Key point: Iran has encountered really strange flying objects that might be an unknown, secret American spy plane.
Iran is the only other country besides the United States to operate arguably history’s most powerful interceptor aircraft, the F-14 Tomcat. And the Islamic republic has worked the twin-engine, swing-wing fighters hard.
The F-14s played a major role in Iran’s war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988. Iranian Tomcat pilots were the only ones to successfully employ the F-14’s long-range, heavyweight AIM-54 Phoenix missile to shoot down enemy planes.
In the decades after the war, Tehran repaired and upgraded the surviving F-14s, scouring the globe for parts in defiance of a U.S. government embargo.
The Americans retired their F-14s in 2006, but around 40 of Iran’s Tomcats remain active. Their main role is defending Iran’s nuclear sites. It’s a mission that has brought the interceptors in close contact with some very mysterious aircraft, according to a bizarre and fascinating 2013 story in Combat Aircraft magazine by reporter Babak Taghvaee.
The Iranians believed the objects were spy drones belonging to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, sent to sniff out Tehran’s suspected atomic weapons program. But they attribute to these alleged unmanned aerial vehicles flight characteristics and capabilities far beyond what any known drone can achieve.
And in 2012 one of the alleged flying robots reportedly also shot down an F-14 attempting to intercept it. Or at least some Iranians seem genuinely to believe so.
Over the decades Tehran has built three major nuclear facilities that could, in theory, be used to assemble atomic weapons: reactors at Bushehr and Arak and an enrichment plant at Natanz.