Shoot Down the UFO

By Nick Pope

On 18 September 1976, Parviz Jafari - who later retired as a general in the Iranian Air Force - attempted to shoot down a UFO with an air-to-air missile. The UFO had been seen over Tehran and an air force commander ordered a jet to be scrambled. The jet lost instrumentation and communications when it approached the UFO and had to return to base. Jafari was piloting a second aircraft that was scrambled and as he approached the UFO in his Phantom F-4 jet he locked onto it with his radar. The object was so bright that Jafari was unable to make out its shape, though he could see multicoloured lights flashing rapidly, like a strobe light. As he approached, he saw four smaller objects detach from the main craft. One of them came towards his aircraft. Believing he was under attack, Jafari attempted to launch a heat-seeking Sidewinder missile, but at that instant his missile control panel went dead. On his return to base, he was quizzed by an American colonel and years later, Jafari saw a Defense Intelligence Agency document on his encounter, released under the Freedom of Information Act. It stated "This case is a classic that meets all necessary conditions for a legitimate study of the UFO phenomenon". That was interesting, given that the US government's public position is that official UFO investigations ceased in 1969 when the United States Air Force closed down their research programme, Project Blue Book.

Parviz Jafari is not the only military pilot to have made an attempt to shoot down a UFO. On 11 April 1980, Oscar Alfonso Santa Maria Huertas, a pilot with the Peruvian Air Force, was scrambled to intercept a spherical UFO hovering in restricted military airspace. His unit commander's orders were clear: shoot down the UFO. As Santa Maria Huertas closed on the object in his Sukhoi-22 fighter, he strafed it with his 30mm canon, firing 64 shells at the UFO. He saw some of his projectiles hit the craft, but they had no effect. "The projectiles didn't bounce off", he said. "Probably, they were absorbed". He vectored his aircraft for another attack, but on this occasion the UFO took evasive action and a bizarre and potentially deadly game of cat and mouse ensued. At one point, Santa Maria Huertas got within 300 feet of the UFO, which he described in the following terms: "It was about 30 feet in diameter. It was an enamelled, cream-colored dome, with a wide, circular, metallic base. It had no engines, no exhausts, no windows, no wings or antennae. It lacked all the typical aircraft components, with no visible propulsion system".

On 12 November 2007 Jafari and Santa Maria Huertas told their stories together in public for the first time, at a historic event held at the National Press Club in Washington DC. A group of people with backgrounds in government, the military and the aviation community came together to lobby the US government to re-open Project Blue Book. There were 14 panellists from 7 countries. All the panellists had either seen a UFO while on active service or undertaken official research and investigation into UFO sightings. None took any position on the exact nature of the UFO phenomenon, but all agreed that it raises important defence, national security and aviation safety issues. The event was organised by filmmaker James Fox and investigative journalist Leslie Kean, from the Coalition from Freedom of Information - an organisation advised by John Podesta, who was Chief of Staff to President Clinton.

Two of the participant's had been witnesses to Britain's best-known UFO sighting, which took place in Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk. Jim Penniston was in charge of security at RAF Woodbridge (a United States Air Force base) when on 26 December 1980, reports came in of lights in the forest that lay beyond the perimeter fence. Thinking an aircraft had crashed, he and colleagues went out to investigate. What they actually found was a UFO that had landed in a small clearing. "When we came up on the triangular-shaped craft there were blue and yellow lights swirling around the exterior ... the air around us was electrically charged. We could feel it on our clothes, skin and hair. Nothing in my training prepared me for what we were witnessing", Penniston explained. He described how he and the others took photographs (that they were told later had been over-exposed) and made sketches of the craft, including strange pictorial symbols seen on the hull, before the UFO took off and accelerated away to the horizon. "Speed: impossible", Penniston wrote in his logbook. The other witness was the Deputy Base Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt, who witnessed the UFO two nights later and saw it fire light beams into the weapons storage area at RAF Woodbridge. "I have no idea what we saw but do know whatever we saw was under intelligent control", Halt stated.

I was one of the participants at the National Press Club event, as between 1991 and 1994 my duties at the Ministry of Defence had included investigating UFO sightings, to assess whether they were of any "defence significance", a phrase which - perhaps deliberately - is virtually impossible to define. The British government has looked into the UFO phenomenon since 1950 and to date has received over 10,000 UFO reports. Most sightings can be easily explained as misidentifications of ordinary objects and phenomena, but around 5% remain unexplained. The MoD receives more Freedom of Information Act requests relating to UFOs than on any other subject, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department is in the process of releasing many of its old UFO files (including ones from the Defence Intelligence Staff) though the size of the job means that full disclosure is likely to take several years.

The other British participant at the Washington DC gathering was Captain Ray Bowyer, a commercial airline pilot who saw two UFOs in the vicinity of the Channel Islands on 23 April 2007. He described the objects as being "a flattened disk shape with a dark area to the right side". He said they were "brilliant yellow with light emanating from them". He estimated them as being up to a mile across. Some of his passengers saw the UFOs as did at least one other pilot in the area. An anomalous return was detected on radar. The MoD's investigation was inconclusive, but the French government - in whose airspace the UFOs were adjudged to be - is continuing to look into the incident.

The National Press Club event was moderated by Fife Symington, a former Governor of Arizona who was previously in the United States Air Force. In 1997 a vast delta-shaped UFO was seen by hundreds of people in Phoenix and Symington, as Governor, held a press conference to address the situation. Concerned at what he felt was a rising state of panic, he forced his reluctant Chief of Staff to dress up in an alien suit. The stunt made headlines and certainly lightened the mood, but the real story emerged only last year, when Symington admitted that he too had seen the UFO in the skies over Phoenix. As it happened, he wasn't the first politician to have seen a UFO. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both had sightings and 2008 presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich recently confirmed that he has seen a UFO.

Another speaker at the 12 November event was Wilfried De Brouwer, a retired Major General who served formerly as Chief of Staff of the Belgian Air Force. De Brouwer spoke about a wave of UFO sightings that occurred in Belgium in 1989 and 1990. "Hundreds of people saw a majestic triangular craft with a span of approximately 120 feet, powerful beaming spot lights, moving very slowly without making any significant noise but, in several cases, accelerating to very high speeds", he explained. He went on to say that on three occasions F-16 aircraft had been launched in unsuccessful attempts to intercept UFOs and said that on one occasion the F-16 radars showed the UFO performing "rapid changes in speed and altitude which were well outside of the performance envelope of existing aircraft". Some researchers suggest that sightings such as this are attributable to stealth aircraft or other experimental aircraft, but De Brouwer explained that this possibility was discounted, following consultation with NATO allies.

One of the reasons the various panellists travelled to Washington DC was a growing frustration with the position of the US government. Nothing illustrates the reason for this frustration better than the official reaction to an event that occurred on 7 November 2006 when numerous airline personnel at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago witnessed a disc-shaped UFO hovering over one of the terminal buildings at a height of around 2000 feet. After several minutes it accelerated away upwards so rapidly that it punched a hole in the cloud cover. Since the object was not tracked on radar, the Federal Aviation Administration declined to investigate, dismissing the sighting as probably attributable to a "weather phenomenon". Picking up on this point, the declaration signed by the panellists states: "We suggest that prejudice against the term 'UFO' and against reports of unknowns could lead officials to dismiss sightings that involve unconventional aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles engaged in espionage or terrorist activity, especially when radar returns are not available". If such words came from UFO enthusiasts, they might be ignored. Coming from generals, government officials and pilots, they are more difficult to dismiss.

With flight safety issues in mind, it was interesting that one of the signatories to the declaration was John Callahan, a former Divisional Chief of the FAA's Accidents and Investigations Branch in Washington DC. Callahan described how he had investigated a 1986 incident where the pilot and crew of a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 encountered a UFO over Alaska. They described a spherical object four times the size of their own aircraft. Callahan's investigation included a review of the voice tapes and the radar data. As with so many of these cases involving pilots, the radar tapes confirmed that there had indeed been a large object following the Japanese aircraft. In one of the few conspiratorial moments of the National Press Club event, Callahan revealed how a briefing was set up for some of President Reagan's scientific staff, where one of three CIA attendees concluded by stating "This event never happened; we were never here; we’re confiscating all this data and you are all sworn to secrecy".

How seriously should the flight safety angle be taken? In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority has several cases on its files involving near misses between commercial aircraft and UFOs. None is more disturbing than an incident that occurred on 6 January 1995, involving a Boeing 737 on approach to Manchester airport. When over the Pennines at a height of 4000 feet, both the pilot and the first officer saw an unidentified object pass down the right hand side of the aircraft at high speed. It was described as wedge-shaped, illuminated, with what looked like a black stripe down the side. Neither man was certain how close the object had come to colliding with the aircraft (which was carrying 60 passengers) but the first officer instinctively ducked as it went by. On this occasion, nothing unusual was seen on radar. The CAA's report into this incident (entitled Airmiss Report No. 2/95) concluded "Having debated the various hypotheses at length the Group concluded that, in the absence of any firm evidence which could identify or explain the object, it was not possible to assess either the cause or the risk by any of the normal criteria applicable to airmiss reports. The incident therefore remains unresolved".

There is a huge misconception about the UFO phenomenon. Many people dismiss sightings as the work of overactive imaginations and treat the whole subject as if it were a joke. To be fair, most UFOs do turn out to be misidentifications. Furthermore, there are some outrageous hoaxes perpetrated and tall tales told. And yet, as the recent event at the National Press Club illustrated, there is a serious and potentially sinister side to all of this. Some UFOs are seen by reliable witnesses such as pilots. They are tracked on radar, performing speeds and manoeuvres that exceed the capabilities of our most sophisticated aircraft. Attempts have been made to shoot down at least two UFOs - maybe there are other such cases that have never been disclosed. Finally, there are the people lobbying for action. Not UFO enthusiasts, but generals, pilots and government officials. All their backgrounds check out and all their accounts can be backed up by an audit trail of documents from official archives. When people like this call for the UFO phenomenon to be taken more seriously, maybe it's time to listen.

For more information on the UFO incidents described in this article, see