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UFOs - Past, Present, & Future


Chapter 6

Washington DC, 1952


by Robert Emenegger


    It's been said in jest that if these UFOs are form other worlds and they wanted to be known, all they'd have to do is land on the White House lawn. Bt an incredible incident, almost too quickly forgotten, took place over our Capital in 1952. Even President Truman wanted to be kept up-to-date on all the details. As Mr. Al Chop recalls the famous incident that stirred the Capital:

    "It was a warm summer night here in Washington on the sixteenth of July, 1952. As the spokesman for the Pentagon on UFOs then, I recall the events clearly. A report came from three control operators at Washington National Airport. They reported [that] the first wave of sightings happened on a Saturday night, a series of five unidentified targets appeared on radar. A call was made to Air Traffic Control Center. They had the same targets located over Andrews Air Force Base. Then....Andrews reported visual sighting of three objects in the same position indicated by Washington Tower. The targets stayed on radar until twelve-thirty. They moved slowly at first, about one hundred to two hundred miles per hour. And then, one target shot away at a fantastic speed, from west of Andrews to Riverdale - estimated speed seventy-three hundred miles per hour. The tower operator at Bowling Air Force Base sighted one of the objects drifting low in the sky southeast of Bowling Air Base. Also, several airliner crews reported seeing the object: Capital Airlines Flight and National Airlines Flight. Flight T807 sighted three at level flight, moving at terrific speed. Casey Pierman on that Flight T807 saw 'several flying objects with bright lights.' By this time, the tower had numerous unidentified blips on radar too, about seven, and their speeds were....'phenomenal.' One then followed National Flight SP610 up to within four miles of touchdown. I remember one tower operator was frantic. Some of the unidentified objects then flew over the restricted air corridors here above the White House and Capital. My office, to say the least, was swamped with inquiries from the press."

    The phenomena weren't to subside - the following Saturday night, July 26, a repeat performance unsettled the Capital again.

    Chop continued: "I was awakened about midnight on July 26 by a telephone call to my home in Virginia. it was the FAA spokesman and he told me that air traffic controllers were again tracking a large number of UFOs over the Capital area, so I drove to the airport. He told me also that a large number of news people were 'beating our doors down.' He asked me when I arrived if I'd take over the situation. As I drove to the airport, I glanced at the sky and frankly saw nothing."

    "I entered the radar room. The scope had a phosphorus control glass top. There were several other traffic controllers huddled around. Small plastic markers identified the known air flights, there were also several marked 'unknown.' There were from six to a dozen or more 'unknown' and they simply moved too fast for airplanes. The movements were also haphazard. They'd move along a definite path then suddenly disappear. Others would appear. We checked with Andrews radar controllers and tower operation throughout the night tracking the same 'unknowns.'

    "I placed a call to the command post in the Pentagon and requested an intercept mission. I told the press they could watch the radar scope and we were waiting for an intercept. Life magazine asked to photograph the scope, but before they could set up, we were alerted that the intercept mission would be using classified orders and I had to order the newsmen from the room. Life newsman Clay Blair became incensed and told me I'd be out of a job on Monday. All I could say was, 'So be it. But you can't stay in the room.'

    "We returned to the scope. The two F-94s appeared about two-forty A.M. on the scope, but as they appeared, a frightening thing happened...the target blips disappeared off the scope. Our interceptors flew around for about fifteen minutes and returned to base with negative results. As our interceptors left the scope, our targets reappeared. About three A.M. I called the Pentagon Command Post and explained the situation. They said: 'Stand by - a second scramble is on the way.' This time, the 'unknowns' stayed on the scope and we directed the intercepts to the exact compass readings. We split the flight - one to the north, the other aircraft south."

     "The first pilot reported in that he 'can't see anything...' We could see they were moving close to the target. Red Dog 2, as we designated the pilot going to the north, suddenly reported, 'Now I see them - they are directly ahead of me...they seem to be tremendous blue-white lights.' We could tell by radar that they were getting very close. Then a second report came in. He was somewhat exited, and I don't blame him; he reported, 'They're all around me now.' A pause, then: 'They appear to be closing in on me...' Moments passed and the last remark I remember was the pilot's voice almost pleading: 'What shall I do?' Well, we saw the 'unknowns' appear to place themselves in a ring around his aircraft. We all just looked at each other. Ten or twenty seconds later, he reported, 'They're moving off now.' A few moments later, he called in to say he was returning to base. The UFOs remained on the scope till Saturday morning, about five A.M."

    Those Washington sightings were the most sensational to occur since the Mantell incident four years earlier. The story made headlines around the country. At ten o'clock on the morning after the sightings, General Landry, at the request of President Truman, called intelligence to find out what was happening over Washington.

    "As I recall," Chop related, "the press demanded a conference with top Air Force officials. Under pressure form all sides, Major General John Samford, Chief of Air Force Intelligence, agreed to hold a press conference, It was scheduled for July 29. With General Samford were Air Force specialists on radar, high-ranking officers from the Information Department, and weather specialists. It was the biggest press conference since World War II."

    General Samford gave some opening remarks concerning continuing Air Force efforts to look into the UFO situation because it was the Air Force's responsibility to do so. He said the Air Force had been able to explain 80 percent of the UFO reports, and he felt that if additional information could have been obtained on the remaining 20 percent, they too could be explained to his satisfaction.

    General Samford said he personally believed the unknown targets observed over Washington were the result of  a "temperature inversion on both nights." He used several weather and radar specialists to help explain how radar equipment can pick up reflections of ground objects during a period of temperature inversion.

    He said many other reports of UFOs had proved to be "misinterpretations of conventional objects such as birds, balloons, aircraft, ballooning spiders," ect. He convinced most of those newsmen present that the Washington radar contacts were due to "unusual weather aloft over the area."

    But Al Chop added, "About one week later, Major Lewis Norman, Jr., an Air Force radar specialist, told Major Fournet, Captain Ruppelt, and myself that the temperature inversion present in the Washington area on the night in question was not sufficient to cause the radar to pick up reflections of ground objects. Major Norman was a specialist working with the Air Force Aircraft Control and Warning Branch. He said an inversion of the order of ten degrees to seventeen degrees Fahrenheit was required before the radar would react to ground clutter."

    "The US Weather Bureau figures for the two nights in question showed the temperature inversion present over Washington to be not more than one-tenth of one percent different on the Fahrenheit scale."

    "This information was not released to the press. The news media seemed satisfied with General Samford's explanation," Chop confided.

    Although a "weather inversion" was the conclusion of the report made public by the Air Force investigators, interestingly enough, the actual internal report begins with this revealing comment:


        A study of the various reports regarding the subject
        radar sightings does not allow a positive and final
        explanation to be made. As usual the factual and
        scientific data necessary for analysis are not available.


    Unfortunately, the elusive evidence to prove or disprove any theory about UFOs would continue to escape the government's investigations.

*    *    *

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