(Typewriter clicks and slide) The summer of 1952 had the greatest wave of UFO
sightings since the first flying saucers of the late 1940s, and the Air Force was under mounting
pressure to produce an explanation. Then, for two nights in July, a group of UFOs entered restricted airspace over Washington D.C.
and triggered a media frenzy. The public reaction to the Washington sightings proved that the global fascination with UFOs would not go away, and prompted the Air Force
to retreat from its responsibility to answer to the public on this enduring mystery. (Typewriter clicks and slide) Project Blue Book, the UFO investigation
group of the US Air Force, received reports in record numbers
in the summer of 1952. Ominously, an unnamed scientist told
Blue Book Director, Edward Ruppelt, that he would see “the granddaddy
of all UFO sightings” in a few days, and that it would “probably” occur in Washington. A few days later, it happened. Around 11:40 on the night of July 19, 1952,
a radar operator at Washington National Airport began tracking eight uncorrelated targets southeast
of Andrews Air Force Base, moving 160 to 210 kph. Suddenly, two of them darted off at tremendous speed,
with one being clocked at over 11,000 kph. Another operator corroborated the reading
from a second radar at the airport. The operators contacted
Andrews Air Force base in Maryland where it was found that flight controllers there were
tracking the same targets on their radar scope. They also saw three tailed, orange lights
from their tower, moving erratically. Later in the morning, the tower operators
at Andrews saw a “huge fiery-orange sphere” hanging over their radio range station that
controllers at national were tracking on radar. The three radar stations continued to
track 8 to 10 targets over the next 6 hours, though they didn’t always track
the same objects simultaneously. At one point, however, all three radar stations
tracked a target north of Washington, discussed it over the intercom, then watched it
disappear from all their screens at the exact same time. The objects entered prohibited air space over
the White House and the Capitol building, though they exhibited no hostile intentions,
and moved with no apparent purpose. They seemed to move more frequently
when there were aircraft around, however. Airline pilots also saw strange lights that night. At one point, both radar controllers at National Airport tracked a target that an incoming pilot had seen from
his cockpit at precisely the location indicated on radar. The operators watched the target move on radar at
exactly the same time that the pilot saw it speed away. The same pilot saw six more
identical lights in the next 14 minutes. Two hours later, another pilot
reported a light trailing his plane. The object was also seen on radar at National airport, and when it left the plane’s side,
it moved on radar as well. Jet fighters were requested
several times for an intercept. Unfortunately, by the time that one arrived,
after the third request, the objects had already disappeared, and the pilot
was never able to see the objects from his cockpit. (Typewriter clicks and slide) The sightings made front page headlines,
and quickly became the biggest news story in the U.S. They caused a stir at the Pentagon as well. Even President Truman had requested an explanation. Eventually, intelligence decided that
Ruppelt perform an investigation. However, he was denied a car and any
travel reimbursements from the Air Force, and was required to report
back to Wright Patterson Base before he could interview all the
witnesses around Washington. For a week, new reports were pouring in
to Blue Book at a rate of 30 or 40 a day. Then, the targets returned on radar. Around 10:30pm on July 26, the same radar controllers at both National Airport
and Andrews Air force Base tracked the targets as they were spread out
in a semi-circle around Washington. All reporters and photographers
were cleared out of the radar room as controllers requested an intercept around 11:30 p.m. But once again, the jets arrived too late,
and the targets disappeared. At this point, people around Newport News, Virginia called in to report strange,
spinning lights of alternating colours. Tower operators at Langley Air Force base then
saw a similar light, and called for an interceptor, which also saw the light before it suddenly disappeared, “like somebody turning off a light bulb,”
in the pilot’s words. Several times after this the pilot was
able to lock-on to the target on radar, but the object consistently darted away
before he ever got a close inspection. Before sunrise, the objects reappeared on the radar
scopes at Washington National, and the F-94s returned. Though the targets remained on radar this time, they
repeatedly disappeared from view around 3 km away, before the pilots could see
anything more than a point of light. The jets’ radar operators were not able to
track the targets on their radar screens. They gave up the chase just before dawn,
and the objects never reappeared. (Typewriter clicks and slide) The second night of sightings made
front-page headlines once again, and the media demanded an explanation. Ruppelt claimed that he nearly incited
a riot amongst members of the press when he refused to comment on the
sightings at a hotel lobby in Washington. New UFO reports came in by the hour, and Ruppelt even received a call from the
President’s aide wondering what was going on. Under pressure, the Air Force held a
press conference at the Pentagon on July 29, just three days after the second incident. It was one of the largest and longest lasting
press conferences in American history, and the largest since World War II. Here, Major General John Samford discussed
the lingering unknowns in the Blue Book files, and suggested the visual sightings
were misidentified stars or meteors. Samford: 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 now are attempting to resolve. We have, as of date, come to only one firm conclusion with respect to this remaining percentage, and that is that it does not
contain any pattern of purpose or of consistency that we can relate to any
conceivable threat to the United States. Narrator: He then introduced technical
intelligence Captain Roy James to suggest the possibility that the radar returns
were generated by a temperature inversion, a common meteorological phenomenon that
caused radar waves to bend downwards and pick up objects on the ground. Strangely the General then gives airtime to
Donald Keyhoe, fiction writer, ufologist, and intense critic of the Air Force,
to explain that UFOs were really alien spaceships. Keyhoe: With all due respect to the Air force, I believe that some of them will
prove to be of interplanetary origin. During a three-year investigation I found that many pilots
have described objects of substance and high speed. One case: pilots reported their plane was buffeted
by an object which passed them at 500 miles an hour. Obviously, this was a solid object
that I believe was from outer space. Narrator: The conference succeeded in
satisfying media curiosity, but to the Air Force, the lead-up was a demonstration
in the dangers of public hysteria. The volume of UFO reports at the time
of the Washington sightings was so great that some intelligent officials
feared that the UFO phenomenon could be exploited to overwhelm military channels
of communication during an enemy invasion. As a precaution, the Air Force
introduced some new policies aimed at diminishing the public’s
fascination with unidentified flying objects. Air Force Regulation 200-2, for example, stripped Blue Book of its investigative function,
and classified all radar scope photographs of UFOs. It also prevented officers from discussing any cases
for which they could not already provide an explanation. The CIA also did their part to delegitimize the UFO
phenomenon by assembling the Robertson Panel, a team of scientists who watched
three days of presentations and ruled that UFO research was
scientifically without merit. The panel delivered a secret report that almost perfectly
mirrored the CIA’s own objectives on the UFO issue, including the desire to debunk more sightings and reduce public interest through
education and entertainment media. Hynek: I came away from the meeting and
from the room with the distinct feeling, however, that the panel had deliberately
moved to debunk the whole subject, and not to give it the serious
scientific attention which it deserved. (Typewriter clicks and slide) Narrator: None of the radar operators agreed
with the temperature inversion explanation. Temperature inversions occurred
almost every day that summer, but never before or after had
they caused these sightings. Weather-related targets are often amorphous
and inconsistent, but on the second night, sharp and distinct targets had been
tracked continuously for almost two hours. Technicians confirmed during the sightings
that the radar units were not malfunctioning. The radar operators at both airports all insisted that the targets were caused by the radar waves
bouncing off of solid, probably metallic, objects. But none of them were willing to
speak out against the official explanation. Ruppelt also had good reason to believe
that the tower operators at Andrews had been “convinced” to drop their story of a fiery,
orange sphere over the radio range station. One of the F-94 pilots also changed
his story after talking to Ruppelt, and wrote in an official report that he’d only
seen lights reflected off a layer of haze. Even the Air Force did not seem
to believe its own explanation, as the official Blue Book files list the two
Washington sightings as unknown. At least one pilot was convinced that the radars
had been tracking a steamboat on the Potomac river. It’s also suspicious that although many
of the objects appeared in the areas where the Washington National
and Andrews’ radar scopes overlap, rarely did all three stations pick up the same target. Still, many of the other reports
that poured in that summer were even more compelling
than those from Washington. The night of the second sighting,
a similar incident occurred in California: another F-94 there got within visual range
of a large, yellowish-orange light that darted away at tremendous speed
every time the F-94 got near weapons’ range. The night of the conference, a target
appeared on a radar screen in Michigan, and an F-94 went out to intercept. The pilot and his radar operator chased
a large ball of light that changed colours, shrank in size, and made rapid changes of speed. Both the jet and ground radar tracked its movements. (Typewriter clicks and slide) The sightings over Washington D.C. in 1952
were one of the best early examples of multiple witness sightings that were also correlated
with targets on multiple, independent radar units. It was one of many radar cases in the Blue Book
archives that the Air Force explicitly denied having. Interviewer: Has there ever been
a report of a flying saucer, Captain, that was translated into hard information,
right here; a plot on the board in this room? Capt. Reese: These sightings
have never been substantiated and could not be translated
into hard radar return figures. Narrator: Whatever the U.S. Air Force
really knew about UFOs, their public stance on the issue changed
dramatically after the Washington sightings. Project Blue Book was slowly
turned into a public relations front, and the Air Force became more active
in their effort to debunk UFOs and downplay the importance of
investigating sighting reports. The Washington sightings were among the last great
cases before UFOs stopped making national news, and before the Air Force stopped treating
them as matters of public concern. (Typewriter click) (Sources listed in the video description.)