Washington, D. C. Sightings

On Saturday night, July 19, 1952, air traffic controller Edward Nugent at Washington National Airport saw seven unusual blips on his radar screen. Nugent checked with the control tower and learned both controllers in the tower had also seen the blips. They called nearby Andrews Air Force Base, who confirmed a similar sighting on their own screen.

Two of the objects hovered over the White House, with another over the Capitol. Controllers continued tracking the objects, which they estimated to be traveling at about 130 mph, until they suddenly disappeared. Then reappeared shortly after, moving erratically and making 90-degree turns throughout the sky. An airline captain, S.C. Pierman, waiting on the tarmac to takeoff also reported seeing similar events.

A second sighting occurred one week later on July 26, 1952. At around 8:15pm a stewardess and captain inbound into Washington National Airport reported seeing strange lights above their plane. Other pilots in the air and an officer at Andrews Air Force Base also reported observing the objects as well.

Around 12:10 a.m. on July 27, 1952, the U. S. Air Defense Command scrambled two F-94 jet interceptors to investigate the sightings. 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.

On July 29, 1952, Air Force Major Generals John Samford, Director of Intelligence, and Roger Ramsey, Director of Operations held the largest press conference since the end of World War II to discuss matters related to the events. The official explanation of the sightings was the objects were “misidentified aerial phenomena” and the blips on radar were due to temperature inversions. Samford also said since the radar blips were not caused by any solid material, there was no threat to national security. He explained that when a weather inversion occurs, lights that are really on the ground may look like they are in the air and this caused the radar to misreport ground objects being in the sky.

All the air traffic controllers involved stated that even if the weather could cause a blip on the radar, it would be as a straight line and would not appear as lights. In 1969, a scientific report released by the Air Force concluded a temperature inversion strong enough to create the effect attributed to it by General Samford could not possibly occur in the Earth’s atmosphere.

There has never been any video or photographic evidence for the event. This image is from a video which is often shown as evidence, but is simply a recreation.