The following article was published originally in 1994 in the now-defunct popular newsstand magazine UFO Universe. New pictures have been added and the original text was edited slightly.
“Sometime in his career, each pilot can expect to encounter strange, unusual happenings which will never be adequately or entirely explained by logic or subsequent investigation.”
- Captain Henry Shields
The scenario would have been virtually unthinkable just a few years early. Soon after the iron curtain fell, a Boeing 747 with a crew of three American pilots flying for an airline company from a minor Central Asian republic found themselves on a routine flight inside the airspace of our former adversary, the late Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Moreover, the chief pilot for Tajik Air reported to the U.S. Embassy at Dushanbe, capital of the new and troubled independent nation of Tajikistan, that he and his crew had just observed a UFO during a recent flight. The Captain believed “the object was extraterrestrial and under intelligent control.” A message titled, SUBJECT: tajik air pilots report unidentified flying objects, was then sent from the Embassy in Dushanbe to the State Department in Washington, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and those in other regional countries within the so-called Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), as well as the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
The incident is real and occurred on January 27, 1994. In fact, there is nothing too unusual about this report. Although the geopolitical situation in the region has changed significantly since the end of the Cold War, the State Department and other agencies like the CIA and the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) were collecting similar UFO reports many years ago. The FBIS has continued to produce excellent digests of ufological information extracted from the Russian press (together with many other political, military and technological issues) in their Foreign Press Notes, as we shall see later on in this report. Most UFO sighting reports seem to be processed by the State by the Bureau on Oceanic, Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES). Let’s see then the contents of this “Unclassified” January message from Dushanbe written by a U.S. Embassy official named Escudero:
“Tajik air chief pilot, amcit [American citizen] Ed Rhodes, and his two American pilot colleagues reported January 29 that, on January 27, they had encountered a UFO while flying at 41,000 feet in their Boeing 747 at lat. 45 north and long. 55 east, over Kazakhstan.” If you look at a map, that would put it slightly east of the Caspian Sea and west of the Aral Sea, near the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. “They first encountered the object as a bright light of enormous intensity,” continues the message, “approaching them from over the horizon to the east at a great rate of speed and at a much higher altitude than their own. They watched the object for some forty minutes as it maneuvered in circles, corkscrews and made 90-degree turns at rapid rates of speed and under very high g’s. Captain Rhodes took several photos with a pocket Olympus camera and will send copies to the embassy and the Tajikistan desk in the department, if they come out. After some time, the object adopted a horizontal high-speed course and disappeared over the horizon.”
The message provides additional details about the sighting by Captain Rhodes, his co-pilot and flight engineer, whose names are not indicated. “As it was dark when the object was observed, the crew were unable to discern its shape,” the message goes on. “They described the light it emitted as having a ‘bow wave’ and as resembling a high-speed photo of a bullet in flight, in which a very small object gives off a much larger trailing wave of heat/light. Some forty-five minutes after the initial sighting, as the sun was rising, the aircraft flew under the contrails which the object had left behind. The plane was making over 500 knots. Rhodes estimated the altitude of the contrails at approximately 100,000 feet, noting that there is too little air/moisture at that extreme altitude to enable the creation of contrails by the propulsion mechanism of ordinary aircraft which might be able to reach that height. The paths of the contrails reflected the maneuvers of the object, i.e., circles, corkscrews, etc.”
Escudero added that, “to our suggestion that the object might have been a meteor entering and skipping off the earth’s atmosphere, Rhodes and his crew were adamant that they had seen thousands of ‘falling stars’ and other space junk entering the atmosphere in their years of flying passenger aircraft for PanAm. This, they insisted, was nothing like a meteor.” But the conclusion of the American-operated Tajik Air crew was quite startling. “On the basis of its speed and maneuverability,” reported the message, “Rhodes expressed the opinion, which his crew seemed to support, that the object was extraterrestrial and under intelligent control.“ Escudero finally commented that “we have no opinion and report the above for what it may be worth.
What can we say about this interesting UFO sighting by experienced pilots? They themselves talked of a real object that was “extraterrestrial and under intelligent control.” This suggests some kind of flying vehicle (or spacecraft) and not an atmospheric or astronomical phenomena. Yet other hypothesis come to mind besides the ET UFO theory. A source who prefers to remain anonymous told this author the object’s bullet shape and the contrails could suggest a secret flight of the Aurora reconnaissance aircraft. We’ll never know if that’s the case (at least for many years) since the U.S. military routinely maintains the official fiction that Aurora and other sensitive black projects are still on the drawing board–a notion contradicted by most aviation experts.
James Oberg, the well known expert on the Russian space program and “sympathetic UFO skeptic,” as he likes to be called, suggests a much more prosaic explanation. Although neither the flight path nor the exact time of the sighting were indicated (it began when it was still dark and continued until sunrise), Oberg told us in a telephone interview the observation matched quite nicely with the launch of the Progress M-21 supply cargo mission to the orbiting MIR space station on a Soyuz SL4 booster. The Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia’s main space launching center built during the Soviet era, is located precisely in Kazakhstan. “The tie to the rocket launch is pretty convincing,” said Oberg, adding that while the observation of the actual rocket and booster separation will last only a handful of minutes, an airplane can fly under changing contrails for forty minutes or so, as was the case with Capt. Rhodes’ 747.
Yet Oberg’s hypothesis must remain tentative for the moment as details of the flight schedule remain elusive. The Progress M-21 was launched on Jan. 28th at 2:12 a.m. GMT, which would put it around sunrise in Kazakhstan. Rhodes, however, told Escudero the UFO sighting had occurred on the 27th. Thus, the only way Oberg’s IFO hypothesis can work is if the Tajik Air flight departed on the night of the 27th but reached its destination on the morning of the 28th. Without knowing the flight path (for instance, Dushanbe to Moscow) and date combination (26/27 or 27/28), we are unable to reach any final conclusion. Oberg is aware of the problem and told us he had attempted, so far unsuccessfully, to contact Capt. Rhodes, the American Embassy in Dushanbe and the offices of Tajik Air, in order to obtain additional key data on the case. Nor do we know whether the photos taken by Rhodes with his pocket Olympus camera showed anything that could help solve the mystery. We called Dr. Bruce Maccabee to find out if he had contacted Rhodes or seen his photos, as we heard rumors that he was on the case. Maccabee, however, told us he had no information beyond the original State Dept. message.
PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS ON PILOTS
Capt. Rhodes’ sighting is not at all unusual. Pilots of all kinds—top guns, commercial and private—have reported UFOs all over the world. Dr. Richard Haines, a former NASA scientist from California, has collected over 3,000 such reports. Haines has been able to add in recent years reports by Russian and CIS pilots to his extensive aircraft-UFO data bank during his annual visits to Chelyabinsk, an industrial city in the Urals region; and through an organization he and CIS colleagues established in 1991, the Joint USA-CIS Aerial Anomaly Federation. Haines published in 1991 (International UFO Reporter, Nov/Dec issue) the case of Vladimir Kuzmin, an instructor pilot for 16 years and commander of the Chelyabinsk Aeroclub, whom he met personally during one of his Russian trips. The incident occurred in that Siberian city between 3 and 3:30 p.m. local time around Christmas (either December 24 or 25) of 1989.
Dr. Haines summarized the event at the beginning of his report: “The pilot, an experienced jet instructor, saw a dark-grey, cigar-shaped object while flying a two-seat L-29 single engine jet airplane. The sighting lasted more than eight minutes with the object in direct view for over four minutes. Within hours he experienced a strange crustlike coating over the exposed portion of his face. This sensation continued for over 11 days. There were no other air or ground witnesses or radar contact” The weather, though obviously cold in the early Siberian winter, was clear and with good visibility during the early afternoon sighting. Kuzmin described in detail the maneuvers he executed, adding that “the UFO didn’t appear to move at all during all of these [flight] maneuvers. When I repeated a second 360-degree vertical dive I reached a position where I could see in the direction of the object, but it was suddenly gone.” Kuzmin also mentioned feeling “the presence of something or someone… a new and unpleasant experience for me. I felt uncomfortable whenever I was looking at it. I saw no traces of smoke or anything else in the air surrounding the object.”
Haines discussed the odd physiological effect—seemingly linked to the UFO sighting—experienced by Kuzmin, which resulted in his face “becoming coated with a red crust of soft skin (something like a heat scald)… within a day, the skin thickened into a soft crustlike material which entirely covered the part of his face that his black leather flying helmet did not cover during the flight.” Haines finally observed that “this physiological evidence raises the question of whether microwave energy could have caused the pilot’s facial skin burn. It is possible that radiation in the 1-10 cm wavelength range could have penetrated the canopy and literally cooked his facial tissue from the inside out.” As a matter of fact, a similar but far more lethal incident occurred to the crew of flight 7084 from Leningrad (now Saint Petesburg) to Tbilisi in Georgia, while flying over Belarus on the early hours of September 7, 1984.
While thousands of witnesses across Western Russia and the Ukraine were enthralled with spectacular pyrotechnics caused by a Baikonur space launch, flight 7084 was encountering an object which directed beams at the plane’s cockpit and exposed the crew (pilot, co-pilot and stewardess) to some form of electromagnetic radiation. The pilot eventually died of cancer believed to be caused by this encounter. A Nov. 1989 FBIS Foreign Press Note on USSR: Media Report Multitude of UFO Sightings, provided a sketchy outline of this case and its fatal medical consequences, as disclosed by a scientist specialized in military and pilot UFO cases, Anatoliy Listratov. We have in our files very good documentation about this case, including the full text of Listratov’s interview digested by the FBIS from the newspaper Socialist Industry; and a complete scientific report titled, “At Exactly 4.10 p.m.,” by physicist V. Psalomshchikov, published in the prestigious journal Science in the USSR in 1991. Psalomshchikov concluded that “the mysterious something sighted by two airliner crews on September 7, 1984, and detected by ground radars was of an extraterrestrial origin, whatever it was.”
Further confirmation that pilots see UFOs on a fairly regular basis is the statement by Captain Henry Shields at the beginning of this report that, “sometime in his career, each pilot can expect to encounter strange, unusual happenings which will never be adequately or entirely explained by logic or subsequent investigation.” That was Capt. Shields’ preamble to a 3-page summary of the famous UFO dogfight with an F-4 Phantom jet of the Iranian Air Force back in September of 1976, a case which DIA analysts declared “an outstanding report… a classic which meets all the criteria necessary for a valid study of the UFO phenomenon.” Shields’ article was published in 1978 in a U.S. military “electronic security” restricted publication called MIJI Quarterly (Meaconing [interception and rebroadcast of navigation signals], Intrusion, Jamming, and Interference).
This story will be continued in a second installment coming soon.