Not a UFO, but a Bee (drone) over Dagestan in 2000

Article by Paul Stonehill

According to Russian journalist Vyacheslav Fyodorov (, the UFO sighted over Dagestan on November 14, 2000 was actually an advanced Russian weapon, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The sighting was widely reported throughout the world after the initial story carried by Interfax Agency; Philip Mantle and my new book about Russian ufology contains a detailed account of this and other fascinating sightings and UFO reports from the Caspian Sea. Dagestan is one of the republics of the former USSR; a part of the Russian Federation, it is located between Caspian Sea on the East and Caucasus mountains on the West; it borders Chechnya.

Combining Mr. Fyodorov's information and some thorough independent research, I have found out the following.

In March of the year 2000, the Russian Defense Ministry had approved an unmanned reconnaissance system Stroy-P (unmanned reconnaissance complex or PRC). The system was created in the Yakovlev Experimental Design Bureau, a major Russian military aircraft manufacturer, (OKB imeni Yakovleva) named for A. S. Yakovlev, a famous Soviet aircraft designer. The Yak Aircraft Corporation is now a privatized Russian aviation corporation. Pchela (a drone component of the complex) was built, as far as is known, at the Kishtim Radio Plant, with the help of the Smolensk Aviation Plant (while the Smolensk Aviation Plant joined with the Yakovlev Design Bureau in March, 1992 to form the Yak Aviation Company, the two entities seem to be operating separately); the official maker of the Pchela is Kulon Scientific Research Institute (R&D Institute of Aircraft Technology). This system, or complex, includes a launcher on caterpillar-fitted platform, two vehicles and ten (initially, five) Pchela-1T 061 aircraft. The Stroy-P complex was accepted for service with the Russian Army in 1997.

A Pchela (remotely piloted reconnaissance drone that provides television surveillance of ground targets) weighs 130 kilograms (loaded), has an operational range of 110 to 150 kilometers, can fly at altitudes ranging from 100 meters to 3 kilometers, and cruises at speeds from 11- to 150 kilometers an hour. Combat-recorded range: 55 kilometers. Its flight endurance is 2 hours (it needs 20 liters of gasoline for this). Its power plant is piston plus two solid rockets takeoff boosters (power at 32hp). Onboard of the Russian drone are a video camera, a still camera, a mapping camera, and a secure radio. It uses a parachute for landing. Pchela is probably equal in capability to many Western UAV in the same class. However, it is a slower, tactical unmanned aerial vehicle than, for example, the Russian the 800-kilometer-per-hour Reis UAV.

The chronology is as follows: in 1982, the Soviet military gave instructions to the A.S. Yakovlev Design Bureau to develop a small, remotely piloted aerial vehicle (distantsionno-pilotiruemiy letatel'niy apparat, or DPLA). The person in charge of the project was a talented designer, Yuri Yankevich . Years later, a DPLA-605 Pchela was developed. This was first Soviet UAV capable of monitoring ground targets with an on-board television camera that had a real-time downlink. Later, Pchela (Russian word for a honey bee), the unmanned tactical reconnaissance drone (bespilotnyi samolet, in Russian), was modified to Pchela-1T (TV observer), Pchela-1IK (new version ), and according to, to Expert, a 5-th generation unmanned tactical reconnaissance drone to replace Pchela from the Stroy-P system.

Back in the summer of 2000 the Russians were conducting test flights of their Pchela-1T light unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, according to Mr. Fyodorov . Apparently, Russian media carried stories about the "airplane-robot" and its onboard TV camera. The Pchela drones tested in November of 2000 are also equipped to fly in the nighttime and have infrared vision capability. The timing of the UFO sighting over Dagestan and the tests of the Pchela drones coincide.

Similar "UFO" flew into the Soviet Union back in 1969, and turned out to be an unmanned American espionage aircraft. The Soviets were sufficiently impressed, and their government ordered that a similar aircraft be developed per Soviet standards and equipment. However, the Soviets were designing their own unmanned spy planes back in the late 1950s and 1960s. We can be certain that some UFO sightings through the years of the Cold War were nothing but tests of such aircraft observed by innocent bystanders.

Meanwhile, the Pchela was incorporated, as a weapon, by Russian armed forces in 1997. There is a special unit dedicated to the use of unmanned aviation systems in the town of Akhtyubinsk, in the Astrakhan province of southern Russia (a Russian state aviation research center is located there as well). Russian Bees are sold to foreign buyers, too, and have been featured at the Russian pavilions at the international aviation exhibitions. The Russians have used the Pchela in Chechnya, but Mr. Fyodorov doubts that the Russian military has utilized the weapon's potential fully. However, Russian Military Parade magazine (1999) claims something different. Their information came from a source in the Russian Defense Ministry. This source claimed that decision to use PRCs in Chechnya to provide continuous aerial reconnaissance and target designation data for the Federal troops has been taken after analyzing the results of combat operations in Dagestan. The fact is, when suppressing the fire positions of the rebels, the Russian troops were in lack of reconnaissance information, transmitted in the real time mode. Also, in 1995, the Stroy-P complex was already used in Chechnya (a Pchela weighed 138 kilograms at the time). According to, the unmanned air reconnaissance military unit was situated on the mountain Goiten-Kort near Khankala. The "plane-robot" proved its unique abilities having received a lot of valuable information that saved hundreds of lives. But the Russian Defense Ministry lacked funds to procure the upgraded weapons (according to the information form 1999; obviously, in the year 2000 the funds to procure upgraded Stroy-P complexes were found). According to the same source, the Pchela-1 RPC made 10 flights in Chechnya, with the total flight time accumulated of 7 hours 25 minutes. Why would the Pchela be operated over Dagestan? -To provide the round-the-clock control over 200 kilometers of the Chechnya border, and to block the attempts of rebels to penetrate the adjacent territories, according to the Military Parade's source. In 2000, the same magazine had an interesting article written by Nikolai Novichkov, Editing Director of the ITAR-TASS Department of Scientific and Technical Information. The author claimed that due to financial restraints, the Defense Ministry has not yet purchased a single new Stroy-II complex and currently has only three earlier produced sets (the article was published in early 2000), one of which was tested in Chechnya. Russia's Defense Ministry is expected to spur adoption for service of the Pchela-1T RPV (or RPC-P.S.) with night vision equipment. The Pchela-1T RPVs employed in Chechnya (at the time Mr. Novichkov's article was published) were equipped with only day surveillance TV cameras. The Pchela version, fitted out with infrared night-vision devices, was developed a long time ago, but its tests still had not been completed in early 2000 due to lack of funds. In November of 2000 the tests were performed, as the sightings reported confirm. Another confirmation of the tests can be found here:

The "UFO" sighted over Dagestan, it appears, was one of Russian Army's tactical reconnaissance assets.

By the way, in 1989 a Nikolai Novichkov was one of the editors of the English-Russian Dictionary of Antimissile & Anti-satellite Defense (Moscow Military Publishing House). The dictionary had unidentified flying object as an entry (page 353). I believe he is the author of the article in Military Parade. This is a footnote in the turbulent history of UFOs over the USSR.

Paul Stonehill
Russian Ufology Research Center
Author of The Soviet UFO Files

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