran, at approximately 10:30 PM, Hossein Pirouzi, an experienced air traffic controller manning an Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) command post at Mehrabad International Airport, was leading a training for a group of air controllers. Pirouzi received the first of four sightings reports: 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 star-shape with a green body and a red glowing core. The arms of the star were dark orange, fading to yellow at the tips. It seemed to have four arms, though Pirouzi believed that there was actually only one arm, switching positions. When Pirouzi's trainees looked through the binoculars shortly after, they saw a semi-circle. The object seemed to be constantly changing shape.
The object drifted to the north, and sometimes to the south, and once seemed to instantaneously disappear and reappear a few kilometers from its original location. Four aircraft that flew over the area in the next half hour heard an emergency beeper (known as a “squawk”) on their radio, though there was no record of a crash.
At approximately 12:30 a.m., Pirouzi called the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) 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 a F-4 Phantom jet. The pilot, Yadi Nazeri, saw the object distinctly from well over 100 k.m. 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 k.m., 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 240 k.m., or 150 miles away. As he approached the UAP again, he lost all his radio and navigational aids, but 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.
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 km 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. Jafari said it also changed shape again, and that it was composed of four flashing strobe lights—blue, green, red, and orange in a rectangular pattern so quickly that they all of the colors could be seen at once. In the center was a red light with a yellow glow.(10) 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, perhaps a self-lighting object, slow 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.
A second F-4 was scrambled, piloted by Lieutenant Parvis Jafari and it acquired a radar lock on the object at a range of 25 nautical miles. The radar signature (an object’s characteristic echo signals) of the UFO resembled that of a Boeing 707 aircraft. The size of the object was difficult to determine due to its intense brilliance. The object’s lights alternated between blue, green, red, and orange, and were arranged in a square pattern. The lights flashed in sequence, but the flashing was so rapid that they could all be seen at once. Jafari was later able to make out that the object was diamond shaped.
As the object and the F-4 continued south-bound, maintaining a consistent distance, a smaller second object detached itself from the first and advanced on the F-4 at a high rate of speed. Lieutenant Jafari, thinking he was under attack, launched an AIM-9 sidewinder missile, but suddenly lost all instrumentation, including weapons control, and all communication. The F-4 pilot then instituted a turn and a negative G dive as an evasive action. The object fell in behind him at about 3 to 4 nautical miles distance for a short time, then turned and rejoined the primary object.
Jafari noticed another object separating from the larger object, a radiating bright ligt, descending towards the ground. He reported the object slowing down and making a gentle landing in an oil refinery in the city of Merhabab. Youssefi also saw the object land, and suggested Jafari fly over the impact site to investigate, but as soon as he got close his radio and instrumentation went dead again, only to return with more distance from the object.
Upon Jafari’s return to base, the command center reported that the airborne diamond-shaped object had suddenly disappeared.
Just after sunrise the following day, September 19, the second jet pilot and his operator were taken out in a helicopter to search the lakebed where the object landed. They found nothing but several witnesses heard what they described as a high-pitched “beeper” signal, concentrated over a farm house to the west. Residents there reported 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. 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 (MAAG) 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 report 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.” The US Air Force had recently closed Project Blue Book, and claimed to be finished with investigations into UAPs. 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.
For many years, American and Canadian military forces both operated under “JNAP 146E” (the Joint Army, Navy, and Air Force procedures) for reporting vital intelligence sightings; one portion of this required reports to the Pentagon on any UFO related incident involving military installations equipment or personnel.
Colonel McKenzie and Lt. Col Mooy's memos were both classified, but Colonel Evans' evaluation was leaked to the National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), an independent U.S. UFO research group. NICAP ran the story in their newsletter, and the memos were later declassified, largely through the efforts of Charles Huffer, an American mathematics teacher at the U.S. Armed Forces High School in Berlin, who spent months filing FOIA requests.
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 shortly after this 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. Though 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, he said, 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. Klass assumes enormous 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 revealed that they were not allowed to examine the jets for four days after they landed, until the Iranian Air Force had a chance to examine them, though neither party could find any signs of damage. The engineer at Mehrabad at first believed that the radar returns were reflections off of a distant mountain peak, but revised his opinion 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.
There was no permanent evidence of electronic control systems failure for either of the crafts. NARCAP’s Chief Scientist Richard Haines has noted that in the majority of UFO In the majority of the cases I have it's temporary, it's transcript. That's very significant. It's significant from the standpoint. First of all, if there's no evidence left behind the when you land, the technician don't come out and do a test on the failed equipment and find out what burned out. Why? Because it didn't burn out. It continues to work. You say, to me, that is part of the mystery here. Why do things work only transiently? Well, just using logic, it would be because of perhaps an energy overload because of the proximity object. You see the idea that the radio, for instance, was not designed for extra strong signals, for instance, or there's a shifting of frequencies that the radio can't handle anymore, so the radio doesn't work anymore.
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.
After retiring as a general, Jafari 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 UFO phenomena. He also told his story on History Channel’s UFO Hunters in 2008.