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A 50 Year Anniversary (of sorts)
Dwight Eisenhower was President. Richard Nixon was Vice President. The general public was recuperating from World War II and existing in a state of unreal bliss even though we were in the midst of something called "The Cold War" between the two super-powers, Russia and the U.S. Enemies were everywhere. Distrust and fear were a part of military life.
It was a quiet evening at Washington D.C. Airport. The radarscope was clear. It was 12:40 AM. Then unexpectedly, a group of bright blips appeared on the screen of the Civil Aeronautics Authority. The objects were estimated to be about fifteen miles southwest of Washington. As suddenly as they appeared, they disappeared. Then the mysterious blips reappeared over northeast Washington.
Harry Barnes, the senior controller, was dumbfounded. He watched the unidentified blips as the operator told him, "Here are some flying saucers for you." Barnes stopped laughing when the radar returns showed the objects popping up all over the screen. The objects carried out a variety of maneuvers. Sometimes they zipped across the screen and sometimes they moved slowly, making deliberate right angle turns. Barnes became worried when the objects began carrying out their aeronautical acrobatics over prohibited areas such as the White House. He called the control tower of Washington Airport.
Operators in the airport control tower reported the same unidentified blips on their radar, but the operators were more interested in estimating the speed of the objects. According to their calculations the objects were reaching the unheard of speed of 7,200 mph. Both groups of men at separate locations watched as the unidentified aircraft flew towards Andrews Air Force base. Barnes called the tower at Andrews. They reported nothing unusual on their screens, but they were physically watching an orange orb in the southern sky. Barnes decided it was time to call the Air Defense Command and report a possible threat over Washington. A flight of radar equipped jets from Delaware headed toward Washington. Before the American planes arrive, the radar blips vanished. When the jets departed the area, the blips returned. Sending jets into the area was pointless. The objects seemed to know what was going on and were playing a game of cat and mouse with the most sophisticated aircraft of the day.
That was the first night of a week of unidentified aircraft reports in the area. But it wasn't the culmination of the UFO invasion of Washington, D.C. It was Saturday; it was a quiet night. Again unidentified blips began to appear, but this time they were all over the screens of both radar stations at Washington Airport, as well as Andrews Airforce Base. The odd thing was that some people in terrestrial aircraft and some on the ground saw orange or white orbs in the night sky. Some didn't see a thing. The unidentified objects flew right over the Capital. Jets were sent up to intercept the unidentifieds, but every time the jets entered the same airspace as the unidentifieds, the radar blips of the unknowns vanished. The game of cat and mouse continued for hours with no success by the fighter planes. The next day the area newspapers carried headlines and photos of the nocturnal events.
UFO reports began coming in from all over the world. New York, Kentucky, Michigan, California, the atomic lab at Los Alamos, New Mexico, England, Korea, Saudi Arabia are but a few of the locations that reported strange lights in the sky or unidentified blips on radar screens. Meanwhile the Air Force began an "investigation". Air Force Major General Roger Ramey released their findings. The unusual blips in Washington were caused by "temperature inversions".
That report seemed incomplete to many, including the press corps that had witnessed the events on the radar screens. The Director of Air Force Intelligence, Major General John A. Samford, was the next to hold a press conference. He stated, "Air Force interest in the problem has been due to our feeling of an obligation to identify and analyze, to the best of our ability, anything in the air that has the possibility of a threat or menace to the United States.
"In pursuit of this obligation, since 1947, we have received and analyzed between one and two thousand reports. There have been a certain percentage of this volume of reports that have been made by credible observers of relatively incredible things. It is this group of observations that we are now attempting to resolve. We have, as of this date, come to only one firm conclusion with respect to this remaining percentage. It does not contain any pattern of purpose or of consistency that we can relate to any conceivable threat to the United States."
This was the last press conference given by a representative of the U.S. government on the subject of UFOs that was anything but a total whitewash of fact.
To this day there are unanswered questions surrounding the Washington D.C. flap. These are questions that will probably never have definitive answers. Were the events of July and August 1952 designed to make us realize that we are not the only thinking beings in the universe? Were they designed to make us realize that there is no such thing as a "cold war"? Were they designed to nudge our senses and open our minds? Did travelers from a far away place occupy the unidentified aircraft? Were the occupants playing games with the new kids on the block? Was it a test of our reactions to otherworldly beings? If it was, we failed because we met their overtures with jet fighters and hostile intent.
This is a period of history that should be remembered as a highlight for anyone living on planet Earth, for the summer of 1952 was the last time unidentified flying objects overtly checked in on this nation's capital.
Press Conference concerning UFO'S
Minutes of the Press Conference Held by Major General John A. Samford, Director
of US Air Force Intelligence 27 July 1952" has generally not been available. Along
with MG Samford, the USAF Director of Intelligence, participating in the press conference
were Major General Roger M. Ramey, Director of Operations, USAF, COL Donald L. Bower,
Technical Analysis Div., ATIC, CPT Roy L. James, Electronic Branch, ATIC, CPT Edward J.
Ruppelt, Aerial Phenomena Branch, ATIC, and Mr. Burgoyne L. Griffing, Electronics Branch,
Statements by Stamford and the others shows that they did not have the complete story
at their fingertips. The questions from the press were pointed and inquiring. Stamford
uttered his famous line about "creditable people reporting incredible things."
Attendence at this press conference was the highest since World War II.
During the rather long press conference, MG Samford, in many answers, made carefully
qualified remarks. His comments distilled down by the press in large headlines reported
the conference as a debunking session. While there is not question that the Air Force
wanted to regain control of the situation, the conference was not the complete debunking
session that was later reported.
CPT Ruppelt, in his private papers, would later record Samford's disappointment with
the press and especially Keyhoe. Ruppelt speculated that the latter was the cause of later
withholding of UFO information.
It will be obvious from the text that Samford, Ramey, and the others were not well
prepared to handle specific questions about the Washington, D. C. sightings. It is my
impression that the temperature inversion explanation was just being floated as a trail
balloon to give the Air Force a respite from constant press inquiries. Later, the
explanation would be carved in stone.
The second paper prepared by the USAF Environmental Technical Application Center (ETAC)
in April 1969 examined the inversion explanation in detail. UFO proponents will be shocked
at the paper's conclusion. "Report #6112, Qulantitative Aspects of Mirages" by
1LT Frederick V. Menkello consulted a long list of publications on optics and UFOs. The
Foreign Technology Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, requested this
report from ETAC. ETAC placed the following disclaimer on the report which almost invited
further studies: "This report addresses a specific problem and is not intended to
have application beyond that problem. We recommend that any questions on this or related
problems be referred to USAF ETAC for further study."
Unfortunately this recommendation was not followed.