The 1981 Downtown Los Angeles UFO Sighting

First Published: November 12, 2018 Last updated: February 9th, 2019 Written by: Marcus Lowth Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes Posted in: UFOs

Although it isn’t spoken of as much as it perhaps should be, a sighting of a “low-flying, cigar-shaped object with white lights shining from a row of windows, and bearing green-blue and white running lights along its edge” over downtown Los Angeles in April 1981, is most certainly one of the most mind-blowing displays on record. What is perhaps even more amazing, especially given the metropolis-like city that Los Angeles undoubtedly is, the event produced, at least so far, only a single witness.

Los Angeles UFO Sighting 1981

The witness, though, was a respected Los Angeles doctor, who would watch the sighting unfold while driving home on the evening in question. Not only that, but he was also knowledgeable in aeronautics, physics, and was an experienced pilot. To say he was well qualified to determine what this bizarre craft might have been would be an understatement.

Furthermore, as we shall see, while California is a most definite UFO hotspot anyway, in the late-1970s and early 80s, several similar sightings to the 1981 incident are on record. And the vast majority, strangely enough, all feature witnesses with experience of flying, flight and the science thereof. Whether there is a connection between these apparently different and one-off sightings, is open to debate.

UFO Sighting From The Santa Monica Freeway Bridge

It was a little after 11:30 pm on 19th April 1981 when Dr. Barry Taff was driving home from the Palms area of Los Angeles following a visit to his close friend, Larry Brooks. As he guided his vehicle under the Santa Monica Freeway Bridge, he would notice a strange light in the sky overhead. It appeared to be a large, solid object, around 500 feet from the ground near to the parking lot of Von’s Market.

Taff at first believed the object was a low-flying conventional aircraft. Then, after dismissing that it was a plane or a police helicopter, he would contemplate it being a blimp that might have escaped its tethers. However, the more he looked at this strange object, the more he realized he was seeing something a little more out of the ordinary. He would make the decision to pull the car to the side of the road and turn off the engine. Then, he stepped from the vehicle, all the while keeping his focus on this bizarre craft in the night sky.

He would recall how there was absolutely no noise whatsoever from the object. Furthermore, it comprised of a “flattened elongated cigar, with no tail section or wings of any kind”. He couldn’t fathom just how the large craft was even maintaining its altitude. He also noticed “running lights” which would alternate between blue and green along the top and bottom edge of the craft. In between these alternating and running lights, were what appeared to be a row of windows or “rectangular openings” each at equal distances from the other. From behind these “windows” was an “extremely bright white light”.

An Object That Shouldn’t Have Remained Airborne

As he continued to study the object above him, he could see that the surface appeared to be of a solid “charcoal grey” material. It was also obvious that this strange craft was moving, although very slowly. Again, the slow movement compared to its size, not to mention no apparent means of propulsion, should have rendered the object’s ability to stay aloft impossible. However, much like such future cases as The Phoenix Lights, the object appeared to defy both gravity and known physics and continued to make its way at a leisurely pace in a northeasterly direction over the City of Angels.

It was at this point that Taff noticed the complete lack of traffic on the road, even for this late hour. Also strange, aside from the craft not making any noise, the entire area appeared strangely silent. The object remained in view for around forty-five seconds before it disappeared from view. Although he would attempt to follow the craft, he would quickly lose it behind the looming buildings of the city.

He would further recall in his report of the incident that the object was “considerably larger” than a helicopter. He would estimate it to be around sixty feet in length and approximately fifteen feet high. If any other residents of Los Angeles witnessed the strange craft as it made its way over the city, then they would keep their recollections to themselves. Whether any of those potential corroborating witnesses choose to come forward in the near future remains to be seen.

Los Angeles1981 UFO Sketch

Barry Taft’s sketch

Similar Sightings Immediately Before And After

As well as his profession and general character, Taff is widely regarded as a stable and credible witness, Not only that, but he also has experience as a pilot with a better than normal understanding of aerodynamics and physics. In short, the fact that he ruled out conventional aircraft, or it being a blimp should perhaps be treated seriously and not as some kind of uneducated misidentification.

Furthermore, due to its appearance at sports events and any number of public celebrations in and around Los Angeles and the wider California area, Californians, and resident of Los Angeles in particular, are very much aware of the Goodyear Blimp and what it looks like. Many of them will have witnessed this aerial display on several occasions throughout their lives. Basically, even a Los Angeles resident with only limited knowledge of aerial vehicles would easily identify it. And equally so, would be unlikely to misidentify something as the Goodyear Blimp.

Perhaps also of interest are similar sightings in the region in the days before and after Taff’s encounter. On the evening of 18th April, for example, at around 8:20 pm in Hollywood, California, a bright white disc was witnessed performing “erratic motions” in the sky before moving into the clouds overhead.

The following evening from Taff’s sighting, in (relatively) nearby Reno, Nevada, on the morning of 20th April at around 10:30 am, another bright “aluminum disc” appeared to hover in a stationary position below a Cessna 210 plane before vanishing at an alarming speed. A married couple at a nearby airport would report the sighting.

Although it happened almost two years previously, a similar California sighting in the summer of 1979 is most certainly worth looking at here.

The Santa Clarita Valley Sighting

Just after 10 pm on the 13th July 1979 in Santa Clarita Valley, California, a married couple would witness a strange low-flying disc-shaped craft fly over a young couple’s home. The unnamed and anonymous family were preparing to settle down for the evening when the night would take a dramatic turn. The husband of the household (Mr. Towers) was cleaning the swimming pool area ready for the next day, so the children could get straight in the pool upon waking. As he was doing this, he would notice a bizarre disc-shaped craft, around 100 feet across, approaching the house from the west.

From how “flat” the object appeared, he knew right away it was not a helicopter or even an airplane making its way towards them. He ran back towards the house, calling out to anyone from inside who wished to see this strange aerial anomaly. His wife would appear a few seconds later. By this time, the huge circular object was directly above their garden, hovering and at a complete stop. Each noticed instantly that the strange craft was completely silent.

The couple would later estimate the object to be around 75 to 100 feet above them. They could clearly see a “dome” on the upper section of the craft, as well as portholes and lights which flashed seemingly in sequence. The object was most definitely solid, with a metallic and shiny finish to it. Bizarrely, and something that comes up repeatedly in UFO reports, the craft appeared as though it was made from one piece of molded metal, with no apparent joins or seams visible anywhere. On the underside, it would appear to “concave towards the center” where two “rectangular shapes” were visible.

Los Angeles 1979 UFO Sketch

Mr. Towers’ sketch

“Mankind Has No Such Technology!”

As the couple continued to watch this amazing incident unfold, the craft would tip forward slightly. When it did, the couple would witness something akin to a cockpit behind a longer window. They could see a combination of an orange and blue glow from inside. Neither, however, could see any activity or movement behind the glass. It would remain at this “forward angle” for around ten seconds. Each of the witnesses would later declare the feeling of being watched by whatever intelligence was behind this mysterious vehicle.

In all, the glowing disc remained over the couple’s property for around forty seconds. Then, it would calmly move away at a pace no faster than forty miles per hour. They continued to watch it until it disappeared from their view approximately seven miles away. Each of them would sketch drawings of what they remembered, separately so they could compare them. Aside from small details here and there, they were by and large an exact match.

Much like Taff, the main witness had a background in propulsion systems, later in several high-ranking positions. His understanding, then, of aeronautics, much like Taff’s, was much better than most. He would state that “from my aeronautical engineering background (I know) that mankind has no such technology.

The Hallstrom Incident

Eighteen months prior to the Santa Clarita sighting came another incident. The similarities of which again may indeed suggest a connection to the two cases mentioned above. On New Year’s Day 1978 at around 12:35 pm, experienced military air veteran, Floyd Hallstrom, was flying his Cessna 170A over Santa Monica, California. He was trailing his friend and fellow pilot, Jim Victor. They were on their way from Oxnard to San Diego, with a stop at Los Angeles to refuel. Victor was delivering a plane to Brown Field in San Diego, whereupon, Hallstrom would transport them both back home.

As he began his way over Santa Monica at an altitude of around 7,500 feet with the sight of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in the distance, he noticed something strange “just on the edge of the horizon”. At first, he thought it was his friend. Then, however, the object began to grow larger. And did so at an alarming rate.

As it approached, he could see no wings at all. It appeared to be disc-shaped, made of metallic silver which shined brilliantly in the bright afternoon California sunshine. He could, though, make out clear windows in the craft, similar to normal passenger windows in a standard aircraft. Whatever the strange craft was, it continued in his direction with great speed. It would pass him and head south of his position and to his left. That’s when Hallstrom was able to look down on the craft and gain a bird’s eye view. And what he saw was an object that wasn’t “conventional” by any stretch of the imagination.

LA UFO Sightings

A “Saucer-shaped” Object Traveling 650 Miles Per Hour

It was most definitely a “saucer-shape or round object” with “a dome” on the top and with windows around it. From above, the metallic surface seemed to glow even more brightly. He would describe the surface as “more of a nickel or highly polished chrome, or stainless steel”. This, he would offer, would explain the “mellow glow” that would resonate from its surface.

He would later estimate there to be around twenty windows around the dome part of the craft. An even gap would separate them. Apparently uninterested in Hallstrom or his small passenger plane, the strange craft would continue in the opposite direction. It would remain in his sight for around a minute before disappearing. This would lead Hallstrom to estimate that it was traveling at around 650 miles per hour.

He would inform Victor and then the Federal Aviation Authority of the sighting. And that would, he believed, be the end of it. However, in the days and weeks following the incident, Hallstrom would suffer from several strange dreams. These would involve strange silver discs, but would also feature even stranger alien entities. The dreams would eventually settle down the more he researched the UFO phenomena. A subject he had previously had little to no interest in. However, in the years that followed the aerial encounter, Hallstrom would claim that it had “altered his entire life”.

Check out the short videos below. The first is a short news segment of a UFO sighting from November 2015. The second is one of the social media videos that generated the report.



The stories, accounts, and discussion in this article are not always based on proven facts and may go against currently accepted science and common beliefs. The details included in the article are based on the reports and accounts available to us as provided by witnesses and documentation.

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About Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years experience. Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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