The 1976 Tehran UFO Incident was a radar and visual sighting of an unidentified flying object (UFO) over Tehran, the capital of Iran, during the early morning hours of 19 September 1976.
During the incident, two Imperial Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantom II jet interceptors reported losing instrumentation and communications as they approached the object. These were restored upon withdrawal. One of the aircraft also reported a temporary weapons systems failure while the crew was preparing to open fire.
An initial report of the incident was relayed to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff on 19 September 1976.
In the early hours of 19 September 1976, a shining object was reported in the sky above Tehran by at least four civilians. Lieutenant Yaddi Nazeri plus a backseat weapons officer were dispatched in a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II to investigate. Once Nazeri reached Tehran, he reported losing all instruments and communications, so they returned to base, reporting that his instruments came back once he did so.
Major Parviz Jafari, a squadron commander in the Imperial Iranian Air Force, along with First Lieutenant Jalal Damirian as weapons officer, were dispatched in a second F-4 Phantom II to intercept the object. Jafari acquired radar lock on an object at a range of 27 nautical miles (50 km), its size described as a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. As he approached the light, which Jafari described as “flashing with intense red, green, orange and blue lights so bright that I was not able to see its body”, its communications system shut off. As he attempted to fire an AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared guided missile, he said his equipment shut down and only returned to normal after his jet moved away from the object. Jafari said he was “startled by a round object which came out of the primary object and started coming straight toward me at a high rate of speed, almost as if it were a missile”, but as he attempted to fire “Suddenly, nothing was working. The weapons control panel was out, and I lost all the instruments, and the radio”. When he could report to the tower control, he was told to get back. As doing so, he looked to his left and saw “the primary, diamond-shaped thing up there, and another bright object came out of it and headed directly toward the ground”. Expecting an explosion that did not happen, he claimed “It seemed to slow down and land gently on the ground, radiating a high bright light”. The next day, Jafari and his backseat officer flew in a helicopter to look at where they thought the light hit the ground but nothing was found, with occupants of nearby houses only reporting hearing a loud noise and a bright flash of light during the night.
According to Martin Bridgstock of Griffith University:
Stripped of details, a couple of F4 jets from the Iranian airforce were scrambled to investigate some sightings of lights in the sky. Reports vary, but at least one jet suffered grave electrical failures, tried to fire a missile at something and had something fired at it. A nearby jet airliner also suffered radio failure.
According to US journalist Philip J. Klass, it was likely the pilots initially saw an astronomical body, probably Jupiter, an explanation also cited by aerospace researcher James Oberg. Klass wrote that pilot incompetence and equipment malfunction likely accounted for the reported equipment failures.
According to Klass, the Westinghouse technician at Shahrokhi airbase stated that only the first F-4 reported failing equipment, and that this F-4 was known for equipment failures with a long history of electrical outages, having been repaired only a month before the incident. Klass cites a McDonnell Douglas repair supervisor’s opinion that the F-4’s radar could have been in “manual track” mode, causing a wrong interpretation of the radar lock.
Bridgstock criticised UFOlogists reports as “not a reliable account of the Iran UFO incident” and summed up Klass’ conclusions:
Klass found that only one aircraft had suffered electrical malfunctions, not two. What is more, that plane had had a history of unexplained electrical faults, and the electrical workshop responsible for it was notorious for poor performance. In this context, a temporary electrical malfunction can hardly be characterised as mysterious. He also points out that the aircrews at the time were tired and rattled, and could have mistaken stars or meteors for UFOs and “missiles”. In addition, Klass points out that radio faults on airliners are not unknown, and that is why they carry backup radio sets.
Regarding one pilot’s report of “bright objects” that “came at him, and that shot straight down into the ground”, American sceptic author Brian Dunning observes that 19 September, the day of the incident, was the height of two annual meteorite showers, the Gamma Piscids and the Southern Piscids and the tail of the Eta Draconids shower, so observation of falling objects or odd lights would not have been unusual. At the site where the falling light supposedly crashed, a beeping transponder from a C-141 aircraft was found according to investigating Colonel Mooy.
According to Dunning:
Once we look at all the story’s elements without the presumption of an alien spaceship, the only thing unusual about the Tehran 1976 UFO case is that planes were chasing celestial objects and had equipment failures. There have been many cases where planes had equipment failures, and there have been many cases where planes misidentified celestial objects. Once in a while, both will happen on the same flight.
Dunning criticised UFOlogists and UFO-themed television programmes like Sightings for describing all the events related to the incident “from the context of a presumption that the light was a hostile and intelligently guided alien spacecraft”.
Reference to Incident in the Media
- The Sightings TV programme covered the incident in 1994, interviewing many of the participants.
- The Telegraph’s top 10 UFO sightings (#7).
- The Guardian’s top 10 UFO sightings (#10).
Editorial published in the US Air Force Security Services quarterly MIJI (Meaconing, Intrusion, Jamming, and Interference) newsletter that is “often waved by the UFOlogists as compelling evidence”. According to Brian Dunning, “because this service requires a security clearance, their newsletter is protected as well. There is nothing especially interesting about the actual article; it’s just a dramatized retelling of the same information in Col. Mooy’s memo, offered in the newsletter as a curious editorial on the subject of jamming and interference.”