Many of them were lying down looking at the stars, so that they saw the UFO as it came in from the west north west, made a 180 degree turn directly over their heads, and disappeared over the horizon. It was a "large red light with small white lights on the side," most of the people reported. Some of them said that it changed to a single yellow light as it made its turn. It was in sight about five minutes, and during this time no one reported hearing any sound.
One of the people at the beach was the weather officer from O'Hare International Airport, an Air Force captain. He immediately called O'Hare. They checked on balloon flights and with radar, but both were negative; radar said that there had been no aircraft in the area of Montrose Beach for several hours.
I sent an investigator to Chicago, and although he came back with a lot of data on the sighting, it didn't add up to be anything known.
The next day Dayton had its first UFO sighting in a long time when a Mr. Roy T. Ellis, president of the Rubber Seal Products Company, and many other people, reported a teardrop shaped object that hovered over Dayton for several minutes about midnight. This sighting had an interesting twist because two years later I was in Dayton and stopped in at ATIC to see a friend who is one of the technical advisers at the center.
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Naturally - the conversation got around to the subject of UFO's, and he asked me if I remembered this specific sighting. I did, so he went on to say that he and his wife had seen this UFO that night but they had never told anybody. He was very serious when he admitted that he had no idea what it could have been. Now I'd heard this statement a thousand times before from other people, but coming from this person, it was really something because he was as anti saucer as anyone I knew. Then he added, "From that time on I didn't think your saucer reporters were as crazy as I used to think they were."
The Dayton sighting also created quite a stir in the press. In conjunction with the sighting, the Dayton Daily Journal had interviewed Colonel Richard H. Magee, the Dayton-Oakwood civil defense director; they wanted to know what he thought about the UFO's. The colonel's answer made news: "There's something flying around in our skies and we wish we knew what it was."
When the story broke in other papers, the colonel's affiliation with civil defense wasn't mentioned, and he became merely "a colonel from Dayton." Dayton was quickly construed by the public to mean Wright- Patterson AFB and specifically ATIC. Some people in the Pentagon screamed while others gleefully clapped their hands. The gleeful handclaps were from those people who wanted the UFO's to be socially recognized, and they believed that if they couldn't talk their ideas into being they might be able to force them in with the help of this type of publicity.
The temporary lull in reporting that Project Blue Book had experienced in early July proved to be only the calm before the storm. By mid July we were getting about twenty reports a day plus frantic calls from intelligence officers all over the United States as every Air Force installation in the U.S. was being swamped with reports. We told the intelligence officers to send in the ones that sounded the best.
The build-up in UFO reports wasn't limited to the United States- every day we would receive reports from our air attaché in other countries. England and France led the field, with the South American countries running a close third. Needless to say, we didn't investigate or evaluate foreign reports because we had our hands full right at home.
Most of us were putting in fourteen hours a day, six days a week. It wasn't at all uncommon for Lieutenant Andy Flues, Bob Olsson, or Kerry Rothstien, my investigators, to get their sleep on an airliner going out or coming back from an investigation. TWA airliners out of Dayton were more like home than home. But we hadn't seen anything yet.
All the reports that were coming in were good ones, ones with no answers. Unknowns were running about 40 per cent. Rumors persist
The Big Flap.155
that in mid July 1952 the Air Force was braced for an expected invasion by flying saucers. Had these rumormongers been at ATIC in mid July they would have thought that the invasion was already in full swing. And they would have thought that one of the beachheads for the invasion was Patrick AFB, the Air Force's Guided Missile Long Range Proving Ground on the east coast of Florida.
On the night of July 18, at ten forty five, two officers were standing in front of base operations at Patrick when they noticed a light at about a 45 degree angle from the horizon and off to the west. It was an amber color and "quite a bit brighter than a star." Both officers had heard flying saucer stories, and both thought the light was a balloon. But, to be comedians, they called to several more officers and airmen inside the operations office and told them to come out and "see the flying saucer." The people came out and looked. A few were surprised and took the mysterious light seriously, at the expense of considerable laughter from the rest of the group. The discussion about the light grew livelier and bets that it was a balloon were placed. In the meantime the light had drifted over the base, had stopped for about a minute, turned, and was now heading north. To settle the bet, one of the officers stepped into the base weather office to find out about the balloon. Yes, one was in the air and being tracked by radar, he was told. The weather officer said that he would call to find out exactly where it was. He called and found out that the weather balloon was being tracked due west of the base and that the light had gone out about ten minutes before. The officer went back outside to find that what was first thought to be a balloon was now straight north of the field and still lighted. To add to the confusion, a second amber light had appeared in the west about 20 degrees lower than where the first one was initially seen, and it was also heading north but at a much greater speed. In a few seconds the first light stopped and started moving back south over the base.
While the group of officers and airmen were watching the two lights, the people from the weather office came out to tell the UFO observers that the balloon was still traveling straight west. They were just in time to see a third light come tearing across the sky, directly overhead, from west to east. A weatherman went inside and called the balloon tracking crew again - their balloon was still far to the west of the base.
Inside of fifteen minutes two more amber lights came in from the west, crossed the base, made a 180 degree turn over the ocean, and came back over the observers.
In the midst of the melee a radar set had been turned on but it couldn't pick up any targets. This did, however, eliminate the possibility of the
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lights' being aircraft. They weren't stray balloons either, because the winds at all altitudes were blowing in a westerly direction. They obviously weren't meteors. They weren't searchlights on a haze layer because there was no weather conducive to forming a haze layer and there were no searchlights. They could have been some type of natural phenomenon, if one desires to take the negative approach. Or, if you take the positive approach, they could have been spaceships.
The next night radar at Washington National Airport picked up UFO's and one of the most highly publicized sightings of UFO history was in the making. It marked the beginning of the end of the Big Flap.
The Washington Merry-Go-Round
No flying saucer report in the history of the UFO ever won more world acclaim than the Washington National Sightings.
When radars at the Washington National Airport and at Andrews AFB, both close to the nation's capital, picked up UFO's, the sightings beat the Democratic National Convention out of headline space. They created such a furor that I had inquiries from the office of the President of the United States and from the press in London, Ottawa, and Mexico City. A junior sized riot was only narrowly averted in the lobby of the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington when I refused to tell U.S. newspaper reporters what I knew about the sightings.
Besides being the most highly publicized UFO sightings in the Air Force annals, they were also the most monumentally fouled-up messes that repose in the files. Although the Air Force said that the incident had been fully investigated, the Civil Aeronautics Authority wrote a formal report on the sightings, and numerous magazine writers studied them, the complete story has never fully been told. The pros have been left out of the con accounts, and the cons were neatly overlooked by the pro writers.
For a year after the twin sightings we were still putting little pieces in the puzzle.
In some aspects the Washington National Sightings could be classed as a surprise - we used this as an excuse when things got fouled up --- but
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in other ways they weren't. A few days prior to the incident a scientist, from an agency that I can't name, and I were talking about the build-up of reports along the east coast of the United States. We talked for about two hours, and I was ready to leave when he said that he had one last comment to make - a prediction. From his study of the UFO reports that he was getting from Air Force Headquarters, and from discussions with his colleagues, he said that he thought that we were sitting right on top of a big keg full of loaded flying saucers. "Within the next few days," he told me, and I remember that he punctuated his slow, deliberate remarks by hitting the desk with his fist, "they're going to blow up and you're going to have the granddaddy of all UFO sightings. The sighting will occur in Washington or New York," he predicted, "probably Washington."
The trend in the UFO reports that this scientist based his prediction on hadn't gone unnoticed. We on Project Blue Book had seen it, and so had the people in the Pentagon; we all had talked about it.
On July 10 the crew of a National Airlines plane reported a light "too bright to be a lighted balloon and too slow to be a big meteor" while they were flying south at 2,000 feet near Quantico, Virginia, just south of Washington.
On July 13 another airliner crew reported that when they were 60 miles southwest of Washington, at 11,000 feet, they saw a light below them. It came up to their level, hovered off to the left for several minutes, and then it took off in a fast, steep climb when the pilot turned on his landing lights.
On July 14 the crew of a Pan American airliner enroute from New York to Miami reported eight UFO's near Newport News, Virginia, about 130 miles south of Washington.
Two nights later there was another sighting in exactly the same area but from the ground. At 9:00 P.M. a high ranking civilian scientist from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics Laboratory at Langley AFB and another man were standing near the ocean looking south over Hampton Roads when they saw two amber colored lights, "much too large to be aircraft lights," off to their right, silently traveling north. Just before the two lights got abreast of the two men they made a 180 degree turn and started back toward the spot where they had first been seen. As they turned, the two lights seemed to "jockey for position in the formation." About this time a third light came out of the west and joined the first two; then as the three UFO's climbed out of the area toward the south, several more lights joined the formation. The entire episode had lasted only three minutes.
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The only possible solution to the sighting was that the two men had seen airplanes. We investigated this report and found that there were several B-26's from Langley AFB in the area at the time of the sighting, but none of the B-26 pilots remembered being over Hampton Roads. In fact, all of them had generally stayed well south of Norfolk until about 10:30 P.M. because of thunderstorm activity northwest of Langley. Then there were other factors - the observers heard no sound and they were away from all city noises, aircraft don't carry just one or two amber lights, and the distance between the two lights was such that had they been on an airplane the airplane would have been huge or very close to the observers. And last, but not least, the man from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was a very famous aerodynamicist and of such professional stature that if he said the lights weren't airplanes they weren't.
This then was the big build-up to the first Washington national sighting and the reason why my friend predicted that the Air Force was sitting on a big powder keg of loaded flying saucers.
When the keg blew the best laid schemes of the mice and men at ATIC, they went the way best laid schemes are supposed to. The first one of the highly publicized Washington national sightings started, according to the CAA's logbook at the airport, at 11:40 P.M. on the night of July 19 when two radars at National Airport picked up eight unidentified targets east and south of Andrews AFB. The targets weren't airplanes because they would loaf along at 100 to 130 miles an hour then suddenly accelerate to "fantastically high speeds" and leave the area. During the night the crews of several airliners saw mysterious lights in the same locations that the radars showed the targets; tower operators also saw lights, and jet fighters were brought in.
But nobody bothered to tell Air Force Intelligence about the sighting. When reporters began to call intelligence and ask about the big sighting behind the headlines, INTERCEPTORS CHASE FLYING SAUCERS OVER WASHINGTON, D.C., they were told that no one had ever heard of such a sighting. In the next edition the headlines were supplemented by, AIR FORCE WON'T TALK.
Thus intelligence was notified about the first Washington national sighting.
I heard about the sighting about ten o'clock Monday morning when Colonel Donald Bower and I got off an airliner from Dayton and I bought a newspaper in the lobby of the Washington National Airport Terminal Building. I called the Pentagon from the airport and talked to Major Dewey Fournet, but all he knew was what he'd read in the
The Washington Merry-Go-Round.159
papers. He told me that he had called the intelligence officer at Bolling AFB and that he was making an investigation. We would get a preliminary official report by noon.
It was about 1:00 P.M. when Major Fournet called me and said that the intelligence officer from Bolling was in his office with the preliminary report on the sightings. I found Colonel Bower, we went up to Major Fournet's office and listened to the intelligence officer's briefing.
The officer started by telling us about the location of the radars involved in the incident. Washington National Airport, which is located about three miles south of the heart of the city, had two radars. One was a long-range radar in the Air Route Traffic Control section. This radar had 100 mile range and was used to control all air traffic approaching Washington. It was known as the ARTC radar. The control tower at National Airport had a shorter range radar that it used to control aircraft in the immediate vicinity of the airport. Boiling AFB, he said, was located just east of National Airport, across the Potomac River. Ten miles farther east, in almost a direct line with National and Bolling, was Andrews AFB. It also had a short-range radar. All of these airfields were linked together by an intercom system.
Then the intelligence officer went on to tell about the sighting.
When a new shift took over at the ARTC radar room at National Airport, the air traffic was light so only one man was watching the radarscope. The senior traffic controller and the six other traffic controllers on the shift were out of the room at eleven forty, when the man watching the radarscope noticed a group of seven targets appear. From their position on the scope he knew that they were just east and a little south of Andrews AFB. In a way the targets looked like a formation of slow airplanes, but no formations were due in the area. As he watched, the targets loafed along at 100 to 130 miles an hour; then in an apparent sudden burst of speed two of them streaked out of radar range. These were no airplanes, the man thought, so he let out a yell for the senior controller. The senior controller took one look at the scope and called in two more of the men. They all agreed that these were no airplanes. The targets could be caused by a malfunction in the radar, they thought, so a technician was called in - the set was in perfect working order.
The senior controller then called the control tower at National Airport; they reported that they also had unidentified targets on their scopes, so did Andrews. And both of the other radars reported the same slow speeds followed by a sudden burst of speed. One target was clocked at 7,000 miles an hour. By now the targets had moved into every sector of the
160.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
scope and had flown through the prohibited flying areas over the White House and the Capitol.
Several times during the night the targets passed close to commercial airliners in the area and on two occasions the pilots of the airliners saw lights that they couldn't identify, and the lights were in the same spots where the radar showed UFO's to be. Other pilots to whom the ARTC radar men talked on the radio didn't see anything odd, at least that's what they said, but the senior controller knew airline pilots and knew that they were very reluctant to report UFO's.
The first sighting of a light by an airline pilot took place shortly after midnight, when an ARTC controller called the pilot of a Capital Airlines flight just taking off from National. The controller asked the pilot to keep watch for unusual lights or anything. Soon after the pilot cleared the traffic pattern, and while ARTC was still in contact with him, he suddenly yelled, "There's one - off to the right - and there it goes." The controller had been watching the scope, and a target that had been off to the right of the Capitaliner was gone.
During the next fourteen minutes this pilot reported six more identical lights.
About two hours later another pilot, approaching National Airport from the south, excitedly called the control tower to report that a light was following him at "eight o'clock level." The tower checked their radar-scope and there was a target behind and to the left of the airliner. The ARTC radar also had the airliner and the UFO target. The UFO tagged along behind and to the left of the airliner until it was within four miles of touchdown on the runway. When the pilot reported the light was leaving, the two radarscopes showed that the target was pulling away from the airliner.
Once during the night all three radars, the two at Washington and the one at Andrews AFB, picked up a target three miles north of the Riverdale Radio beacon, north of Washington. For thirty seconds the three radar operators compared notes about the target over the intercom, then suddenly the target was gone - and it left all three radarscopes simultaneously.
But the clincher came in the wee hours of the morning, when an ARTC traffic controller called the control tower at Andrews AFB and told the tower operators that ARTC had a target just south of their tower, directly over the Andrews Radio range station. The tower operators looked and there was a "huge fiery orange sphere" hovering in the sky directly over their range station.
Not too long after this excitement had started, in fact just after the
The Washington Merry-Go-Round.161
technician had checked the radar and found that the targets weren't caused by a radar malfunction, ARTC had called for Air Force interceptors to come in and look around. But they didn't show, and finally ARTC called again - then again. Finally, just about daylight, an F-94 arrived, but by that time the targets were gone. The F-94 crew searched the area for a few minutes but they couldn't find anything unusual so they returned to their base.
So ended phase one of the Washington National Sightings.
The Bolling AFB intelligence officer said he would write up the complete report and forward it to ATIC.
That afternoon things bustled in the Pentagon. Down on the first floor Al Chop was doing his best to stave off the press while up on the fourth floor intelligence officers were holding some serious conferences. There was talk of temperature inversions and the false targets they could cause; but the consensus was that a good radar operator could spot inversion- caused targets, and the traffic controllers who operated the radar at Washington National Airport weren't just out of radar school. Every day the lives of thousands of people depended upon their interpretation of the radar targets they saw on their scopes. And you don't get a job like this unless you've spent a good many years watching a luminous line paint targets on a good many radarscopes. Targets caused by inversions aren't rare - in the years that these men had been working with radar they had undoubtedly seen every kind of target, real or false, that radar can detect. They had told the Bolling AFB intelligence officer that the targets they saw were caused by the radar waves' bouncing off a hard, solid object. The Air Force radar operator at Andrews backed them up; so did two veteran airline pilots who saw lights right where the radar showed a UFO to be.
Then on top of all this there were the reports from the Washington area during the previous two weeks - all good - all from airline pilots or equally reliable people.
To say the least, the sighting at Washington National was a jolt.
Besides trying to figure out what the Washington National UFO's were, we had the problem of what to tell the press. They were now beginning to put on a squeeze by threatening to call a congressman - and nothing chills blood faster in the military. They wanted some kind of an official statement and they wanted it soon. Some people in intelligence wanted to say just, "We don't know," but others held out for a more thorough investigation. I happened to be in this latter category. Many times in the past I had seen what first seemed to be a good UFO report completely fall apart under a thorough investigation. I was for stalling
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the press and working all night if necessary to go into every aspect of the sighting. But to go along with the theme of the Washington National Sightings - confusion - there was a lot of talk but no action and the afternoon passed with no further investigation.
Finally about 4:00 P.M. it was decided that the press, who still wanted an official comment, would get an official "No comment" and that I would stay in Washington and make a more detailed investigation.
I called Lieutenant Andy Flues, who was in charge of Project Blue Book while I was gone, to tell him that I was staying over and I found out that they were in a deluxe flap back in Dayton. Reports were pouring out of the teletype machines at the rate of thirty a day and many were as good, if not better, than the Washington incident. I talked this over with Colonel Bower and we decided that even though things were popping back at ATIC the Washington sighting, from the standpoint of national interest, was more important.
Feeling like a national martyr because I planned to work all night if necessary, I laid the course of my investigation. I would go to Washington National Airport, Andrews AFB, airlines offices, the weather bureau, and a half dozen other places scattered all over the capital city. I called the transportation section at the Pentagon to get a staff car but it took me only seconds to find out that the regulations said no staff cars except for senior colonels or generals. Colonel Bower tried - same thing. General Samford and General Garland were gone, so I couldn't get them to try to pressure a staff car out of the hillbilly who was dispatching vehicles. I went down to the finance office - could I rent a car and charge it as travel expense? No - city buses are available. But I didn't know the bus system and it would take me hours to get to all the places I had to visit, I pleaded. You can take a cab if you want to pay for it out of your per diem was the answer. Nine dollars a day per diem and I should pay for a hotel room, meals, and taxi fares all over the District of Columbia. Besides, the lady in finance told me, my travel orders to Washington covered only a visit to the Pentagon. In addition, she said, I was supposed to be on my way back to Dayton right now, and if I didn't go through all the red tape of getting the orders amended I couldn't collect any per diem and technically I'd be AWOL. I couldn't talk to the finance officer, the lady informed me, because he always left at 4:30 to avoid the traffic and it was now exactly five o'clock and she was quitting.
At five one I decided that if saucers were buzzing Pennsylvania Avenue in formation I couldn't care less. I called Colonel Bower, explained my troubles, and said that I was through. He concurred, and I caught the next airliner to Dayton.
The Washington Merry-Go-Round.163
When I returned I dropped in to see Captain Roy James in the radar branch and told him about the sighting. He said that he thought it sounded as if the radar targets had been caused by weather but since he didn't have the finer details he naturally couldn't make any definite evaluation.
The good UFO reports that Lieutenant Flues had told me about when I called him from Washington had tripled in number before I got around to looking at them. Our daily take had risen to forty a day, and about a third of them were classified as unknowns.
More amber red lights like those seen on July 18 had been observed over the Guided Missile Long Range Proving Ground at Patrick AFB, Florida. In Uvalde, Texas, a UFO described as "a large, round, silver object that spun on its vertical axis" was seen to cross 100 degrees of afternoon sky in forty eight seconds. During part of its flight it passed between two towering cumulus clouds. At Los Alamos and Holyoke, Massachusetts, jets had chased UFO's.
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