The UFO Sightings Over Washington, DC, 1952

Text by Patrick M. Reynolds in the Washington Post, 2002
Reference: Invasion Washington -- UFOs Over the Capitol, by Kevin D. Randle, USAFR

Around 1:15 a.m., July 20, 1952, Capital Airlines Flight 807 was flying between Martinsburg, West Virginia, and Washington, DC, when Captain Casey Pierman spotted seven objects flashing across the sky.

Two hours later, pilot Howard Dermott on Capital Flight 610 reported that an unidentified light was following his airliner. The light stayed behind his aircraft from Herndon, Virginia, to four miles west of Washington National Airport.

These sightings were confirmed by radar operators at Washington National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

A week later, radar operators at Washington National Airport again tracked a "big target" of UFOs just after 9 p. m. on July 26, 1952. They said, "The objects are spread in an arc that encircles Washington. We better alert the military." The senior air controller notified the U. S. Air Force: "Remember those UFOs? Well, they're back!"

The Air Force Directorate of Intelligence promptly sent two officers to the airport: Major Dewey Fournet and Lieutenant John Holcomb who was temporarily assigned to the Directorate from the Navy.

Meanwhile, a National Airlines pilot and stewardess had also seen several glowing objects above Andrews Air Force Base.

At the airport control tower, the officers watched the baffling blips on the radar for close to an hour. One said, "They're flying at over 1,000 miles an hour!' Then Fournet called the Pentagon: "There's something up there! Request jet interceptors."

Approval for the interceptors took about a half-hour, while the UFOs continued to hover and zig-zag over the nation's capital.

Around 12:10 a.m. on July 27, 1952, the U. S. Air Defense Command scrambled two F-94 jet interceptors to investigate radar sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) over Washington, DC.

One of the F-94 radar operators said, "I see several unknowns! Some are flying at over 1,000 miles per hour." A little later he said, "We're closing in at five miles," and the F-94 pilot said, "It looks like a lit cigar." Then, "As soon as we started to gain on them, they vanished!"

Later, that same pilot said, "There's a strange light five miles from me, over Mt. Vernon." The light disappeared when he approached it.

Two more F-94s took off and searched the skies over Washington, but found nothing.

The fact that on two weekends in 1952 -- July 19-20 and July 26-27 -- unknown blips on radars in Washington, DC, brought jet fighters from Delaware to hunt "flying saucers" caused a media sensation across the country. TV news said, "President Truman wants a full investigation of the UFO sightings."

To quell rumors and speculation, the Air Force held a press conference in the Pentagon on July 30, 1952. Major General Roger M. Ramey, Director of Operations, and Major General John A. Samford, Director of Intelligence, were the Air Force spokesmen. They said, "The Air Force has run down thousands of sightings in recent years, but only 20 percent remain unexplained." MG Ramey said, "These so-called flying saucers cannot be construed as menacing." MG Samford said, "The recent blips and lights can be attributed to weather inversions." They concluded, "The Air Force will keep vigilant and will purchase cameras with defraction grids that could discern the source of a particular light."


Ten years later, in 1962, one of the F-94 pilots told me his story.

Capt. Dick Foley was stationed at Dover AFB, Delaware, in 1952 when they got the call to scramble and intercept unidentified "bogies" that were sighted on radar over Washington, DC.

He closed in on one, which he described as a shiny discus-shaped vehicle, to 1500 yards with radar lock-on. He called his command center and asked what he should do. They said "Stand by" (as usual, while they checked with somebody).

Two identical vehicles moved up beside him, one on each wing. They had no wings and no cockpit or windows that he could see. Because he wasn't quite sure how far away they were, he didn't know how big they were, but he thought they were about 40 feet in diameter and 10 feet thick.

I asked him what he did then. He said "I disarmed my guns. In a couple minutes, all three of them accelerated, climbed, and left me like I was tied to the dock. So I told the controllers, and went home. End of story."

Ben H. Swett
Colonel, USAF (Retired)

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