In both cases the UFO's had been lost as they turned into the sun.
In two night encounters, one in New Jersey and one in Massachusetts, F-94's tried unsuccessfully to intercept unidentified lights reported by the Ground Observer Corps. In both cases the pilots of the radar nosed jet interceptors saw a light; they closed in and their radar operators got a lock-on. But the lock-ons were broken in a few seconds, in both cases, as the light apparently took violent evasive maneuvers.
Copies of these and other reports were going to the Pentagon, and I was constantly on the phone or having teleconferences with Major Fournet.
When the second Washington National Sighting came along, almost a week to the hour from the first one, by a stroke of luck things weren't too fouled up. The method of reporting the sighting didn't exactly follow the official reporting procedures that are set forth in Air Force Letter 200-5, dated 5 April 1952, Subject: Reporting of Unidentified Flying Objects - but it worked.
I first heard about the sighting about ten o'clock in the evening when I received a telephone call from Bob Ginna, Life magazine's UFO expert. He had gotten the word from Life's Washington News Bureau and wanted a statement about what the Air Force planned to do. I decided that instead of giving a mysterious "no comment" I would tell the truth: "I have no idea what the Air Force is doing; in all probability it's doing nothing." When he hung up, I called the intelligence duty officer in the Pentagon and I was correct, intelligence hadn't heard about the sighting. I asked the duty officer to call Major Fournet and ask him if he would go out to the airport, which was only two or three miles from his home. When
164.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
he got the call from the duty officer Major Fournet called Lieutenant Holcomb; they drove to the ARTC radar room at National Airport and found Al Chop already there. So at this performance the UFO's had an official audience; Al Chop, Major Dewey Fournet, and Lieutenant Holcomb, a Navy electronics specialist assigned to the Air Force Directorate of Intelligence, all saw the radar targets and heard the radio conversations as jets tried to intercept the UFO's.
Being in Dayton, 380 miles away, there wasn't much that I could do, but I did call Captain Roy James thinking possibly he might want to talk on the phone to the people who were watching the UFO's on the radarscopes. But Captain James has a powerful dislike for UFO's- especially on Saturday night.
About five o'clock Sunday morning Major Fournet called and told me the story of the second sighting at Washington National Airport:
About 10:30 P.M. on July 26 the same radar operators who had seen the UFO's the week before picked up several of the same slow moving targets. This time the mysterious craft, if that is what they were, were spread out in an arc around Washington from Herndon, Virginia, to Andrews AFB. This time there was no hesitation in following the targets. The minute they appeared on the big 24 inch radarscope one of the controllers placed a plastic marker representing an unidentified target near each blip on the scope. When all the targets had been carefully marked, one of the controllers called the tower and the radar station at Andrews AFB - they also had the unknown targets.
By 11:30 P.M. four or five of the targets were continually being tracked at all times, so once again a call went out for jet interceptors. Once again there was some delay, but by midnight two F-94's from New Castle County AFB were airborne and headed south. The reporters and photographers were asked to leave the radar room on the pretext that classified radio frequencies and procedures were being used in vectoring the interceptors. All civilian air traffic was cleared out of the area and the jets moved in.
When I later found out that the press had been dismissed on the grounds that the procedures used in an intercept were classified, I knew that this was absurd because any ham radio operator worth his salt could build equipment and listen in on any intercept. The real reason for the press dismissal, I learned, was that not a few people in the radar room were positive that this night would be the big night in UFO history - the night when a pilot would close in on and get a good look at a UFO and they didn't want the press to be in on it.
But just as the two '94's arrived in the area the targets disappeared
The Washington Merry-Go-Round.165
from the radarscopes. The two jets were vectored into the areas where the radar had shown the last target plots, but even though the visibility was excellent they could see nothing. The two airplanes stayed around a few minutes more, made a systematic search of the area, but since they still couldn't see anything or pick up anything on their radars they returned to their base.
A few minutes after the F-94's left the Washington area, the unidentified targets were back on the radarscopes in that same area.
What neither Major Fournet nor I knew at this time was that a few minutes after the targets left the radarscopes in Washington people in the area around Langley AFB near Newport News, Virginia, began to call Langley Tower to report that they were looking at weird bright lights that were "rotating and giving off alternating colors." A few minutes after the calls began to come in, the tower operators themselves saw the same or a similar light and they called for an interceptor.
An F-94 in the area was contacted and visually vectored to the light by the tower operators. The F-94 saw the light and started toward it, but suddenly it went out, "like somebody turning off a light bulb." The F-94 crew continued their run and soon got a radar lock-on, but it was broken in a few seconds as the target apparently sped away. The fighter stayed in the area for several more minutes and got two more lock-ons, only to have them also broken after a few seconds.
A few minutes after the F-94 over Newport News had the last lock-on broken, the targets came back on the scopes at Washington National.
With the targets back at Washington the traffic controller again called Defense Command, and once again two F-94's roared south toward Washington. This time the targets stayed on the radarscopes when the airplanes arrived.
The controllers vectored the jets toward group after group of targets, but each time, before the jets could get close enough to see anything more than just a light, the targets had sped away. Then one stayed put. The pilot saw a light right where the ARTC radar said a target was located; he cut in the F-94's afterburner and went after it, but just like the light that the F-94 had chased near Langley AFB, this one also disappeared. All during the chase the radar operator in the F-94 was trying to get the target on his set but he had no luck.
After staying in the area about twenty minutes, the jets began to run low on fuel and returned to their base. Minutes later it began to get light, and when the sun came up all the targets were gone.
Early Sunday morning, in an interview with the press, the Korean veteran who piloted the F-94, Lieutenant William Patterson, said:
166.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
I tried to make contact with the bogies below 1,000 feet, but they [the radar controllers] vectored us around. I saw several bright lights. I was at my maximum speed, but even then I had no closing speed. I ceased chasing them because I saw no chance of overtaking them. I was vectored into new objects. Later I chased a single bright light which I estimated about 10 miles away. I lost visual contact with it about 2 miles.
When Major Fournet finished telling me about the night's activity, my first question was, "How about the radar targets, could they have been caused by weather?"
I knew that Lieutenant Holcomb was a sharp electronics man and that Major Fournet, although no electronics specialist, was a crackerjack engineer, so their opinion meant a lot.
Dewey said that everybody in the radar room was convinced that the targets were very probably caused by solid metallic objects. There had been weather targets on the scope too, he said, but these were common to the Washington area and the controllers were paying no attention to them.
And this something solid could poke along at 100 miles an hour or outdistance a jet, I thought to myself.
I didn't ask Dewey any more because he'd been up all night and wanted to get to bed.
Monday morning Major Ed Gregory, another intelligence officer at ATIC, and I left for Washington, but our flight was delayed in Dayton so we didn't arrive until late afternoon. On the way through the terminal building to get a cab downtown, I picked up the evening papers. Every headline was about the UFO's:
FIERY OBJECTS OUTRUN JETS OVER CAPITAL - INVESTIGATION VEILED IN SECRECY FOLLOWING VAIN CHASE
JETS ALERTED FOR SAUCER - INTERCEPTORS CHASE LIGHTS IN D.C. SKIES
EXPERT HERE TO PUSH STUDY AS OBJECTS IN SKIES REPORTED AGAIN
I jokingly commented about wondering who the expert was. In a half hour I found out - I was. When Major Gregory and I walked into the lobby of the Roger Smith Hotel to check in, reporters and photographers rose from the easy chairs and divans like a covey of quail. They wanted
The Washington Merry-Go-Round.167
my secrets, but I wasn't going to tell nor would I pose for pictures while I wasn't telling anything. Newspaper reporters are a determined lot, but Greg ran interference and we reached the elevator without even a "no comment."
The next day was one of confusion. After the first Washington sighting the prevailing air in the section of the Pentagon's fourth floor, which is occupied by Air Force Intelligence, could be described as excitement, but this day it was confusion. There was a maximum of talk and a minimum of action. Everyone agreed that both sightings should be thoroughly investigated, but nobody did anything. Major Fournet and I spent the entire morning "just leaving" for somewhere to investigate "something." Every time we would start to leave, something more pressing would come up.
About 10:00 A.M. the President's air aide, Brigadier General Landry, called intelligence at President Truman's request to find out what was going on. Somehow I got the call. I told General Landry that the radar target could have been caused by weather but that we had no proof.
To add to the already confused situation, new UFO reports were coming in hourly. We kept them quiet mainly because we weren't able to investigate them right away, or even confirm the facts. And we wanted to confirm the facts because some of the reports, even though they were from military sources, were difficult to believe.
Prior to the Washington sightings in only a very few of the many instances in which radar had picked up UFO targets had the targets themselves supposedly been seen visually. Radar experts had continually pointed out this fact to us as an indication that maybe all of the radar targets were caused by freak weather conditions. "If people had just seen a light, or an object, near where the radar showed the UFO target to be, you would have a lot more to worry about," radar technicians had told me many times.
Now people were seeing the same targets that the radars were picking up, and not just at Washington.
On the same night as the second Washington sighting we had a really good report from California. An ADC radar had picked up an unidentified target and an F-94C had been scrambled. The radar vectored the jet interceptor into the target, the radar operator in the '94 locked-on to it, and as the airplane closed in the pilot and RO saw that they were headed directly toward a large, yellowish orange light. For several minutes they played tag with the UFO. Both the radar on the ground and the radar in the F-94 showed that as soon as the airplane would get almost within gunnery range of the UFO it would suddenly pull away
168.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
at a terrific speed. Then in a minute or two it would slow down enough to let the F-94 catch it again.
When I talked to the F-94 crew on the phone, the pilot said that they felt as if this were just a big aerial cat-and-mouse game - and they didn't like it - at any moment they thought the cat might have pounced.
Needless to say, this was an unknown.
About midmorning on Tuesday, July 29th, Major General John Samford sent word down that he would hold a press conference that afternoon in an attempt to straighten out the UFO situation with the press.
Donald Keyhoe reports on the press conference and the events leading up to it in detail in his book, Flying Saucers from Outer Space. He indicates that before the conference started, General Samford sat behind his big walnut desk in Room 3A138 in the Pentagon and battled with his conscience. Should he tell the public "the real truth" - that our skies are loaded with spaceships? No, the public might panic. The only answer would be to debunk the UFO's.
This bit of reporting makes Major Keyhoe the greatest journalist in history. This beats wire tapping. He reads minds. And not only that, he can read them right through the walls of the Pentagon. But I'm glad that Keyhoe was able to read the General's mind and that he wrote the true and accurate facts about what he was really thinking because I spent quite a bit of time talking to the General that day and he sure fooled me. I had no idea he was worried about what he should tell the public.
When the press conference, which was the largest and longest the Air Force had held since World War II, convened at 4:00 P.M., General Samford made an honest effort to straighten out the Washington National Sightings, but the cards were stacked against him before he started. He had to hedge on many answers to questions from the press because he didn't know the answers. This hedging gave the impression that he was trying to cover up something more than just the fact that his people had fouled up in not fully investigating the sightings. Then he had brought in Captain Roy James from ATIC to handle all the queries about radar. James didn't do any better because he'd just arrived in Washington that morning and didn't know very much more about the sightings than he'd read in the papers. Major Dewey Fournet and Lieutenant Holcomb, who had been at the airport during the sightings, were extremely conspicuous by their absence, especially since it was common knowledge among the press that they weren't convinced the UFO's picked up on radars were weather targets.
But somehow out of this chaotic situation came exactly the result
The Washington Merry-Go-Round.169
that was intended - the press got off our backs. Captain James's answers about the possibility of the radar targets' being caused by temperature inversions had been construed by the press to mean that this was the Air Force's answer, even though today the twin sightings are still carried as unknowns.
The next morning headlines from Bangor to Bogota read:
AIR FORCE DEBUNKS SAUCERS AS JUST NATURAL PHENOMENA
The Washington National Sightings proved one thing, something that many of us already knew: in order to forestall any more trouble similar to what we'd just been through we always had to get all of the facts and not try to hide them. A great deal of the press's interest was caused by the Air Force's reluctance to give out any information, and the reluctance on the part of the Air Force was caused by simply not having gone out to find the answers.
But had someone gone out and made a more thorough investigation a few big questions would have popped up and taken some of the intrigue out of the two reports. It took me a year to put the question marks together because I just picked up the information as I happened to run across it, but it could have been collected in a day of concentrated effort.
There was some doubt about the visual sighting of the "large fiery-orange-colored sphere" that the tower operators at Andrews AFB saw when the radar operators at National Airport told them they had a target over the Andrews Radio range station. When the tower operators were later interrogated they completely changed their story and said that what they saw was merely a star. They said that on the night of the sighting they "had been excited." (According to astronomical charts, there were no exceptionally bright stars where the UFO was seen over the range station, however. And I heard from a good source that the tower men had been "persuaded" a bit.)
Then the pilot of the F-94C changed his mind even after he'd given the press and later told me his story about vainly trying to intercept unidentified lights. In an official report he says that all he saw was a ground light reflecting off a layer of haze.
Another question mark arose about the lights that the airline pilots saw. Months after the sighting I heard from one of the pilots whom the ARTC controllers called to learn if he could see a UFO. This man's background was also impressive, he had been flying in and out of Washington since 1936. This is what he had to say:
The most outstanding incident happened just after a take-off one night from Washington National. The tower man advised us that there was
170.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
a UFO ahead of us on the take-off path and asked if we would aid in tracking it down. We were given headings to follow and shortly we were advised that we had passed the UFO and would be given a new heading. None of us in the cockpit had seen anything unusual. Several runs were made; each time the tower man advised us we were passing the UFO we noticed that we were over one certain section of the Potomac River, just east of Alexandria. Finally we were asked to visually check the terrain below for anything which might cause such an illusion. We looked and the only object we could see where the radar had a target turned out to be the Wilson Lines moonlight steamboat trip to Mount Vernon. Whether there was an altitude gimmick on the radar unit at the time I do not know but the radar was sure as hell picking up the steamboat.
The pilot went on to say that there is such a conglomeration of lights around the Washington area that no matter where you look you see a ''mysterious light.''
Then there was another point: although the radars at Washington National and Andrews overlap, and many of the targets appeared in the overlap area, only once did the three radars simultaneously pick up a target.
The investigation brought out a few more points on the pro side too. We found out that the UFO's frequently visited Washington. On May 23 fifty targets had been tracked from 8:00 P.M. till midnight. They were back on the Wednesday night between the two famous Saturday night sightings, the following Sunday night, and again the night of the press conference; then during August they were seen eight more times. On several occasions military and civilian pilots saw lights exactly where the radar showed the UFO's to be.
On each night that there was a sighting there was a temperature inversion but it was never strong enough to affect the radar the way inversions normally do. On each occasion I checked the strength of the inversion according to the methods used by the Air Defense Command Weather Forecast Center.
Then there was another interesting fact: hardly a night passed in June, July, and August in 1952 that there wasn't an inversion in Washington, yet the slow moving, "solid" radar targets appeared on only a few nights.
But the one big factor on the pro side of the question is the people involved - good radar men - men who deal in human lives. Each day they use their radar to bring thousands of people into Washington National Airport and with a responsibility like this they should know a real target from a weather target.
So the Washington National Airport Sightings are still unknowns.
Had the press been aware of some of the other UFO activity in the
The Washington Merry-Go-Round.171
United States during this period, the Washington sightings might not have been the center of interest. True, they could be classed as good reports but they were not the best that we were getting. In fact, less than six hours after the ladies and gentlemen of the press said "Thank you" to General Samford for his press conference, and before the UFO's could read the newspapers and find out that they were natural phenomena, one of them came down across the Canadian border into Michigan. The incident that occurred that night was one of those that even the most ardent skeptic would have difficulty explaining. I've heard a lot of them try and I've heard them all fail.
At nine forty on the evening of the twenty-ninth an Air Defense Command radar station in central Michigan started to get plots on a target that was coming straight south across Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron at 625 miles an hour. A quick check of flight plans on file showed that it was an unidentified target.
Three F-94's were in the area just northeast of the radar station, so the ground controller called one of the F-94's and told the pilot to intercept the unidentified target. The F-94 pilot started climbing out of the practice area on an intercept heading that the ground controller gave him. When the F-94 was at 20,000 feet, the ground controller told the pilot to turn to the right and he would be on the target. The pilot started to bring the F-94 around and at that instant both he and the radar operator in the back seat saw that they were turning toward a large bluish white light, "many times larger than a star." In the next second or two the light "took on a reddish tinge, and slowly began to get smaller, as if it were moving away." Just then the ground controller called and said that he still had both the F-94 and the unidentified target on his scope and that the target had just made a tight 180 degree turn. The turn was too tight for a jet, and at the speed the target was traveling it would have to be a jet if it were an airplane. Now the target was heading back north. The F-94 pilot gave the engine full power and cut in the afterburner to give chase. The radar operator in the back seat got a good radar lock-on. Later he said, "It was just as solid a lock-on as you get from a B-36." The object was at 4 miles range and the F-94 was closing slowly. For thirty seconds they held the lock-on; then, just as the ground controller was telling the pilot that he was closing in, the light became brighter and the object pulled away to break the lock-on. Without breaking his transmission, the ground controller asked if the radar operator still had the lock-on because on the scope the distance between two blips had almost doubled in one sweep of the antenna. This indicated that the unknown target had almost doubled its speed in a matter of seconds.
172.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
For ten minutes the ground radar followed the chase. At times the unidentified target would slow down and the F-94 would start to close the gap, but always, just as the F-94 was getting within radar range, the target would put on a sudden burst of speed and pull away from the pursuing jet. The speed of the UFO - for by this time all concerned had decided that was what it was - couldn't be measured too accurately because its bursts of speed were of such short duration; but on several occasions the UFO traveled about 4 miles in one ten second sweep of the antenna, or about 1,400 miles an hour.
The F-94 was getting low on fuel, and the pilot had to break off the chase a minute or two before the UFO got out of range of the ground radar. The last few plots on the UFO weren't too good but it looked as if the target slowed down to 200 to 300 miles an hour as soon as the F-94 turned around.
What was it? It obviously wasn't a balloon or a meteor. It might have been another airplane except that in 1952 there was nothing flying, except a few experimental airplanes that were far from Michigan, that could so easily outdistance an F-94. Then there was the fact that radar clocked it at 1,400 miles an hour. The F-94 was heading straight for the star Capella, which is low on the horizon and is very brilliant, but what about the radar contacts? Some people said "Weather targets," but the chances of a weather target's making a 180 degree turn just as an airplane turns into it, giving a radar lock-on, then changing speed to stay just out of range of the airplane's radar, and then slowing down when the airplane leaves is as close to nil as you can get.
What was it? A lot of people I knew were absolutely convinced this report was the key - the final proof. Even if all of the thousands of other UFO reports could be discarded on a technicality, this one couldn't be. These people believed that this report in itself was proof enough to officially accept the fact that UFO's were interplanetary spaceships. And when some people refused to believe even this report, the frustration was actually pitiful to see.
As the end of July approached, there was a group of officers in intelligence fighting hard to get the UFO "recognized." At ATIC, Project Blue Book was still trying to be impartial - but sometimes it was difficult.
Hoax or Horror?
To the military and the public who weren't intimately associated with the higher levels of Air Force Intelligence during the summer of 1952 - and few were - General Samford's press conference seemed to indicate the peak in official interest in flying saucers. It did take the pressure off Project Blue Book - reports dropped from fifty per day to ten a day inside of a week - but behind the scenes the press conference was only the signal for an all out drive to find out more about the UFO. Work on the special cameras continued on a high priority basis, and General Samford directed us to enlist the aid of top ranking scientists.
During the past four months we had collected some 750 comparatively well documented reports, and we hoped that something in these reports might give us a good lead on the UFO. My orders were to tell the scientists to whom we talked that the Air Force was officially still very much interested in the UFO and that their assistance, even if it was only in giving us ideas and comments on the reports, was badly needed. Although the statement of the problem was worded much more loosely, in essence it was, "Do the UFO reports we have collected indicate that the earth is being visited by a people from another planet?"
Such questions had been asked of the scientists before, but not in such a serious vein.
Then a secondary program was to be started, one of "educating" the military. The old idea that UFO reports would die out when the thrill wore off had long been discarded. We all knew that UFO reports would continue to come in and that in order to properly evaluate them we had to have every shred of evidence. The Big Flap had shown us that our chances of getting a definite answer on a sighting was directly proportional to the quality of the information we received from the intelligence officers in the field.
But soon after the press conference we began to get wires from intelligence officers saying they had interpreted the newspaper accounts of General Samford's press conference to mean that we were no longer interested in UFO reports. A few other intelligence officers had evidently
174.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
also misinterpreted the general's remarks because their reports of excellent sightings were sloppy and incomplete. All of this was bad, so to forestall any misconceived ideas about the future of the Air Force's UFO project, summaries of General Samford's press conference were distributed to intelligence officers. General Samford had outlined the future of the UFO project when he'd said:
"So our present course of action is to continue on this problem with the best of our ability, giving it the attention that we feel it very definitely warrants. We will give it adequate attention, but not frantic attention."
The summary of the press conference straightened things out to some extent and our flow of reports got back to normal.
I was anxious to start enlisting the aid of scientists, as General Samford had directed, but before this could be done we had a backlog of UFO reports that had to be evaluated. During July we had been swamped and had picked off only the best ones. Some of the reports we were working on during August had simple answers, but many were unknowns. There was one report that was of special interest because it was an excellent example of how a UFO report can at first appear to be absolutely insoluble then suddenly fall apart under thorough investigation. It also points up the fact that our investigation and analysis were thorough and that when we finally stamped a report "Unknown" it was unknown. We weren't infallible but we didn't often let a clue slip by.
At exactly ten forty five on the morning of August 1, 1952, an ADC radar near Bellefontaine, Ohio, picked up a high speed unidentified target moving southwest, just north of Dayton. Two F-86's from the 97th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Wright-Patterson were scrambled and in a few minutes they were climbing out toward where the radar showed the UFO to be. The radar didn't' have any height finding equipment so all that the ground controller at the radar site could do was to get the two F-86's over or under the target, and then they would have to find it visually.
When the two airplanes reached 30,000 feet, the ground controller called them and told them that they were almost on the target, which was still continuing its southwesterly course at about 525 miles an hour. In a few seconds the ground controller called back and told the lead pilot that the targets of his airplane and the UFO had blended on the radar scope and that the pilot would have to make a visual search; this was as close in as radar could get him. Then the radar broke down and went off the air.
But at almost that exact second the lead pilot looked up and there in the clear blue sky several thousand feet above him was a silver colored
175. Hoax or Horror?
sphere. The lead pilot pointed it out to his wing man and both of them started to climb. They went to their maximum altitude but they couldn't reach the UFO. After ten minutes of unsuccessful attempts to identify the huge silver sphere or disk - because at times it looked like a disk - one of the pilots hauled the nose of his F-86 up in a stall and exposed several feet of gun camera film. Just as he did this the warning light on his radar gun sight blinked on, indicating that something solid was in front of him - he wasn't photographing a sundog, hallucination, or refracted light.
The two pilots broke off the intercept and started back to Wright- Patterson when they suddenly realized that they were still northwest of the base, in almost the same location they had been when they started the intercept ten minutes before. The UFO had evidently slowed down from the speed that the radar had measured, 525 miles an hour, until it was hovering almost completely motionless.
As soon as the pilots were on the ground, the magazine of film from the gun camera was rushed to the photo lab and developed. The photos showed only a round, indistinct blob - no details - but they were proof that some type of unidentified flying object had been in the air north of Dayton.
Lieutenant Andy Flues was assigned to this one. He checked the locations of balloons and found out that a 20-foot-diameter radiosonde weather balloon from Wright-Patterson had been very near the area when the unsuccessful intercept took place, but the balloon wasn't traveling 525 miles an hour and it couldn't be picked up by the ground radar, so he investigated further. The UFO couldn't have been another airplane because airplanes don't hover in one spot and it was no atmospheric phenomenon.
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 |