- By 1952 the Air Force was in "full debunking mode,"
and that summer would offer a grandiose example of how far the Air Force
would go to explain away the Flying Saucer (UFO) Phenomenon.
- Common folk (those "mildly" knowledgeable about
UFOs) have often said, "If they are from another planet, why don't
they just land on the Whitehouse lawn?" Ironically, in July of 1952
they came very close to doing just that!
- The headline of the Washington Post's Final Edition of
July 28th, 1952 declared, "'Saucer' Out Ran Jet, Pilot Reveals."
The article went on to reveal a "secret military investigation"
of what were described as "glowing aerial objects" that were
appearing on radar screens in the Washington area for the second consecutive
week. Pilots sent up by the ADC (Air Defense Command) reported that they
were unable to overtake the UFOs that were near Andrews Air Force Base.
- The Air Force's official response was that they were
investigating the incidents and that it was classified as "secret."
They further stated, "we have no evidence they are "flying saucers";
conversely we have no evidence they are not "flying saucers."
We don't know what they are."
- To be clear, the UFOs were not just "blips on a
screen" they were simultaneously witnessed from the ground as well
as from the air (radar/visual sightings) by the pilots pursuing them in
addition to civilian airline pilots.
- In an interview with "The Alexandria Gazette,"
James Ritchy, an "air traffic controller and radar specialist"
for The Washington Air Traffic Control Center said, "These objects
were about 30 miles from the airport when we first made contact with them.
We spotted 12 objects, and judged that they were moving in a southeasterly
direction at a speed of about 40 mph . . .. The Air Force sent some jet
planes up to investigate, and we would help 'vector' the pilots toward
the objects . . ..
- When we 'vector' a plane onto an object, we are in radar
contact with both the object and the plane, and also in radio contact with
the pilot of the plane. We keep telling the pilot how to turn to approach
the object until he makes a sighting. The first jet pilot to go out Saturday
night reported that he sighted a steady white light that appeared to be
about 10 miles distant. When we tried to draw closer, it just disappeared
. . ..
- A commercial pilot got much closer to one of the objects,
and reported to us that he sighted a yellow light that appeared to turn
red and then yellow again. He reported to us that the object appeared to
be about two miles away and the flying parallel with him.
- Radar confirmed that he was between two and three miles
from the object.
- A third pilot sighted two bluish lights and later five
more white lights. Our radar continued to show unidentified objects through
the night, until 6 a.m. the next morning, but the pilots did not get closer
- The pursuit planes used were F-94s with a top speed of
600 mph. The targets (UFOs) were tracked at speeds as slow as 90 mph and
faster then that of their pursuers. (Substantially faster, as when planes
approached in some instances, the UFOs would simply disappear from radar-presumably
retreating faster then it took the "radar antenna" to make a
- As one might imagine, since this was an ongoing phenomenon
(for two weeks) and it was taking place near the nation's capitol, it created
quite a hubbub! With telegrams, phone calls and letters by the thousands
pouring into the Pentagon, as well as pressure from the constituents of
local Congressman, and topping it off with a lot of noise from the media;
the powers-that-be needed to do something, and quickly! That something
ended up initiating "the largest press conference held since the end
of the Second World War."
- On July 29th at 4:00 pm in the conference room at the
Pentagon, Major General John A. Samford, Director of Intelligence of the
Air Force proceeded to engage in the one of the largest cover-ups ever
perpetrated on the American public! With him in this machination was Major
General Roger M. Ramey, Director of Operations, a veteran in confabulating
UFO events (a la Roswell), Colonel Donald L. Bower, Technical Analysis
Division, ATIC (Air Technical Intelligence Center), Captain Roy L. James,
Electronic Branch, ATIC, Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, Aerial Phenomena Branch,
(head of Project Blue and future author of "The Report On Unidentified
Flying Objects) ATIC, and Mr. Burgoyne L. Griffing, Electronics Branch,
- On the other side of the table were the media's elite,
top correspondents from all the major newspapers and national magazines
were in attendance; heavy hitters from radio and the new medium, "TV"
were also there; in the midst of that crowd was one "Major Donald
E. Keyhoe," who had penned, "The Flying Saucers Are Real"
and was a considerable thorn in the Air Force's side.
- Samford's opening statement recapped the Air Force's
investigation of the UFO phenomenon since 1947; he mentioned the Air Force's
concern of possible air born menaces to the United States, talked about
Project Saucer (Project Sign) and it's current "more improved"
organization. He noted the mass amount of reports that have been analyzed,
and quickly put them to rest as some easily explainable phenomenon, e.g.,
our own aircraft, weather aberrations, hoaxes etc.
- His oratory was mild mannered and done in an academic
fashion; Keyhoe later commented that the "tension in the crowd was
eased" by his simple explanations of the UFOs. Samford didn't shy
away from the "20%" of the reports that couldn't be "identified,"
either, and gave the impression that with more data those could be laid
to rest as well.
- In concluding he made a point that the Air Force's role
was to ensure that UFO sightings didn't pose a threat to the United States;
he said there was no pattern to indicate there was one.
- At this point the rest of the conference would proceed
as a Q & A session with the reporters. As would be expected, the reporters
began a barrage of some very poignant questions, but Samford held his ground,
and calmly gave rational explanations for the previous weeks UFO sightings
and consequent "radar tracks."
- When asked about "solid returns" Samford talked
about "birds and temperature inversions"; when asked about multiple
radar units tracking the same objects, "simultaneously" he mentioned
the same phenomenon can pass from scope to scope, and indicated that the
timing can be off. (I.e., it wasn't simultaneous). When asked about the
"expertise" of the radar operators he politely indicated that
even the "best can be fooled."
- As you can see, no matter the question Samford and or
one of his panel had a very "logical explanation" for the recent
UFO phenomenon; even when he left room for further investigation he firmly
stated, "there is nothing in them that is associated with materials
or vehicles or missiles that are directed against the United States."
- The conference lasted an hour and twenty minutes, at
it's finale the members of the media had a mixed response, some thought
that Samford and his group were on the level, others didn't buy it for
a moment, but by and large they would "accept the more feasible explanations"
and that is what would "go to print."
- The following day the "New York Times" published
an article entitled, "Air Force Debunks 'Saucers' As Just 'Natural
Phenomena.'" The "Herald Tribune" published the same article,
and the "Post" headlined an article, "Saucer Blips Over
Capitol Laid To Heat." The "AP" ran with "those stories"
and premise was spread across the country.
- Some might wonder how the press could be so naïve
. . . but those were different times, and we were much more trustful of
the powers-that-be. Still, after taking in Samford's explanations, it must
have given people pause if they had to board airplane, since their very
lives depend upon the air traffic controllers who apparently couldn't tell
a plane, or another solid object from a flock of birds and or heat inversions.