In the summer of 1952, Washington National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base became quite alarmed when radar picked up several flying objects over Washington D.C. Even more alarming, coordinates indicated that he objects were flying directly over the White House and the United States Capitol.
Around midnight on July 19, 1952, radar operators at Washington National Airport noted several ‘blips’ on the radar over Washington D.C. (15 miles from the Washington National airport). These objects appeared to be traveling at 100 to 130 m.p.h. and would then suddenly accelerate to unbelievable speeds – sometimes in excess of 7,200 m.p.h. Washington National radar operators immediately contacted a local radio operator who confirmed that he too was tracking the objects. With two confirmations in hand they decided to further clarify the situation with Andrews Air Force Base.
Washington Tower: Andrews Tower, do you read? Did you have an airplane in sight west-northwest or east of your airport moving east-bound?
Andrews: No, but we just got a call from the center. We’re looking for it.
Washington: We’ve got a big target showing up on our scope. He’s just coming in on the west edge of your airport-the northwest edge of it eastbound. He’ll be passing right through the northern portion of your field on an east heading. He’s about a quarter of a mile from the northwest runway-right over the edge of your northwest runway now.
Andrews: What happened to your target now?
Washington: He’s still eastbound. He went directly over Andrews Fields and is now five miles east.
Andrews: Where did he come from?
Washington: We picked him up ourselves at about seven miles east, slightly southeast, and we have been tracking him ever since then. The Center has been tracking him farther than that.
Andrews: Was he waving his course?
Washington: Holding steady course, due east heading.
Andrews: This is Andrews. Our radar tracking says he’s got a big fat target out here northeast of Andrews. He says he’s got two more south of the field.
Washington: Yes, well the center has about four or five around the Andrews Range station. The Center is working a National Airlines – the center is working him and vectoring him around his target. He went around Andrews. He saw one of them – looks like a meteor. (Garbled)..Went by him..or something. He said he’s got one about three miles off his right wing right now. There are so many targets around here it is hard to tell as they are not moving very fast.
Andrews: What about his altitude?
Washington: Well, must be over 8,000 feet as we don’t have him in radar any more.
After the alarming exchange, Andrews Air Force Base immediately notified the U.S. Air Force Air Defense Command. Two F-94 night fighter planes were dispatched but due to runway repairs, it was a couple of hours before they could get off the ground. After the lengthy delay they arrived in the target area only to find vacant skies. Upon finding nothing they returned to base but the objects again began showing up on area radars. This game of cat and mouse continued throughout the night. Several times they had the objects in sight and upon approach the lights would suddenly ‘blink out’ and disappear. With continual radio contact between the pilots and radar control, it became apparent that when the pilots saw the objects disappear they would also simultaneously disappear from the radar.
Other Airborne Reports
Other aircraft also caught sight of the UFOs. The crew of a B-29 observed that the weather that night was clear with a bright, shining moon. They recalled that there were several meteors spotted both before and after the sightings but the bizarre sightings were definitely not meteors. The objects they described flew exceptionally fast and often seemed to ‘disappear’. Some even reported seeing the objects traveling vertically. The entire sighting for the B-29 crew lasted 4 minutes, much longer than a typical meteor sighting.
Commercial pilots also radioed in sightings. Reports began pouring in describing objects ranging from a ‘cigarette glow orange’ to bright white. Descriptions of the movement of the objects was consistent with the military pilots reports.
The Second Wave
On July 26, 1952, the lights yet again showed up on radar. After confirming the sightings with other radar operators, F-94s were once again dispatched. As in the previous instance, the UFOs would vanish as soon as the pilots approached. After searching for 10 minutes the pilots turned and headed back to base. Upon returning, the blips reappeared on radar. The pilots made their turn and this time reported visual sightings of 4 lights. One of the pilots, in a high state of excitement exclaimed “they’ve surrounded my plane – what should I do?”. Before a response was received, the lights disappeared.
Three days later, on July 29, 1952, Major General John A. Samford, director of air force intelligence, held a press conference. The official explanation was “temperature inversions”. He explained that a scientific committee would be formed to examine the incidents in more detail, a study that would never materialize.
The official explanation for the objects seen on radars was ‘temperature inversions’. UFOlogists believe that temperature inversions could have been the cause of the blips seen on radar, although highly unlikely. They also point out that this does nothing to explain the hundreds of visual sightings, both from the air and from the ground. In fact, it is apparent that Project Bluebook also discounted this explanation as the Washington DC Lights case was officially classified as ‘unknown’.
Pilots also disagreed with the temperature inversions explanation and noted that they were perfectly aware of temperature inversions in the area that night (they are in fact quite common in the Washington DC area). They indicated that they never believed the lights they saw were temperature inversions and wonder why the explanation was so easily accepted by the public since it was common knowledge that the known temperature inversions were at 1000 feet and the objects they spotted were much higher, often in the 8,000 to 10,000 feet range.
Radar operators at Washington National Airport (using a Type ASR-1 radar) and Washington ARTC Center (using a MEW radar) were also skeptical of the temperature inversion theory. Radar controller Barnes stated: “Inversion blips are always recognized by experts, we are familiar with what weather conditions, flying birds, and [other] such things can cause on radar.” The operators noted that temperature inversions on radar are typically weak returns and move at a slow ground speed. These blips were distinctly clear (reported as “a very good return” and “solid”) and often traveled and unbelievable speeds.
Since temperature inversions are slow moving, some have theorized that the operators may have momentarily looked away from the screen and upon glancing back, mistakenly picked up another, different blip or possibly another aircraft echo. This would explain the ‘rapid speed’ described by the radar operators. Of course, the radar operators find this explanation troubling due to the fact that it questions their ability to perform their jobs effectively. They are quick to point out that not only were the objects accurately reported, but the fact that their equipment only covers a portion of the sky, there could have been hundreds more of these objects beyond their radar range.
This case is unique in that the objects were viewed and photographed by hundreds of people, including many Air Force personnel who would be considered extremely reliable witnesses. After the incident, Sergeant Harrison described what he saw:
I saw the … light moving from the Northeast toward the range station. These lights did not have the characteristics of shooting stars. There was no trails and seemed to go out rather than disappear, and traveled faster than any shooting star I have ever seen.
Sergeant H. Spiewakowski further explained what he witnessed:
I … observed targets following very erratic courses, sometimes appearing to stop, then reverse course, accelerating momentarily, and then slowing down. Target sightings were all coordinated with W.A.R.T.C. and verified, using radar facilities. Another peculiarity noted was the sudden disappearance of targets of targets then suddenly reappearing 8 – 10 miles farther along the same course … The biggest problem appeared to be the large No. of targets present which made it difficult to have any definite targets singled out for checking.
Other airline pilots reported seeing several ‘lights’ in the sky. Many people in Washington reported seeing lights too. The Pentagon intelligence officers flatly stated that the objects were nothing more than a weather phenomena, while the sightings continued throughout the month of July…