Pilot Cosmonaut Pavel Popovich and UFOs

By Paul Stonehill and Philip Mantle

On September 30th 2009, General-Major of Aviation, Pilot-Cosmonaut Pavel Romanovich Popovich, the first Ukrainian cosmonaut in history, passed away. Always proud of his ethnicity, twice Hero of the Soviet Union award, he had many other awards and medals.

Pavel Popovich was greatly respected; a kind, nice and decent person, always ready to help others. His life was intertwined with the turbulent history of UFO research in the Soviet Union after 1978.

Popovich was born in Soviet Ukraine on October 5, 1929. A young engineer and amateur pilot, Popovich joined the Soviet Air Force; in 1960 he was enrolled in the first team of cosmonauts. Popovich was the Number "Four" Cosmonaut in the history of manned spaceflights. He underwent a full course of training for space flights on board "Vostok” spacecraft.

Pavel Popovich (as a boy) lived under the Nazi occupation for several years, and this fact could sink his chances to become a Soviet cosmonaut. The KGB took several months to study biographies of each of the future cosmonauts; someone must have had the courage to overlook that fact, and let him continue his training.

His first spaceflight was aboard the “Vostok-4" spaceship in 1962. Later, Pavel Popovich was trained for the Soviet Moon research program. After the program was cancelled, Popovich underwent training for flights aboard “Soyuz” spaceships. His second mission into space was as the chief pilot of the Soyuz-14 spaceship in 1974. The flight was part of the Soviet program of military use of space exploration technology. Popovich’s call name was Berkut-1 (Golden Eagle). Having docked with the Salyut 3 orbital station (this was a cover name for the secret battle station Almaz-2), Popovich and his engineer, had conducted military intelligence operations. They had infrared and powerful optical equipment, 14 special cameras, and even one thirty millimeter cannon. One of the tasks was to capture the American Skylab station with three astronauts aboard. The Americans had a special nickname for Popovich: “Aggressor”. But the program later was shut down.

Between the years 1980 to1989 he served as the Deputy Chief of the Y. Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center.


In 1990, OYUZUFOTSENTR, the very first official public UFO research organization of the Soviet Union was formed. Its director was V. Ajaja, a former naval officer, a submariner, a long-suffering independent UFO researcher and lecturer. Its president, Pavel Popovich clearly stated in interviews that he headed SOYUZUFOTSENTR on behest of his friends, UFO researchers. Popovich never considered himself to be an expert in the field of ufology. He did help those who tried to research it independently, or as part of the secret Soviet program. His authority and reputation had greatly helped Ajaja’s efforts to keep his organization viable in post-1991 Russia.


In 1978, the powerful Military-Industrial Commission created two UFO research centers, one in the USSR Academy of Sciences, the other in the USSR Defense Ministry. The anomalous phenomena research in the USSR Academy of Sciences became the subject of a special scientific research program designated as SETKA-AN. The Soviet Ministry of Defense embarked on a similar program, the secret SETKA-MO. Both centers aided each other’s UFO research and exchanged information. The first act of the SETKA-AN resulted in official sanction of "anomalous atmospheric phenomena" as a descriptive term, instead of the forbidden "UFO."

The SETKA-AN debunkers did its best to prove there are no UFOs, only errors in observation of rocket launches, or at the very least, ball lightning. But there had been occasions when "anomalous phenomena" had led to the unauthorized launches of mobile missiles, and on other occasions, the appearance of UFOs during military training exercises had resulted in the breakdown of radio communications and equipment malfunctions.

The program ended in 1991, but a group of experts remained in the Department of General Physics and Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences where they analyzed incoming reports until 1996.

Scientific arguments regarding the nature of UFOs had been the least of the military researchers' concerns; they did, however, pay close attentiontothe hypothesis that UFOs are manifestations of an ET civilization. They had been concerned with UFOs' quite unpredictable impact on military technology and on personnel. They wanted to know how they could use UFO properties for their own pragmatic military needs.

In 1984, by the decision of VSNTO (All-Union Council of Scientific Technical Societies), a Central Commission for Anomalous Phenomena in the Environment was created. Its Chairman was Soviet academician V. Troitsky, one of his deputies was General-Major of Aviation, Pilot-Cosmonaut P. Popovich.

The Commission was born because those in charge of the academic research of the SETKA program basically got rid of independent UFO researchers, leaving only the debunkers together with military specialists from secret military institutes in the program.

Independent Soviet ufologists did nottake the continuous scorn from debunkers lying down, and basically moved the Academy of Sciences aside, by directly approaching military coordinators of the secret program. The initiative to create the Commission was supported by military researchers, who were tired of fruitless activities of the academic debunkers. The Commission included also those who served the Ministry of Defense research. Pavel Popovich played a role in its workings, although due to the secrecy and his oath, he had not revealed all he knew.

According to Popovich, most of the information about anomalous phenomena came from military and pilots, trusted, sane and healthy people. Among the reports many were nonsensical, but some were historically important. UFO data started being reported from the days of W.W.II. During the Kursk Battle, Soviet aviators and witnesses on the ground observed mysterious objects in the sky. He revealed this in the April, 2009 interview to the Ukrainian web portal DonbassUA. The Kursk episode is described in detail in Mysterious Sky: Soviet UFO Phenomenon.

On May 29 1984, Trud newspaper published an article where Popovich told the author about a case that took place on March 27, 1983, in Gorky (and investigated by the Commission’s Gorky section). It was an object that flew in the area of the city’s airport. The airport’s radars registered but could not identify the object. The object flew at the altitude of no more than one kilometer, and the speed approximately 180-200 kilometers per hour. The witness (Flight Controller A. Shushkin) who had observed the object said that the object's size was similar to that of the IL-14 aircraft fuselage. But there were no wings. It was a “cigar”. Its color light gray, steely, and it moved slowly across the sky. The phenomenon lasted around forty minutes. At the distance of 30 to 40 kilometers NE from the airport the radars lost it. Shushkin later corrected Pavel Popovich and said the UFO actually appeared over the city on March 28, 1983; flew at an altitude of 400-600 meters, and disappeared ten seconds after it was sighted.

A more dramatic, episode took place in January of 1978, and Popovich described it to Sotsialisticheskaya Industriya newspaper on August 6, 1984.

During the flight of YAK-40 over the area between two settlements Medvezhye and Nadim, the crew noticed something round; a very bright foreign body that approached rapidly and sometime later appeared straight in front of the aircraft. Every minute the size of this body increased. When the crash appeared to be imminent, the object soared right in front of the aircraft’s nose, not causing any harm.


In 1991, a file of KGB documents was provided to Pavel Popovich (he had urged them to release the information). It was the Second Chief Directorate of the KGB (Counterintelligence), or rather the Tenth Department within the Directorate (Control of the defense facilities) that had received UFO information. The file (124 pages of printed text) contained copies of UFO reports: handwritten reports, typed testimonies, and notes from KGB informers, crude drawings and eyewitness reports of UFOs. An accompanying letter was written by the Deputy Chairman of the Committee for State Security USSR, N.A. Sham. This cooperation between UFO researchers and the KGB was unprecedented and was a landmark in UFO research in the Soviet Union and possibly the world.

Years later Sham stated that the KGB was not engaged in research of anomalous phenomena (he pointed to the SETKA program as the responsible entity for such research). See Philip Mantle’s article The Real KGB UFO Files (http://www.ufodigest.com/news/0308/kgb.html.


In 1992, on behest of UFO researchers, Pavel Popovich had contacted two Russian ministries, to find out whether the Soviet-era archives contained documents pertaining to the Roswell Crash. The reply from the Ministry of Defense stated that the officials of the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense had conducted search of the materials of interest to Popovich. They did not find any Roswell materials. The second reply came from the Ministry of Security of the Russian federation. No documentary materials about the case of the “flying saucer” crash in the area of Roswell, USA in the year 1947 were discovered, it stated.

Soviet intelligence, quite active in the United States in 1940s, would not miss the Roswell Crash controversy.


After every interview Pavel Popovich had to sign a special document stating that he did not reveal any state secrets. He never did tell all he knew, a military person loyal to his oath.

In 2006, Pavel Popovich gave an interview to Bul’var Gordona, a Ukrainian magazine. (Issue 31[67]). He said that the inhabitants of Phaeton or Moonah (an ancient planet with advanced civilization, believed to exist next to Earth ages ago, but perished due to nuclear explosions) probably visit Earth from time to time.

The visitors’ intermediate base is located in the area of Saturn, and they have three bases on Earth. One of them is in the Andes, the other in the Indian Ocean trench, and the third one is located in the Himalayas, the famous Shambala. The base in the Andes they liquidated because human civilization came too close. But they do have an underwater base at the bottom of the Indian Ocean trench.

Then Pavel Popovich recalled his UFO sighting in 1978, while aboard an airplane flying from Washington to Moscow returning from Pittsburgh, where academicians attended the international Gagarin Readings conference (they had also observed the strange object).

The altitude was 10,500 meters. Popovich recalled that something urged him to keep looking (he was sitting by the window). He noticed about a white, isosceles triangle about a kilometer and a half from the plane and some ten degrees higher (as he and others had estimated). The cosmonaut shouted, ran to the crew. The onboard radar did not register anything, and nothing was registered on the ground.

The crew also observed the object, and they determined that its side was about 100 meters. The object did not resemble any known aircraft. It moved rapidly; the airplane flew at the speed of one thousand kilometers per hour, while the object traveled about time and a half faster. This flying object easily overtook them, and flew forth, but they stayed within the range of vision for a minute. They, the professionals, could not determine what the object was.

Popovich could not state that his sighting was really a secret weapon being tested, although in 90 percent of such observations this is so.

Pavel Popovich said that he did not believe any of the contactees. In the 2001 FAKTY interview Popovich said that 95 percent of everything written about UFOs should be discarded as nonsense.

In the same interview with Bul’var Gordona Popovich was asked whether he, a pilot and cosmonaut who grew up in the atheistic (sometimes, militantly so) society, believed in God.

He replied that he was baptized. And in 1974, during his spaceflight he understood that there is someone who had created stars outside the spacecraft’s porthole, the Moon, and other planets. When one sees this, one understands how infinite everything is. Popovich recalled thinking: “someone had created it, and someone directs it all”. Who has created the laws of celestial mechanics? All we did was to use them, to discern them, to explain them. That is why he thought about God. No matter what one calls him, there is the Creator who has created everything.


Popovich lived his final years in a settlement near Moscow, dubbed Star Village because 36 former cosmonauts reside there. He had a dream to be able to fly the spacecraft into space again, to look at Earth from above. The name of Pavel Popovich was given to a mountain ridge in Antarctica and a minor planet.

Paul Stonehill and Philip Mantle
(Mysterious Sky – Soviet UFO Phenomenon by Philip Mantle & Paul Stonehill is now available online via Amazon)

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov