Home / Articles / Airplane pilot UFO encounters in the USSR & CIS pt 2
Enigma Labs UFO Reporting
"According to the evidence of these eyewitnesses, the UFO is a disc with a diameter from 100 to 200 meters. Two pulsating lights were positioned on its sides..."

Airplane pilot UFO encounters in the USSR & CIS pt 2

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.



George Knapp (left) with General Maltsev, Moscow. (image credit: George Knapp)

The unleashing of Gorbachev’s reforms, followed by the break-up of the USSR and the tumultuous beginning of new democratic institutions in the ‘90s, also produced a veritable flood of ufological information. One of the official milestones of Soviet/Russian ufology was the statement by Colonel-General of Aviation Igor Maltsev, Chief of the main Air Defense Forces HQ, concerning a radar-visual and jet scramble incident on the Pereslavl-Zalesskiy region, east of Moscow, on the night of March 21, 1990. The statement was published in the article “UFOs on Air Defense Radars” in the newspaper Rabochaya Tribuna (formerly Socialist Industry), on April 19th of that year. According to the article, unit commanders compiled “more than 100 visual observations” and passed them on to Gen. Maltsev.

“I am not a specialist on UFOs and therefore I can only correlate the data and express my own supposition,” stated Gen. Maltsev. “According to the evidence of these eyewitnesses, the UFO is a disc with a diameter from 100 to 200 meters. Two pulsating lights were positioned on its sides. When the object flew in a horizontal plane the line of the lights were parallel to the horizon.” The general went on to list further details of the object’s behavior: “Moreover, the object rotated around its axis and performed an ‘S-turn’ flight both in the horizontal and vertical planes. Next, the UFO hovered over the ground and then flew with a speed exceeding that of the modern jet fighter by 2 or 3 times… The objects flew at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 7,000 meters. The movement of the UFOs was not accompanied by sound of any kind and was distinguished by its startling maneuverability. It seemed the UFOs were completely devoid of inertia. In other words, they had somehow ‘come to terms’ with gravity. At the present time, terrestrial machines could hardly have any such capabilities.”



The Rabochaya Tribuna article on Maltsev. Click to enlarge.

The Rabochaya Tribuna article on Maltsev. Click to enlarge.

That was an unusually positive official statement on UFOs for top brass anywhere in the world, although this new style of military openness would be repeated two months later in Belgium by Gen. (then Col.) Wilfried De Brouwer at the peak of their UFO wave. Among the additional statements included in the Rabochaya Tribuna article are those of Lt. Colonel A. A. Semenchenko, one of the MIG pilots to receive “the command to go on an alert exercise” at 21:38 hours during that same night. His orders: “detecting and identifying a target at an altitude of 2,000 meters. I visually detected the target, designated by two flashing white lights, at 22:05 hours. I was following a true course of 220 degrees and it was ahead and to the right, at an angle of 10 degrees…. With the permission of the command post, I locked my eyesights onto the radiation [UFO] after checking to be sure that the weaponry was switched off. The target did not respond to the ‘identify, friend or foe’ request. In addition to the target, three or four regularly scheduled airliners could be observed on the screen.”

Col. Semenchenko was unable to see the object well because of nighttime conditions. He stated: “I approached the target to within a range of about 500 to 600 meters. I passed above the target, trying to define its character. I observed only two bright flashing white lights. I briefly saw the silhouette of the target against the background of the illuminated city. It was difficult to determine its nature and classification due to the limited lighting.” These statements were widely commented in the Soviet media and duly noted in Foreign Press Notes prepared by the FBIS. Rabochaya Tribuna hailed it as “the first time that the military so openly and impressively witness on behalf of flying saucers.” The highly respected and influential weekly Moscow News also published the case under the suggestive title of “UFOs and air defenses both keep track of the sky – WHY DON’T THEY SEE EACH OTHER?” Besides Lt. Col. Semenchenko’s statement, Moscow News also published those of other witnesses like Sergeant Fedorovich and Captains Birin, Filatov and Lapin. Six months later, on October 8, 1990, another Air Defense Forces MIG interceptor piloted by S. Proshkin was scrambled following the detection of an “aerial target” on radar screens. [See FBIS Foreign Press Note below for a summary of this incident.]

FBIS Foreign Press Note (Click to enlarge)

FBIS Foreign Press Note. Click to enlarge.

By year’s end it was time to tone down the official pro-UFO upbeat. The Literary Gazette, one of the country’s most famous periodicals, published a long interview with then Soviet Deputy Minister of Defense, General Ivan Tretyak, who also held the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Air Defense Forces. Right at the start of the conversation with columnist Oleg Moroz, Gen. Tretyak remarked that “people’s interest in phenomena abbreviated as UFO is understandable. But the nature of these phenomena is as yet not all clear. Most importantly, it has not been proved that they are of artificial origin, that they are a product of an extraterrestrial civilization’s intellectual activity.” Gen. Tretyak went on to describe several types of IFOs caused by optical phenomena and space launches, admitting that many in the last category (especially military launches from the northern Plesetsk Cosmodrome) were not released to the public because of “secrecy considerations.” Jim Oberg, of course, punched holes long ago on the Plesetsk wall of secrecy with all of its UFO/IFO ramifications.

“True, convincing explanations for all the UFO that were observed have not been found yet,” conceded Gen. Tretyak. “The reason for that, as I see it, is quite simple: our present-day knowledge of the material world around us is far from being complete. In any case, I think it is premature to talk of any interplanetary spaceships invading this country’s airspace and thus violating its sovereignty, for which the AAD [Anti-Aircraft Defense], among other arms of the service, should be held responsible.” Gen. Tretyak admitted that “our servicemen, especially those on guard at night, also rather often see something unusual in the sky. However, it does not at all mean it is some airborne vehicle that they see flying (we are, first and foremost, interested in them). AAD radars get a lot of signals from all objects that reflect or emit radio waves within a certain range. Our task is to filter them and identify those that can be regarded as what we call ‘air targets,’ that is planes, helicopters, missiles, balloons, and other airborne vehicles of existing types, and determine their altitude, speed, and flight path.”

General Tretyak

General Tretyak

Gen. Tretyak discussed radar functions further, summarizing quickly the Pereslavl-Zalesskiy incident of March 21 (without any of the far-reaching conclusions announced earlier by his colleague Igor Maltsev); and discussing as well Stealth technology and other issues, all of which were duly encapsulated in an FBIS Foreign Press Note dated 2 January 1991. We move now to the summer of 1992 for the next interview with an Air Defense Force top brass on the subject of UFOs. The geopolitical map had been completely redrawn since the previous declarations and the monolithic Soviet Union had been replaced by the fluid and uncertain Commonwealth of Independent States. The large circulation daily Trud published on August 22, 1992 an interview with General Yevgeniy Tarasov, chairman of the Scientific and Technical Committee of the CIS Air Defense Forces.

When asked about military UFO incidents previously reported in the press, Gen. Tarasov said: “I can only speak for the Air Defense Forces. Such information is of interest to us. We have recorded the facts of observations of UFOs and even the cases when we scrambled aircraft in pursuit of them.” The recent cases of pilots Semenchenko and Proshkin come to mind. Asked if there had been cases of UFO aggression, Gen. Tarasov responded: “Instances of aggression toward either an Air Defense Forces pilot or an AD object are not known to me. Although… in one of the pilots’ reports there are curious nuances. But I am not authorized to divulge this information since it has been classified as secret. But we recommend that pilots conduct themselves in a peace-loving manner in their relations with UFOs…” Tarasov seemed more enthusiastic about the subject than Tretyak, admitting that the UFO phenomenon was indeed real though still unexplained: “Yes, the reality of several of the UFOs is beyond any doubt, but the physical essence of this phenomenon is still not known to us. It is necessary to amass facts for further analysis.”


General Pavel Popovich

General Pavel Popovich

Because of the USSR’s former pervading secrecy across society, the revelations about UFOs (together with countless other subjects from nuclear accidents to the space program to psychotronics) are coming simultaneously from many sources. Pilot-Cosmonaut and Retired Air Force General Pavel R. Popovich, Twice-Hero of the Soviet Union and at one time President of the government-sponsored Soyuz UFO Center in Moscow, received in September of 1991 a package of declassified UFO documents from the Committee of State Security (KGB) he had requested. In the cover letter to Cosmonaut Popovich, Committee Deputy-chairman N.A. Sham wrote: “The Committee of State Security does not deal with the systematic collection and analysis of information about anomalous occurrences, (so-called unidentified flying saucers). At the same time, the KGB of USSR receives from various organizations or citizens information about observation cases of such events. We are forwarding to you copies of appropriate materials.”

Enclosed were 124 pages of declassified military eyewitness reports (many handwritten accounts by servicemen), transcripts of radio communications between pilots and control towers, depositions, sketches of objects sighted, etc. collected between 1985 and 1989. A rather small sample if one considers the large scope and manpower of the infamous KGB! Be that as it may, excerpts of these documents—including radio transcripts between an air traffic controller in Sochi and three airliners on July 26, 1989—were published in 1993 in the premiere issue of AURA-Z, an excellent “Illustrated quarterly journal on ufological and paranormal phenomena” published in Moscow in English, Russian and several other languages.

By the way, veteran pilot Pavel Popovich, who passed away last year, was one of the original “right stuff” Soviet cosmonauts, as well as an accomplished author. Gen. Popovich is no stranger to the ufological world and was quoted in a 1991 article in the magazine Soviet Soldier with the following statement: “Reports on pilots’ encounters with unknown flying objects should not be put aside. We know about many reported sightings today. It’s time we looked deep into the problem. There is no sense in hiding our heads in sand like an ostrich and deny everything outright.” Furthermore, both American and Russian TV and film documentarians have been able recently to locate and interview on camera military officers, pilots and former KGB agents with regards to UFOs.

Russian Air Defense radar.

Russian Air Defense radar.

The Las Vegas company Altamira Broadcast sent producer Bryan Gresh and TV reporter George Knapp (best known for his lengthy interviews with controversial Area-51 figure Bob Lazar for KLAS TV in Nevada) to Moscow in March of 1993, to obtain material for a video documentary series called “UFOs: The Best Evidence.” Altamira had secured the services of a political consultant in Moscow, who was able to locate several military officers and scientists once attached to the Ministry of Defense and facilitate interviews with Knapp. Boris Sokolov, a retired Soviet Air Force Colonel who directed a UFO collection program between 1978 and 1988, was one of them. “In essence,” said Knapp in an interview with this author, “an order went off from the Ministry of Defense to every unit in the Soviet military empire to fully investigate, report on, and file any UFO sightings, so in essence the entire Soviet military was like a giant UFO listening post. They collected thousands of different sighting reports, a lot of them with photos, a lot of them with drawings and diagrams. They funnelled them all to this one Colonel [Sokolov] who took the best of them and put them into one collection, and we bought it, 386 different sighting reports.”

Knapp and Gresh were also able to locate the military officer in charge of a current UFO study program within the Russian military. “There is a study still underway in the Ministry of Defense, it’s called Thread-3 and is still underway, they are still trying to figure it out,” explained Knapp, adding that “the Russians, like us, basically ruled out 90% of all UFO sightings as either missiles or meteors or something else, but they still maintain there are some that they can’t explain. They also—we learned from these documents—monitor the UFO situation in the U.S. a lot, MJ-12, Janap-146, they keep an eye on what’s going over here in the popular press as well, and that stuff is still classified.” Monitoring the media here is equivalent to what the FBIS does with the Russian press and all its statements by generals Maltsev, Tretyak and Tarasov, among others. Altamira Broadcast later released its video trilogy of approximately three hours called “UFOs: The Best Evidence.”

In 1992 Samara-Dialogue, Ltd. produced the one-hour documentary film “UFO: Top Secret.” The director, writer and ufological expert was Dr. Vladimir Avinsky, a geologist and ‘paleocontact’ (the Russian term for the ancient astronaut theory) pioneer from Samara who directed a year earlier another film titled “Planet of Aliens.” Avinsky is one of the best known Russian ufologists in the U.S., as he has attended, lectured and screened his films in many American UFO symposiums. He is also a good friend of mine and one of my Russian sources. Although some of “UFO: Top Secret” is devoted to the American cover-up, it’s the various interviews with Russian military and intelligence officers that will most appeal to Western viewers. For instance, the documentary shows Lt. Colonel Alexander Platskin, described as “a CIS-United Armed Forces consultant on the problem of anomalous phenomena.” Platskin showed on camera for the first time ever current military aircraft cases and UFO photos he was investigating. He even mentioned “cases of unauthorized firing at UFOs from automatic weapons.”

Avinsky, Anotnio Huneeus, Colman

From left: Dr. Vladamir Avinsky, Antonio Huneeus, Brian Levens, Col. Colman von Keviczky, in NY city, 1990s. (image credit: Antonio Huneeus)

Let’s see the statement of Lt. Colonel Platskin in front of Avinsky’s cameras: “I had occasion to investigate an interesting case of anomalous objects producing an effect on an aircraft. On October the 16th, 1991, in Kaliningrad, the Baltic area, when performing a training flight, pilot Boris Korikov witnessed such an effect. Just before landing the revolutions of the engine began to decrease; in front of the plane the pilot saw a fluorescent area of about 5 meters in diameter, then he felt a clap and the smell of something burning; the safety catches in the engine control system were burned out and the plane fell to an altitude of 500 meters. There seemed to be no other way than catapulting, but he managed to land the plane at the cost of great efforts. The plane was unserviceable after that accident because it had cracks in the covering and other great damages. I think it was one of those plasma discharges that are often detected by radar stations even at civil airports.”

Col. Platskin was even more outspoken when he brought the subject of armed confrontation. He said: “There were cases of unauthorized firing at UFOs from automatic weapons. For instance, in the Djerzhinsky region of the Gorky province, fighter planes rose to intercept UFOs and buried a glimpse more than once, but it was all in vain. The singularity of the phenomenon startled and terrified sentries who opened fire at the strange objects. Pilots often saw them on their board radar screens. To my mind, the UFO problem is akin to global ecological problems. Therefore, there must not be any secrecy around it and we are ready to exchange information concerning UFOs in order to get to the very bottom of the problem.” Avinsky also interviewed Vladimir Petrenko, a Major in Reserve who once served in a special KGB unit and who recalled a UFO sighting by a reconnaissance aircraft crew. Major Petrenko explained that “in the late 70s, I served in a special KGB unit in the Arctic Navy Air Force. The question of UFOs was raised at naval officer sessions. We were instructed to fix and document all encounters with UFOs and report on them to the authorities. When serving at the KGB unit in the Navy, I often looked through the officers on duties’ journals, it was my duty to detect records of this kind.”

Russian TU-142

Russian TU-142

Major Petrenko recalled one specific incident: “Once in 1978 or 79, at the Leninogorsk Aerodrome in Murmansk, a TU-142 was going to make a routine flight, but 2 or 3 minutes after take-off, the crew reported an emergency landing. They dumped the fuel which was about 100 tons and landed. The reasons of the breach of service were investigated. It was found that the crew had noticed the dashboard to be out of order and took a decision to land. All the crew reported that when taking-off, they had seen a strange object over the mountains. It was about 30 meters in diameter, lens-like in shape, and had something like scuttles in the center and along the edges, and also a kind of nozzle at the bottom. The object hung over the mountains for a while and suddenly took off and dropped from sight. What is it? Their crew were reconnaissance plane pilots, they knew all types of world aircraft, but they failed to identify the object as anything terrestrial.” Still other retired officers like Col. Stanislav Poddubny and the legendary pilot and Arctic Air Force navigator Valentin Akkuratov, who reported classic sightings in 1950 and 1956, are included in Avinsky’s documentary “UFO: Top Secret.” We hope these films will be available someday to American viewers.

About Antonio Huneeus

Open Minds Investigative Reporter J. Antonio Huneeus has covered the UFO field from an international perspective for over 30 years. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Japan. He was also the co-author of the Laurance Rockefeller-funded “UFO Briefing Document – The Best Available Evidence” and edited the book “A Study Guide to UFOs, Psychic & Paranormal Phenomena in the USSR.” Huneeus studied French at the Sorbonne University in Paris and Journalism at the University of Chile in Santiago in the 1970s. He has lectured at dozens of UFO Conferences all over the world and been interviewed by many media outlets including The Washington Post, the Sy-Fy and History Channels, Nippon-TV, etc. He received the “Ufologist of the Year” award at the National UFO Conference in Miami Beach in 1990 and the “Courage in Journalism” award at the X-Conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in 2007.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *